scottish national economic forum

suit and tie photo

So a few weeks ago I attended the Scottish National Economic Forum in Edinburgh. The focus was on building Scotland as a digital nation Рwith the sub topic of cyber crime.

Now, I’ll hold my hand up and say that I wasn’t expecting much and with the 2.5 hour journey to get there expectations had dipped even lower!

The first thing that struck me was the sheer number of suits and ties! I understand that even making this observation sounds trite and, all in all, me a bit of a dick, but hey! The fact is that formality is not my thing, and indeed it does not chime with my experiences in the digital world. Maybe the atmosphere would have been more laid back, rather ungovernmental, without the formality. The fact is that most of the people attended were not in the tech sector or indeed under 40 years old. Maybe those points are related, maybe not.

Anyway the above is nitpicking so on to other matters.


One comment at the forum stood out on my radar. It was made by John Swinney who stated he thinks that they have the (early stage) startup scene and angel funding sorted in Scotland, he thinks the problem is now venture funding. Really! I don’t think this is true at all. There are nowhere near enough people starting companies. From what I can see people still have “the fear”, the completely-and-absolutely-no-risk-taking-I-must-have-a-mortgage-by-25-and-must-never-fail-or-be-seen-to-fail attitude. I attend or have attended quite a few startup/business meetups around Glasgow and quite frankly the scene is “quiet”. For me to feel this about Scotland’s largest city surely means it’s far from being “cracked”. It’s never going to be Silicon Valley so let’s not try to be. Onwards.

The workshop on digital marketing was good. Not exactly ground breaking but was nice to hear what some local marketers and government agencies were doing on the digital marketing front. What was quite poetic was the gentleman sitting next to me showing examples of new types of marketing material in the form of promotional gatefolds with embedded screens which is exactly what Neonburn (my business) can be used to create. Well I never!

network business photo

What followed was the ominous networking time. I say ominous as quite frankly I suck at it, I just find it completely unnatural, and it probably comes across that way as well! I do try though, fear not. Strange thing is I enjoy talking about my business, who would have guessed.

And finally. I was asked “are you looking to raise money” to which my reply was “no just making some sales would do rather nicely”. Is it just he automatic assumption now that to start a business you need to get money and without that you can do nothing? Surely it wasn’t always this way???

what’s it like in silicon valley?

As a computer geek Silicon Valley can almost be seen as the point around which our world spins. For those that haven’t been there I can’t recommend enough heading out to see what all the fuss is about. I mean forget that the climate is, well, pretty fucking special and that cycling to work (in any season) doesn’t mean making sure everything you buy is windproof and waterproof. What blew me away most of all was the staggering number of tech companies.

Within walking distance of my accommodation there was a Yahoo!, McAfee, Cisco, Intel (this place seemed to stretch for miles), not to mention hundreds of other smaller tech companies scattered around the area. If you can’t get a job as a developer in the Valley then you must really question your hygiene.

So is there any chance of this sort of thing happening in this country (the UK) or in particular Scotland? Ehhhh, no chance. Why?

Well I don’t claim to know exactly why, in fact, I admit it’s somewhat of a guess. One thing that I’m certain matters is the number of people who are studying computing at university. In recent years this number has plummeted. For me this is a key point. Until you have got talent, and lots of it, pouring out of universities there is no chance that the Google, the Microsofts and Facebooks of this world are going to even consider a small office, never mind a campus. It’s just not worth it.

There is also a different mindset amongst the graduates here than there is at, say, Standford. It’s just staggering how many undergraduates are considering coming straight out of collage and starting their own business (Startup School was just full of them). It’s ingrained into their psyche. I’d almost guarantee you that if I went to a lecture theatre full of final year students here in Glasgow tomorrow and asked how many are seriously considering starting their own business I’d be able to count them on the one hand and have four fingers left over.

Most students will be happy getting a job at JP Morgan or some other mundane banking establishment where you are simply a cost centre.

This is a vicious circle as the reason that Google, Yahoo!, Twitter, Facebook (to an extent) all have large campuses in Silicon Valley is because this is where they were born. So without this embryonic growth pattern it’s hard to see how places like Scotland can create and attract these large software companies. The fact is the talent is just not here in sufficient numbers. To get the gist of the situation, just ask yourself how many people in your current job are really really smart and productive, it will be low, now imagine how you get 500+ more of them.

I hate to be knocking us as a nation but something has to change and it has to be BIG for there to be any hope of being part of this technical revolution. Or maybe that boat has already well and truly sailed.