In August 2020, when Kate Forbes, Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Economy commissioned Professor Mark Logan, former COO of Skyscanner, to develop a short-life review on Scotland’s technology sector we were certain the resulting report would help propel us towards a more globalised and innovative future for Scotland.
The STER report was developed in a difficult year like no other. The coronavirus pandemic impacted every facet of our lives, economy and businesses. The publication of the Scottish Tech Ecosystem Review (‘STER’ for short) received critical acclaim due to its depth, creativity and above all vision and ambition.
As Professor Logan writes in his report, Scotland for all its resilience and history of reinvention and innovation, cannot yet boast a world-class tech ecosystem. Professor Logan diagnosed Scotland as being at pre-tipping point, with the stage of arrival at posttipping point being when the ecosystem hosts a critical mass of viable start-ups and scale-ups.
Two years on, as we emerge from the pandemic, his assessment still holds.
Scotland’s entrepreneurial activity has gradually improved over time: Scotland’s Total Early-stage Entrepreneurial Activity (TEA) rate in 2021 was 9.5%, compared with 4.2% in 2010. However, Scotland’s TEA rate remains below that of some other advanced economies and we still need more high growth firms which disproportionally drive growth, productivity and innovation. We know we can and should be doing better and STER aims to vastly increase the rate of tech entrepreneurial activity and associated wider economic impacts.
During a time when we find ourselves in an incredibly challenging economic position, compounded by the impact of the pandemic, our exit from the EU and other global challenges, there has never been a more important time for transformative economic direction that benefits all. Evidence shows that supporting the growth of start-ups is one of the most effective ways to boost our economy and unlock sustainable growth and better career opportunities.
However, changes of this scale are a long-term process that involve transforming culture and mind-set as much as it involves transforming the physical and financial landscape. Recognising the need for a cultural shift, and led by the advice from our top entrepreneurs and experts, we have also embedded the necessity for entrepreneurial thinking as a key theme in our 10 year National Strategy for Economic Transformation. I am delighted that Professor Logan is now Scotland’s Chief Entrepreneur and that we continue to benefit from his valuable expertise, support and challenge.
Speaking with start-up founders and organisations across the Scottish ecosystem, I was enthused to find that one of the key achievements of STER has been its ability to better bridge and collaborate across specialisms and domains. The STER Advisory Board, made up of some of Scotland’s top entrepreneurs and tech leaders, has provided crucial advice and constructive challenge that has helped with exactly this.
STER was never going to be a quick-fix solution to a somewhat fragmented landscape but many can agree that the clear overarching mission and argument Professor Logan presents has helped focus, connect and inspire our ecosystem for the better.
Since launching the STER programme in 2020 to implement the report’s recommendations, we have made strong progress and have invested over £60m to date. Some highlights include:
- The formation of STACS (Scottish Teachers Advancing Computing Science), an organisation run for and by Computing Science teachers;
- An investment of over £1 million for additional Computing Science hardware for schools;
- Our £1 million Ecosystem Fund which has made strategic investments in the organisations and activities that create the best possible environment for start-ups to succeed;
- And the award of a five year £42m contract to CodeBase for the delivery of a national TechScaler network; seven tech hubs delivering world-class commercial education to start-ups.
We are encouraged by the progress that has been made on the STER recommendations so far and the level of collaboration this programme has created across Scotland. I am pleased to share the detail of the progress we’ve made so far, and the stories of those who have benefited first hand. Whilst there is much to be proud of, we also acknowledge that there is much more left to do to reach our post-tipping-point goal, but bolstered by investment, strategy and the collective will of the ecosystem we are on our way.
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