How Scotland has become a nation of entrepreneurs

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Scotland is buzzing when it comes to start-up companies. New analysis by business information service DueDil shows that Glasgow has the second largest growth of start-ups in the UK, after Birmingham. In 2016 the number of start-ups increased by 16% from the previous year. On average 22 new companies start up each day in Glasgow alone - that's 151 new companies every week. On the other side of the country, Edinburgh is a tech mecca. Think of Skyscanner - the travel fare aggregator - or FanDuel, the web-based fantasy sports game, two companies valued at over $1 billion dollars.

Nationally, not only is the start-up rate growing, but business survival rates are better, and a significant and increasing proportion of start-ups are tech or digital companies. Last week, Tech City published their Tech Nation 2017 report, which showed an increase in the GVA, or gross value added, to the economy by the digital industry from £480 million to £591 in one year.

Co-working spaces are on the rise in the UK and have been for the last decade, inspired by experiments with the style of working in the United States. Among those working in Rookie Oven is Mark McEwan, a former architect turned designer, who co-founded Skunk Works a company currently working on a “connected vehicles” system – a kind of smart monitoring of cars, which links up to the garages which service them. The team have created a piece of hardware which attaches to the onboard computer of the car and feeds back information to the person’s mobile and the garage they use, triggering notifications about when they need maintenance.

The last few years has brought a growth in the number of spaces like this in Glasgow. Another is the Tontine building in Trongate, which last year Glasgow City Council converted using City Deal money, and opened as a technology and innovation centre, a large, slick open-plan space containing multiple rows of desks.

Currently, says Kevin Rush, Head of Economic Development at Glasgow City Council, six months after its opening, the building is at about 60% capacity and ahead of schedule. Among its trophies has been the recent announcement that it has secured funding from the UK Space Agency for an incubator of space technology. The aim with Tontine, Rush says, is that fledgeling businesses should grow in a three-year trajectory through the building and move out when established. Some, he observes, like Incremental, a digital services provider, are already growing faster than that, and look set to outgrow the building.

Tontine is part of an attempt to address a problem that Glasgow has had in recent years: though the city has a good start-up rate, as Rush observes, one of the problems has been the survival rates of these businesses. “We’ve always had a real issue with business mortality. A few years ago we were 64th out of 64 cities in the UK for five-year business survival. Tontine was developed to help companies through those difficult early years.”

Among those starting businesses out of Tontine is 21-year-old Chris Hughes, who came up with his idea for Estendio, an app to help dyslexics make presentations, when he was 18 years old and three weeks into his degree at Strathclyde University. “I’m dyslexic and we were told in class that we were going to be presenting everything and it was going to be graded, and I was struggling. Then I found out that many people with dyslexia struggle with presentations.”

Hughes spoke to a range of experts and came up with a series of recommendations which became the basis of his app. “Dyslexia,” he says, “has been such a major thing in my life. I was really poor academically up until fifth year when I was at school. It was only in fifth year that I managed to get to grips with it and develop mechanisms to get the best out of myself academically.”

One of the things, he says, that has been important in his start-up journey, has been being able to see others ahead of him at a more developed stage. He cites, for instance, the hugely successful Swipii, which created a loyalty card and app service to help small businesses collect customer data and drive repeat visits. It too came out of the University of Strathclyde, the brainchild of two marketing students Chitresh Sharma and Louis Schena, and is now growing fast.

The genesis of Sharma's idea was this: initially, he and Schena had thought to provide the card service to generate loyalty for the nightclubs they frequented, but then the concept expanded. “We thought there was a massive opportunity in the retail sector because there’s no collection of data on people’s behaviour and there’s no understanding how shoppers are behaving.“

Sharma, who comes from the small town of Raipur in India, says that he grew up watching his father running a coal mining business, and always thought he would become an entrepreneur. Elon Musk, co-founder of Tesla motors and space travel developer, has long been an idol. Like Musk, Sharma is not interested, he says, simply in “creating a massive business and making lots of money”, but “doing something that can make an impact.”

Ending up in Glasgow, he believes, was for him a stroke of luck. “Glasgow is one of the best places to start a business because there’s good access to grants out there, and at the same time the cost of running the business from Glasgow, versus London or any other advanced city, is much cheaper.”

The start-up community, however, is much bigger than this growing digital industry. The past few years of Scottish EDGE grants for entrepreneurs provide an insight into the wide range of businesses that are sprouting up in Glasgow, providing all sorts of products, from educational comics through to comedy confidence workshops. Among them has been Jo-Anne Chidley, who set up her business, Beauty Kitchen, selling natural and sustainable beauty products in 2014.

Source and full article: Herald Scotland