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Scotland’s Aspiring Tech Unicorns Draw Inspiration from Past Success

Ross Kelly

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Scotland tech unicorns
Britain has experienced a sustained increase in venture capital flowing into the tech sector.

Scotland’s established unicorn tech companies continue to provide inspiration to a new generation of fast-growing tech businesses, according to analysis from the UK Government.

Analysis from Dealroom.co and the Digital Economy Council shows that four Scottish companies are currently on-track to reach the often elusive unicorn status: a valuation of $1 billion or more.

Edinburgh-based Roslin Technologies, NuCana BioMed, Interactive Investor and Motherwell’s Amphista Therapeutics were all identified as ‘Futurecorns’ in the latest report, underlining the growing strength of Scotland’s broader digital technology sector.

If all four continue on their current trajectory, they will join Scotland’s already-established tech unicorns; an illustrious club which includes Skyscanner and FanDuel, as well as Brewdog, which the report also identifies as a key unicorn tech company.

The report also suggests that Scotland’s futurecorns are playing a key role in the ongoing expansion of Britain’s tech sector, which has grown tenfold over the past decade.

Since 2010, Britain has experienced a sustained increase in venture capital flowing into the tech sector. This influx of cash has resulted in a huge expansion in the number of rapidly-scaling startups across a diverse range of sectors, including fintech, eCommerce, healthtech and food delivery.

Last year, Scottish startups attracted £345m in venture capital investment, despite the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic and Brexit uncertainty.

The country’s burgeoning technology sector is also responsible for significant growth in the jobs market, creating 13,000 opportunities every year.

UK Government Minister for Scotland, Iain Stewart, said Scotland is one of the country’s “leading tech hubs” which continues to innovate across a broad range of sectors.

“Tech companies across the UK are improving our lives through creativity and innovation. With three unicorns and four fast-growing scaleups, Scotland is one of the UK’s leading tech hubs,” he said.

Recent government commitments, including the establishment of five new innovation hubs across the country, mean the Scottish technology sector “has a bright future ahead of it,” Stewart added.


Sustained Growth

Over the last decade, the number of unicorns has increased from eight in 2010 to 81 in 2020.

So far during 2021, the total number of unicorns and futurecorns has also continued to grow, the report shows, meaning the UK now boasts 91 unicorn firms.

Some of the country’s most recent unicorn successes include Hopin, valued at £4bn, Wise, valued at £3.5bn, and Zego, which recently achieved unicorn status.

“Emerging hubs continue to be inspired by the UK ecosystem’s journey from an eccentric cluster of companies around a grim roundabout to the successful global companies we see now,” said Yoram Wijngaarde, founder and CEO of Dealroom.co.

“With continued policy innovation, research investment, and the right talent, the UK can build on the momentum into the next decade, as the beating heart of a European tech ecosystem turning global heads,” Wijngaarde added.

An additional 132 companies are now regarded as futurecorns, the report added, marking a steep increase from just 10 a decade ago.

According to the UK Government, these numbers underline the growing strength of Britain’s technology sector, which is rapidly catching up with counterparts in the United States and China.

Tech companies across the UK raised a collective £11.3bn in funding last year, ten times the investment raised in 2010 at £1.2bn.

Scotland tech unicorn

Similarly, London now sits fourth behind the Bay Area, Beijing and New York in regard to the number of startups and unicorns created.

Cities elsewhere in Europe struggle to match London’s rate of growth, despite positive steps in the right direction. Between 2010 and 2020, the report noted that the French startup ecosystem only boasted 17 tech unicorns.

In Germany, the startup ecosystem commanded just one unicorn tech firm in 2010. A decade later, this number stood at 31 (based on 2020 statistics).

Digital secretary Oliver Dowden said the UK has evolved from a “nation of startups into one of scaleups” and hailed the increased investment levels.

“Investors are interested in backing UK startups because of a combination of cutting edge research, skilled engineering and tech talent and operators who understand how to build a strong, sustainable business,” he said.


Scotland’s place in British tech

Statistics showcasing the strength of Britain’s tech sector may appear promising, but in regional terms the outlook isn’t always so positive. Naturally, London continues to soak up a significant portion of British venture capital investment.

And while that may be great for London – and indeed the success of the broader UK tech sector – this current renaissance won’t necessarily spark jubiliation throughout the country’s various regional tech ecosystems.

Nor will it be the same in the Scottish tech ecosystem, which has traditionally experienced a far lower volume of venture capital investment.

These issues haven’t been completely ignored, however. Tech Nation’s annual report, published in March this year, aired growing concerns over the spread of venture capital investment throughout Britain’s tech sector.

Despite strong performances for several regional tech hubs, investment continues to gravitate toward London – and this gap has grown consistently over the past three years, the report noted.

Tech Nation’s report recommended that more support be provided for tech ecosystems outside of London, as well as the development of “more targeted” regional investment funds that could create a more level playing field.

In Scotland, we are beginning to see government-backed efforts to address long-standing problems such as access to capital. Another area of particular interest is the ability of startups to scale as frequently – and successfully – as their counterparts elsewhere in the UK.


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In the wake of Mark Logan’s Technology Ecosystem Review last year, the Scottish Government has made no secret of its plans to support and accelerate the growth of Scotland’s tech ecosystem.

March also saw the announcement of a new Holyrood programme aimed at establishing Scotland as a ‘world-class’ tech hub, and Logan was charged with the task of leading the ambitious new initiative.

The programme will be supported by £7 million in funding in its first year and will also include a £1 million pot to make ‘strategic investments’ in organisations and activities.

This £1 million ‘Ecosystem Fund’ could see investment granted to tech conferences, meet-ups or training programmes which support the Scottish startup ecosystem.

Ross Kelly

Staff Writer

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