Bold and ambitious tech businesses driving a better future in north east Scotland
Innovation and technology are at the core of a dynamic and growing cluster of ambitious scaling tech businesses in north east Scotland.
Recognised as Scotland’s third tech cluster, 300 companies contribute £371m to the regional economy and employ more than 7,000 tech professionals. These businesses are working on tech solutions that capitalise on existing strengths and emerging technologies to address global challenges, including energy, sustainable food production and health.
At the launch, earlier this month, of the newly created Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, which aims to ensure that Britain is a Science and Technology Superpower, Michelle Donelan MP, Secretary of State stated, “A better future will be driven by Britain’s boldest businesses”.
The recent Scottish Government report Building a New Scotland forecasts the tech sector to be the second fastest growing in Scotland by 2029, growing 1.5 times faster than the overall economy.
Here in north east Scotland, we are fortunate to have a strong cluster of tech product businesses with the potential to scale. Opportunity North East (ONE) is leading activity to create an environment and community for founders of digital technology businesses to meet, share, learn, innovate, and grow together.
Karen O’Hanlon, Director Digital Tech at ONE, commented: “With the new Tech Scaler Hub in ONE Tech Hub and a number of other high-quality accelerator programmes focused on early-stage startups available in the region, the pipeline for early stage tech startups looks truly promising.
“The key is to harness and maximise the opportunity and investment in the startup pipeline to grow the tech sector in the region. We know that founders post startup and in the growth phase value sharing and learning together with and from similar businesses.
“In 2021, the ONE Digital Tech Business Growth Programme was launched to bring together established businesses with high-growth ambitions and the potential to scale rapidly.
“We know that founders have different pains, challenges, and ambitions at different growth stages. At the early stage, the focus is on creating a minimal viable product and understanding the customer and product market fit. In contrast, the focus for later stage founders is on strategies for growth, leadership, team building and culture, and critical decisions around funding and investment to grow. Connecting them with expertise relevant to their growth stage and a supportive peer community is vital to accelerate business scale ups.”
Businesses participating in the 2022/23 programme have already made significant progress - entering new markets at home and abroad, seeing a 50% increase in new customers, revenue increases of 20% and doubling the number of jobs. Strong evidence that these businesses are on a high growth trajectory, these successes help raise the region’s profile in the UK and internationally and provide a vision for future success for the next generation of tech startups.
Onboard Tracker™ is a SaaS platform to manage the safe and efficient crewing of energy and maritime personnel across the globe. Created by Solab, Onboard Tracker has seen exponential growth in the last couple of years and is now used in over 70% of manned rigs in the UKCS and over 70 countries worldwide.
Kevin Coll, Managing Director at Solab, participated in the Business Growth Programme. He said: “We found that there we a lot of business startup support programmes but there was nothing out there for established businesses with a growth focus. Support from ONE has enabled me to concentrate on the growth areas and its paying dividends for the business.”
Programme participants this year include food packing firm Leap Automation which aims to double in size following an investment round with Alba Equity and Scottish Enterprise. Plans include increasing the team of 21 to 42 and strengthening production, product development and support capability.
Also part of the second cohort was Fennex which had a year of rapid growth in 2022, taking on seven graduates based in ONE Tech Hub to support new customers and contract wins. Their innovative technology gained international recognition as finalists in the Houston-based World Oil Awards in late 2022.
Karen continued: “As well as the entrepreneurial education element of the Business Growth Programme, equally if not more important is having a community and safe space environment to connect with leaders at a similar stage to share challenges and successes.
“Being a founder can be a lonely experience. Founders wear multiple hats and face unique challenges and demands on their time, often split between managing the business day-to-day while trying to focus on long-term growth ambitions. Knowing others are in the same position and using them as a sounding board is extremely valuable.”
Participants are part of an alumni group of founders from 16 tech businesses with plans for future activity and social events to build a close-knit, high-performing, and supportive founder community. ONE continues to play an active role working closely with founders to identify and lead activity to bring cohort members together, including one-off events on strategic themes, further entrepreneurial education, mentoring and learning journeys.”
With evidence of strong growth and ambition, access to talent continues to be a growth constraint. Karen explains, “The demand for tech talent has increased exponentially, and businesses in the region are recruiting in a hyper competitive, international tech talent market.
“ONE is working with partners, including industry, education and training providers, to develop and deliver projects that address current and future regional skills requirements and attract and retain talent to high value jobs in the region.”
Karen concluded: “Ambitious tech founders and entrepreneurs in the region have access to an exceptional range of support and a focal point for activity in ONE Tech Hub.
“It's an outstanding environment to create and scale a high value innovation driven enterprise. I’m excited to see what the businesses we are working with achieve in the years ahead and confident our cluster will continue to punch above its weight nationally and internationally.”