Towards the tipping point

Jarmo Eskelinen discusses the University of Edinburgh’s response to the Scottish Government’s Tech Ecosystem review.

In August 2020, the Scottish Government published its review of Scotland’s tech ecosystem, prepared by Mark Logan (ex-Skyscanner). Few Scottish Government publications have created as much buzz. No wonder; it presents a tantalising glimpse into a bright future for the Scottish economy.

The review was commissioned in the middle of the first lockdown and aimed to assess how the technology sector could support Scotland’s recovery from the pandemic, but its recommendations reach further – they are ‘strategic’ in nature rather than ‘tactical’. It’s important to implement the recommendations in a holistic way, to push our tech ecosystem over the ‘tipping point’ and maximise the benefit.

It was a privilege to lead the University of Edinburgh and City Region Deal’s response to the report and we’re keen to continue discussion with government as plans emerge from the review.

As Mark Logan points out, universities are an exceptional asset to the Scottish Tech Ecosystem since we have a superb higher education cluster. Scottish Universities are a source of world-class research, support for accelerator activity, and generate intellectual property and talent across most of the key domains.

For its part, the University of Edinburgh has been the leading contributor to the evolution of the thriving start-up scene of the capital city, in collaboration with venture funders, accelerators and incubators, such as CodeBase.

We bring world-class talent into the region – ambitious students from across the world, and researchers who launch tech start-ups and help organisations to solve scientific, technological and societal challenges.

But there’s more. Thanks to the Data-Driven Innovation (DDI) initiative of the City Region Deal, we’re better placed than ever to work collaboratively within our region.

The five Data-Driven Innovation Hubs (Bayes Centre, Edinburgh Futures Institute, Usher Institute, Roslin Institute, and National Robotarium with Heriot-Watt University) are innovation centres supported by the massive-scale data storage and processing capacity of the world-class Edinburgh International Data Facility.

Together with a network of partners, they form an excellent platform for incubating and scaling tech ventures and connecting them to a robust talent pipeline. Early results are impressive – after the first two years, over 1100 jobs have been created through construction and innovation activities and the industry has invested £61.7m to DDI projects, and 42 start-ups have been launched or scaled up through activities such as Engage Invest Exploit (EIE) programme.

The challenges of ‘doing innovation’ should not be underestimated. The tech sector changes fast, and the tech ecosystem of tomorrow will be different from the one of today – we must future-proof it. As educational institutions, universities can have a vital role in this, ensuring our tech community is diverse and inclusive, and combining entrepreneurship with cutting-edge science.

In our experience, even the initial process of securing funding for large innovation projects can take up to three years. That’s why it’s vitally important for us to work together and strengthen our profile as a global destination for talent and investment.

In our response to the Scottish Government, we propose universities to join forces and develop a nation-wide plan to address these challenges, in collaboration between the Scottish Government, the Scottish Funding Council, and the private sector.

Scottish Universities are already at the intersections of entrepreneurial, innovative and technology-driven activity. We look forward to working with partners to push our tech ecosystem over that tipping point.

Read the University of Edinburgh and City Region Deal’s response to the report here.

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