David Smith, sector director digital technology at Scottish Enterprise.
When Edinburgh was named the most active tech innovation community outside of London in the new UK Tech Innovation Index, with Glasgow not far behind, it came of no surprise to those working in the sector in Scotland. It backed up the findings of the 2017 EY Scotland Attractiveness Survey, which ranked Scotland as the most attractive UK location for foreign direct investment outside the capital, and highlighted software as a particular strength for Scotland.
Because, just as we were at the forefront of the kinds of innovation that propelled economies forward in centuries gone by, we are again leading the way with industry and academia working together to innovate and create new opportunities for economic growth.
The tech index, developed by the Open Data Institute and the Digital Catapult, found that Scotland has strengths in areas such as the internet of things, artificial intelligence and health. It also identified significant capabilities in the field of data innovation and exploitation. In fact, Scotland already has around 150 companies operating in this space, with a combined turnover of £1bn. And it’s been estimated that data-driven innovation has the potential to deliver £20bn of productivity benefits for our economy over the next five years.
This success owes much to our world-class academic excellence and data assets such as the University of Edinburgh’s School of Informatics. Included within this is a dedicated data innovation centre, the DataLab, which is playing a key role in helping the industry to respond to the global impact of data-driven innovation. Its work is ensuring we have the largest proportion of all data science post-graduate courses in the UK, and a thriving data innovation “meet-up” community of more than 1,750
These leaders are part of a can-do entrepreneurial community of Scottish companies investing in data opportunities. We’ve seen significant home-grown global success with Fanduel and Skyscanner, Scotland’s first digital businesses to be classed as unicorns, tech start-up companies that reached the US$ 1bn market value. And we’re also seeing a growing number of inward investors choosing Scotland as a location for their data-driven businesses, tapping into our skilled business environment and supportive tech ecosystem.
Scottish Enterprise is working hand-in- hand with partners to exploit these opportunities. In March, we supported DataLab and other industry partners to host Scotland’s first DataFest, a week-long programme of events attended by more than 2,500 people. This included a business conference of 450 delegates, where leaders came together to discuss the global opportunities of data and related technologies. And one of the many things we all agreed on was that our thriving data scene has put Scotland in pole position to become the data capital of Europe.
Reaching this goal will take significant work and further collaboration to encourage more investment into our ecosystem. A great example of how this is already happening is the commitments made by the Scottish and UK governments and the Edinburgh City Region Deal partners towards a £350m package of investments linked to accelerating data driven innovation – investments that will help to put Edinburgh and Scotland at the forefront of technology-led innovation.
We’ll also be increasing our support for business in this sector with the introduction of a new data advisory service, led by Scottish Enterprise. This will focus on developing the capabilities of companies within Scotland and helping them realise market opportunities. Developments such as the recently launched £9.2m can do Innovation Challenge Fund is another great example of how new ways of working will support companies to grow.
We are rightly ambitious for Scotland when it comes to the opportunities of digital technologies. But thanks to our culture of innovation, long-established relationships between industry and academia, and a growing skills base and tech ecosystem, Scotland is well placed to secure its position as the data innovation capital of Europe within the next few years.