As many as 1,700 tech leaders, academics, innovators and enthusiasts attended DIGIT Expo 2019 on the 7th of November at the EICC, Edinburgh.
And, in an opening keynote address, Ivan McKee MSP urged them all to “do what the Californians do” and “talk up the industry”.
The Scottish Minister for Innovation highlighted the importance of the tech sector in growing the country’s economy, stating that the Government not only wants to help bring investment inwards, but is also helping to nurture startup tech companies that can be exported internationally.
“The hard part is nurturing them and growing them to scale,” he said. “It’s something we’ve got increasing focus on and it’s something, frankly, that nobody in the world has ever really cracked. But our understanding of what we need to do there is clear, and it’s something we’ve got an opportunity to get ahead of the pack on.
“Scotland has more top universities per head of population than any other country in the world and that’s something we should be very proud of. Making Edinburgh the data capital of Europe is a great focus of government, and it’s a great strapline.
“I would urge everyone one of you to do what the Californians do. Talk it up and make sure people realise that’s our aspiration and we’re well on our way with that journey.”
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Innovation, he added, is central to the Government’s efforts in this regard. As part of this, the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) is investing up to £110 million in core funding for eight Innovation Centres throughout the country.
McKee was not the only one to emphasise the importance of innovation.
Professor Bill Buchanan OBE, School of Computing, Edinburgh Napier University, who was one of more than 40 speakers at DIGIT Expo, said: “If you don’t innovate, you’re dead. But the companies of the future could have been created at DIGIT Expo.
“The speakers shared knowledge and ideas about how we can move forward. And, if we don’t share ideas, our economy will struggle. So people with ideas need to be matched up with people who have knowledge and who know how to grow a business. It’s our small, emerging businesses that are disrupting now and we must support them however possible.”
Buchanan described DIGIT Expo 2019 as “amazing”, adding: “This is my home city. I work here. Scotland is a hotbed of innovation and technology is at the core of that. You see so many people from so many different backgrounds, all with new ideas and sparking new partnerships.”
Lynsey Campbell, chair of Scotland Women in Technology, hosted a panel debate on ethics and gender diversity in AI and innovation at the event.
She said: “I was blown away by the experience, and we were delighted to be part of the event as a charity. The feedback we had was really overwhelming, and it’s vitally important that we have events like this.
“For us, this was a perfect platform to talk about why gender equality in technology is not just a ‘nice to have’ but it’s essential to the safety of our society. For Scotland to endorse this conversation for it to be part of an event like this is so powerful because it puts the country in an amazing position to be a pioneer for thoughts like this.
“I think it’s so encouraging that Scotland and DIGIT are organising events where discussions like these can be heard by a wide and diverse range of individuals.”
Charles Granville, business development manager at Data Vita, which was one of 60+ exhibitors on the day, commented: “It was amazing. I spoke to so many people and it was great to see how interested everyone was in what each other is doing.
“It’ was very refreshing to be able to engage with people in this kind of way compared to other engagement models like emailing, calling, texting – actually speaking to a person and seeing the whites of their eyes. It’s a different kind of experience.
“The main benefit of attending was developing a greater awareness of the hive of activity that’s going on in Scotland. There’s a huge amount of investment taking place here and it’s great to know what there are so many companies keen to invest in Scotland.”