CodeBase is the the fastest growing tech incubator in Europe and the largest in the UK. Can you share some of the latest news and events?
Yes, we’ve just reached our second birthday in the CodeBase building in Argyle House in Edinburgh. In that two years, we’ve multiplied times five. Even in the last couple of weeks we’ve brought on another 18 companies, making a total of 80 companies having joined us, approaching a total of 500 people working between them. That’s been quite an incredible growth.
Digital Media Launch Pad [the £1 million partnership between CodeBase and Innovate UK investing in Edinburgh’s digital media sector] is an ongoing process. There are some companies who have had some funding approved and there is a process set for us to help them take their ideas and grow them into new or expanding businesses.
Are there any new innovations or business models coming out of CodeBase that are disruptive or a real gamechanger?
Absolutely. There are a range of them and every single company here is attempting to do something properly disruptive, across sectors from healthcare to education, from security to gaming. There are a bunch of companies I have my eye on that are doing some really genuinely spectacular stuff. To be honest, a lot of the new business models are happening in sometimes traditional industries.
For example, you have Mike Grove’s Topolytics, which is based in the energy sector. They are using sensors and the Internet of Things to extract big data around emissions and environmental monitoring in large energy sites like Grangemouth among others. The disruptive element here is that these sensors are so cheap, you can have real-time sensing of chemicals in some large areas that were previously unable spot before.
Administrate is a company which has an mobile-first educational training platform, changing the game of the way people ‘get taught.’ That’s fascinating as we all think of teaching as going to school, but what does teaching mean now we all have mobile phones? There are so many examples that I could talk about them all day.
What is it that makes you tick and gets you up in the morning?
Being able to building and scale these technology companies and being able to be an intellectual magpie working with people who are changing the world in so many different ways. The reality is the company engineering, the building of companies properly—being able to grow companies from 50 people to hopefully 500 is the goal.
Within that, it means knowing how to build these companies. Building a software company on the internet is very different from the old, last century factory model of innovation. There aren’t many people who are doing that right in Western Europe and that is the key focus for us.
You are part of the Creative Economy Hubs Steering Group. Can you share a little bit of your involvement with the Group.
We’d worked together with [Creative Economy programme manager] Lynsey Smith a few years ago on a number of projects around Edinburgh. I’m so focused on building tech companies—billion dollar tech companies—but obviously the creative economy is wider.
Whilst there are plenty of people who can build amazing businesses for themselves—by that I mean artisans who have no intention of being huge—the reality is among that bunch there will be one or two ideas which are extra special and can really turn into something international, and those are the ones that I’m interested in.
For me a lot of the motivation to be in the Group was pure talent spotting. Another is that within the tech start up world we’ve solved a lot of the issues that face everyone, not just in tech. The issues of having no money but you are trying to reach an international market—how do you talk about your idea or how do you create when you don’t have a huge marketing budget? How do you create an engine around letting people know about you? It may be that people from South-East Asia love your business or idea, but you are based in Dundee.
From games all the way through to healthcare software, we’ve solved a lot of these things. If I can start pushing some of that knowledge into the wider creative economy, you could actually allow a lot of people to do very well—no matter what scale or reach—helping them to make a profit and be sustainable. There are incredibly talented people here in Scotland and elsewhere that are just not making enough money. They are brilliant, but they are struggling and some of them have to do other jobs in order to still do the thing that they are passionate about. I want that need to have other sources of income to go away so they are able to make real money doing what they love.
CodeBase is the only business model within the Group that is funded by solely by private investment. Does this allow you to bring a varied insight and dynamic to the Group?
I hope so, yes. It’s absolutely correct that within many of the hubs there are elements of social enterprise and other models which are amazing, and all very required. We also realise that a lot of these tremendous hubs are under pressure with public sector budgets being cut or capped. Often the hubs are looking for alternative ways to keep doing the amazing work.
I can bring a bit of that insight in terms of how I work with corporate partnerships and how we are able to bring money in to help facilitate some of the great work happening. And how we can look at investment landscape and drive that private equity into these new and emerging creative hubs is definitely something I can give to the Group in a way that others may not be able to.
What’s the best insight or piece of knowledge you’ve gained from being part of the Steering Group?
It’s not the tech or some piece of computing, it’s the human creativity that is the greatest business advantage. It’s the deep human psychological insights that creatively trained and talented people have that create the next breakthrough idea. That’s the thing I want to hone in on. That’s the core insight—that’s where all the next new ideas are going to come from.
Is the overall Creative Hubs space in Scotland healthy? What could help solve its challenges and encourage it to flourish more?
I’m unbelievably biased about this. For me, we need to connect the tech start up world more with the wider creative hubs, as I see amazingly brainy and talented creative people who perhaps don’t realise or don’t have the ambition to do something that could be world-changing. I believe the raw talent is absolutely there in these hubs and people are doing so much good.
I would like to let them see more of how we take ideas and build them into international realities. There is absolute potential which I think is yet totally yet untapped.