In the face of adversity, Scotland has an opportunity
- Publication Date
- Carolyn Jameson FRSRE
Scotland has an impressive pioneering history – we still rely on many of the inventions that were born in Scotland. However, I think it’s fair to say that when we compare our performance in the technology sector with other regions in the world, we have missed the boat on the last technological revolution.
When I arrived in Scotland seventeen years ago looking to continue my career within the technology sector, there were limited options and Wolfson Microelectronics (the first semiconductor company to supply Apple for the iPod) was really the only show in town.
Since then, it’s encouraging to have witnessed the evolution in the technology sector in Scotland. We have seen fantastic companies emerge from Scotland across a variety of sectors, and a vibrant ecosystem forming. At the same time, we have still to reach critical mass – the point at which there are enough successful companies to make inward investment and talent attraction much easier.
I had the privilege of being involved in the Skyscanner journey, and I am still asked about what that was like on an almost daily basis. It is pleasing to see the domino effect of Skyscanner, with its former employees taking their experience and know-how to other start-ups in Scotland, via employment or investment. ‘Success breeds success’ is the old adage, so with some of my former colleagues now joining other start-ups, the hope is that they will repeat Skyscanner’s success. However, we still have a considerable way to go.
Working in a scale-up environment is challenging – a constant process of iteration and problem solving. To add to that, we are now entering a period of adversity – an environment which many of the working population haven’t experienced before. There is a renewed focus from investors on profitability as opposed to growth, given the level of uncertainty over inflation and general economic malaise, and this equation will make it even more challenging for growth companies.
However, in the face of adversity, people become even more creative and resourceful. There is an opportunity before us to focus on the future, and to solve some of the bigger economic and societal challenges that face us – including around sustainability, the climate emergency, energy, healthcare, and diversity and inclusion. Europe is performing better than other regions of the world, and in Scotland we should embrace that.
Since launching in 2020, the Scottish National Investment Bank has been active in this context. More than half of the bank’s investments have provided growth capital directly to businesses – many of them technology-focused, and with the bank’s remit being to deliver patient capital and commercial investment aligned to its missions of net zero and innovation – this is exactly where we need to be.
We already see companies emerging in the health and education technology sectors; the fast-growing space industry, the supply chain for floating offshore developments through ScotWind, and the decarbonisation of heat in our built environment.
It is technological innovation, coupled with bravery to look outside Scotland to learn from others and develop global markets, that will ensure that Scottish companies can compete internationally.
I am also encouraged by the focus on fixing Scotland’s long-standing foundational issues. We see the CodeBase-run Techscaler initiative being established across Scotland to help drive start-up success; digital skills academy CodeClan announcing its intention to scale and address the challenges around accessing talent, and I keenly await the Women in Enterprise Review report from its Chair, Ana Stewart, considering the barriers facing women in business and female founders.
The future looks exciting, and I anticipate the day when I am no longer asked about Skyscanner; not because I am unappreciative of the opportunity I had, but because there are enough successful scale-ups (or even unicorns) to render Skyscanner just one of the many tech success stories to come out of this country.
Carolyn Jameson FRSE is Chief Trust Officer at Trustpilot; Non-Executive Director at the Scottish National Investment Bank, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.
The RSE’s blog series offers personal views on a variety of issues. These views are not those of the RSE and are intended to offer different perspectives on a range of current issues.