What makes Edinburgh an outstanding entrepreneurial city?


6 December 2016

About two weeks ago, the city I’ve called my home the last 16 years, Edinburgh, was named ‘British Entrepreneurial City of the Year’ (beating Cambridge, Leeds, London and Manchester to the title I may add – #JustSaying) in the Great British Entrepreneur Awards. Perhaps needless to say, as an inhabitant of the ‘burgh, a native Scot (Stirling-born in point of fact) and working in the amazing team that is Informatics Ventures, I’m immensely proud of the award and how far Scotland and Edinburgh, in particular, has come to achieve it. The plain fact is, however, I left Scotland in 1989 and I never expected, or arguably even wanted, to return.

First, to Oxford then London, for over 11 years, I really took to study, work and life in the (somewhat!) warmer climes south of the border and saw myself there for the long term. But, as Allen Saunders said, ‘life is what happens to us while we are making other plans’. Fate took a hand and, in 2000, at the end of a lengthy interview process for a new job with Deutsche Bank (on the basis I would continue to be based in the City of London), I remarked to an Edinburgh-based colleague at Deutsche about how pleased I was to get the job but I wasn’t looking forward to the regular travel between London and Edinburgh. His reply – “Aye that’ll no be happenin’ mate, you’ll be working here!” – true to his word, within 3 months, I was back in the land of my birth.

The point of that preamble is this: while I had never really thought about returning to Scotland let alone Edinburgh, I’ve never really looked back and I now realise that we have quite an exquisite mix of work-life balance in the city that has become my home. That neatly brings me (forgive the segue!) to the criteria we were judged on as a city in the Great British Entrepreneur Awards…


the quality of life that attracts smart, entrepreneurial people…

The quality of life, with stunning sea, shore and land on our doorstep and a city rightly described as the Athens of the North say it all really. It’s up to others to describe me but I do know a lot of very smart and entrepreneurial people! In a way, it shouldn’t be a great surprise given that we live in a city that was built on its education and universities, trade & commerce, the Enlightenment and all the brilliant minds and collectives that came from that.


access to capital and talent…

Capital and talent have built this city and continue to fire its successes and these areas can also provide challenges to our growth but, for me, today’s Edinburgh is characterised by our festivals, universities, world-leading companies, folks of all nationalities, a global financial centre and the UK’s second largest after London, a city bristling with international talent and achievement. The fact that I get to work in and among all of that…


start-up ecosystems and entrepreneurial culture…

…and this is for me one of the central reasons I’m still here because, since 2008, I’ve worked at the University of Edinburgh School of Informatics, the largest in Europe, and latterly in Informatics Ventures, Scotland’s leading technology entrepreneur support programme serving the whole of Scotland. Since 2008, we have connected, educated and supported hundreds of Scottish technology companies to start and grow and flourish. Our technology investor showcase, EIE, is the largest of its kind outside London and has helped companies raise in excess of £360 million in that time. We get to meet, interact and work with incredibly smart young men and women…


access to mentors and support networks.

….as well as the many willing, gracious and experienced entrepreneurs in our ecosystem who’ve built companies, made all the mistakes and grown from them, and whose mission now is to support and give back as much as they have gained to those coming after. I, we, get to work in the most fantastic support network that has grown from very, very little when we were first established in 2008, to a thriving, energised and visionary group of organisations such as you would be hard pushed to find in many if not most cities around the world – Converge Challenge, Scottish EDGE, Codebase, Entrepreneurial Scotland, Scottish Enterprise, E-Spark, We Are The Future, Power Of Youth, Talent Spark … there are too many to name individually but each was established with a unique vision but, above all, with a growing determination to see Scotland thrive and become the most entrepreneurial society in the world.

Richard Branson has said “You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over.” Informatics Ventures broke the mould in 2008 to deliver practitioner-led education, to connect the nascent but emerging tech community and to support the potential winners that emerged. We’ve learned by doing and we’ve stumbled now and then but we’ve improved, refined and remained true to our vision. As we enter our tenth year in 2017, we’re keenly anticipating that and what lies in 2018 and beyond. One thing is for certain, however, we’ll be doing it in one of the UK’s, the world’s, most entrepreneurial cities and that is what will keep me here for the foreseeable future or maybe more.

By Steve Ewing, Informatics Ventures

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