Tech in Edinburgh: The challenges and opportunities

Tech City UK’s Tech Nation Tour stopped off in Edinburgh last night, with the findings of the Tech Nation report presented to an audience of local tech community members at co-working space CodeBase.

According to the Tech Nation report, digital tech businesses in the city employ a rather exact 25,109 people, with an average advertised digital salary of £53,019.

The digital sector in the city produced an average GVA (that’s the amount it generated after the cost of operation was subtracted) of £513m from 2013-2015, with digital business turnover increasing 85% from 2011-2015.

At the event last night, Colin Cook, the Scottish Government’s acting director for digital, said: “There is a real confidence about digital in the country.”

He added that the government recognises the digital tech sector is a key driver of growth in the Scottish economy and it will work to further promote Scotland as a center of technology expertise both across the UK and internationally.

Tech City UK CEO Gerard Grech then took to the stage to deliver the report findings and was joined by a panel comprising of Steven Drost, CSO at CodeBase; Julie Grieve, founder of PropTech startup Information Apps; Paul Devlin, investment manager at Mercia Fund Management; and Chris Downie, CEO, RetailTech startup Pasabi.

Why Edinburgh?

Grech asked, given the choice of numerous growing tech hubs across the UK and, specifically London, why would talented entrepreneurs choose to start and grow their businesses in Edinburgh? Drost replied that, while the ecosystem is more developed in London, and there is more investment capital there, “life is tougher”, with rent and the cost of living being much higher than in Edinburgh.

Drost went on to highlight that two unicorns were created in Edinburgh (Skyscanner and FanDuel), which shows that building a successful tech company in the city can be done, and he is confident it will be done again.

He added that investor interest is increasing too, with the last three months alone seeing three London-based VCs visit CodeBase to hear some of its resident startups pitch their business ideas.

Devlin said a London-based investor came up to meet him recently, too, and commented that he should make the trip more often, due to the level of interesting prospects in the city.

Downie, who used to work at Skyscanner, believes Edinburgh startups benefit from not being involved in the “London bubble”, in which founders can view funding as the be-all and end-all. He explained that, in Edinburgh, people are a lot more savvy about the grants available to them and also use their local business network for support and advice on how to weather the storm of being a bootstrapped startup.


“If I have got one worry, it’s: ‘Is there enough talent to go around?’” said Devlin. He described the talent coming out of the city’s universities as “fantastic”, but said the local tech scene still loses a lot of this pool to London and elsewhere.

Drost said another issue is large established local employers hoovering up a lot of tech talent, making it tough for startups to recruit.

“I haven’t struggled to recruit yet,” countered Grieve. However, she would like to see more women enter the local tech space. She extolled the virtues of a female developer she hired, who was working as a data analyst before retraining via a course at CodeClan, the Edinburgh-based digital skills and coding academy.

Devlin said he’d like to see an increase in the number of experienced salespeople in Edinburgh, while Drost believes the toughest hire for tech firms across the UK, not just Scotland’s capital, is the chief marketing officer role.


Tech in Edinburgh has one key strength, the panel claimed: its sense of community.

Drost said the universities play their role in helping the tech community to thrive, but established players are also a key factor. Skyscanner, for example, has been “amazing” at giving back to the community.

He went on to say the people he deals with at CodeBase are all “helpful and humble” and willing to give time to others to offer advice and help solve their problems.

Downie agreed: “Being a part of this community really helped us become the best we could.”

As for the future, Downie said he’d like to see some intense startup accelerator programmes emerge in Edinburgh, as that’s something he feels London does really well.

For now, concluded Drost, “the best and brightest of our number have shown the way and we’re trying to continue that”.

For an overview of the top tech hubs in Scotland, check out our recent roundup.

Tech City News is accompanying Tech City UK on its Tech Nation tour (before you ask, we’re not connected, we just have similar names!) Stay tuned for more coverage and regional analysis.