TechHub may be boosting London’s startup scene, while the so-called Silicon Roundabout area of East London is on course for a £50m facelift, but it can be all too easy to forget that Britain’s tech startup scene extends far beyond the UK capital.
Indeed, a new incubator is officially launching north of the border this week in the Scottish capital. Formally opening on December 13, TechCube will offer office space to fledgling tech startups in Edinburgh, and proclaims to be the first technology incubator in Scotland developed entirely by private capital and the local startup community.
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TechCube is based in a refurbished seven-storey office block near The Meadows, just south of the city centre, serving up more than 20,000 square feet of commercial co-working and hot-desking space. It plans to bring Edinburgh’s startups out of the city’s spare rooms and coffee shops and into a collaborative environment.
In what is an indication of the demand for such space in Edinburgh, the building is almost full before it has even officially opened, with fantasy sports startup FanDuel and cloud computing comparison service PlanForCloud (recently acquired by Californian company Rightscale) already signed-up. There will be seventeen companies in-place for launch.
We’ve previously delved deep into the heart of the Scottish startup scene, and one of the key points that emerged from the investigation was the lack of resources for local startups…both in Edinburgh and across the Scottish startup ecosystem.
In terms of the capital specifically, the one institution that was continuously mentioned by nearly everyone was Edinburgh University’s School of Informatics, based at Appleton Tower in the center of the city.
The school is the biggest computer research conglomeration in Europe, with around 500 academic and research staff, and it’s apparently the best in the UK by a clear factor of 2, according to the last two UK Government Research Assessment exercises.
The School of Informatics spends more than £12m each year on pure research, and the school is funded through a number of ways – such as the Scottish Funding Council, various research funding agencies and industry partners.
By contrast, TechCube has been tapping the local tech community to get things off the ground, with Edinburgh-headquartered Skyscanner donating £25,000 worth of office furniture, while FreeAgent (see previous coverage here) and Scottish Equity Partners are also supporting the project.
Planting a seed
Another key underlying issue within the Scottish startup scene is the lack of investment or, more specifically, a shortage of seed funding to get good ideas out of the starting blocks. And with a dedicated tech working space in the heart of Edinburgh, it’s hoped that TechCube will attract significant new angel and VC investment to Scotland.
TechCube’s directors say they are currently working with a range of “high-profile investment partners” to encourage funding. Indeed, the working space’s managing director, Dr. Jamie Coleman, is also a member of Northface Ventures, which will help drive the business incubation, so there’s at least some good foundations to attract funds from both across the UK and internationally.
“I hope that TechCube will fuel the incredible Scottish startup community by bringing together the hottest startups and private equity,” says Coleman. “By lowering the barriers to entry, we can create a true meritocracy where the brightest and best can succeed.”
Gareth Williams, CEO of Skyscanner, which lays claim to being the world’s second largest flight search engine after Kayak, reckons this could help kickstart the local tech community. “TechCube is a fantastic initiative,” he says. “There’s a really interesting set of start-ups emerging right now and I look forward to seeing more tech companies emerging over time providing ever more skilled, creative jobs for the best talent in Scotland.”
Scotland has produced more than its fair share of innovators over the years – John Logie Baird developed the world’s first practical, publicly demonstrated television system, whilst Alexander Graham Bell is credited as inventing the telephone. And then there’s Alexander Fleming (penicillin), Robert Watson-Watt (RADAR), Charles Macintosh (waterproofing), John Shepherd-Barron (ATM), John Loudon McAdam (tarmac) and many others.
From Tel Aviv to Edinburgh
As a 21st century economy with its own devolved parliament, Scotland can’t rest on its past glories. It has yet to produce much in the way of globally-successful Web-based companies, a few notable exceptions aside, so here’s hoping TechCube will help form the basis of a successful Internet-based ecosystem not just for Edinburgh, but the country on the whole.
It would also be good to see more established big-name Internet brands investing in the tech community. Following its Campus launch in London, Google has just rolled out its second co-working space, this time in Tel Aviv – a city of comparable size to that of Edinburgh. Indeed, Israel has become a veritable hotspot for top technical talent and some very cool tech is emerging from the country.
Scotland too has some amazing technical talent and some world-class universities, so with the right focus and investment, there’s no reason why it couldn’t follow a similar trajectory to that of Israel. But it’s still very early days, and Scotland will need to produce a few more Skyscanner-type companies before the world takes note.
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