Scotland is now seen as one of the major tech hubs

In the race to build Scotland’s credentials as a breeding ground for unicorns – tech start-ups that reach a $1 billion valuation – Colin Adams is a key player.

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Colin Adams

10/02/2016

As well as being director of commercialisation at The University of Edinburgh’s School of Informatics – the largest single computer science and informatics research group in Europe, and the best in the UK – he is director of Informatics Ventures, a Scotland-wide programme to foster entrepreneurship in early stage businesses and develop strong relationships between industry and academia.

“Scotland is starting to get noticed now as one of the major tech hubs,” Mr Adams said. “Everyone who thinks of the UK tends to think of London, just because of the sheer scale of it. But the message is now getting out that Scotland has done more tech deals than anywhere else in the UK outside London – and the deals are getting bigger because companies are raising more money.”

Informatics Ventures helps rising tech stars raise funding through its annual Engage, Invest, Exploit (EIE) event, which has grown into the largest investor showcase of its kind since it was launched in 2008. This year 60 early stage Scottish companies will pitch for investment of between £100,000 to £2 million at the 2016 event in Edinburgh’s Assembly Rooms on 12 May. Around 1,000 people are expected to attend, including UK and international corporate venturers, venture capitalists, business angel syndicates and high net worth individuals. Informatics Ventures also runs EIE London in November for 12 companies seeking ‘A round’ funding – typically the company's first significant round of venture capital financing – to scale and grow their businesses.

Past EIE participants have raised over £150m in early stage funding and gone on to become some of Scotland’s most successful start-ups of recent times. They include mobile shopping app Mallzee, biofuels specialist Celtic Renewables and app developer Kotikan – which developed the flagship app for Skyscanner, the Edinburgh-based travel search group and $1bn Scottish unicorn. FanDuel, the fantasy sports company that is Scotland’s other $1bn unicorn, also pitched at EIE in 2010 and has since raised $361m.

Since last year’s EIE, around half of the companies pitching have secured funding, with an average investment of £560,000.

Ones to watch include University of Edinburgh spin-out Parkure, which is using genetically engineered fruit flies to help find a cure for Parkinson’s disease; TVSquared, which provides detailed insights into the effectiveness of TV advertising campaigns, and voice distortion specialist Krotos.

Born in Linlithgow, Mr Adams was inspired by a good maths teacher and NASA’s moon landings to study science. In his first year at the University of Edinburgh’s newly-formed computer science department, he was one of only four students in his class.

“We were in a privileged group, being allowed to punch our programs on cards, drop them off at a desk in the department and get the results back 24 hours later – this was a luxury and very fast response.”

Computers back then filled whole air-conditioned rooms and cost around £1m, Mr Adams added.

He is in no doubt that Scotland’s technology credentials today are more than a match for other tech hubs including London’s so-called ‘Silicon Roundabout’ in Shoreditch.

“One of the big advantages we have up here is that the lifestyle you can have per pound is so much better,” he said. “We have a reasonable cost of living and cost of housing. There are decent schools and a great cultural environment. And there’s a critical mass of positive companies doing interesting things, which means it’s easier to hire people into Scotland than it used to be. If anything, we need to sell that more to the poor people in Shoreditch with their one-hour commutes and very expensive houses.”

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