ScotlandIS CEO Karen Meechan has written a comment piece for The Herald, on export opportunities available to Scottish tech companies and how these are essential in aiding the scaling of startups to drive our economy.
Along with investment, start-ups grow predominantly with two things: new business opportunities, and the development and recruitment of skilled workforce. Scotland has earned a reputation as a tech hub as it’s put great effort into the latter part; we offer world-renowned degree courses, programmes to upskill career changers and teach digital skills in schools. Our successes, too, feed into this reputation. Home to the likes of Skyscanner, Rockstar North, and a brilliant FinTech cohort, Scotland is bustling with talent.
But when it comes to new business opportunities, in a small country, our tech companies will struggle to grow at the pace we’ve witnessed previously without a concerted effort to boost exports and access to international markets. Despite some support from government, SMEs in Scotland are nowhere near close to having the resources they need to be able to comfortably and feasibly explore new territory. More needs to be done.
As the membership organisation for Scotland’s digital technology industry, we’re playing our part. We recently supported a trip to Bahrain for some of our members to attend the first Arab International Cyber Conference – the largest convention in the region focussed on securing cyber and IT infrastructure. Being privy to discussions around the challenges that organisations are facing today, and exhibiting their products to those seeking new solutions, was a golden opportunity for our members to engage with a receptive audience. And following the conference – which, for many, was their first time ‘dipping their toe in the water’ at an event like this – four even secured new business briefs, giving them a significant financial and professional boost.
We could have an abundance of similar success stories if we realised the importance of offering growing companies experiences like this. Experiences that enable them to network and showcase their offering outside of their home territory. And we shouldn’t wait for these companies to prove themselves at home before we support them overseas either. The truth is that many companies which are successful in Scotland often secured their first business contracts elsewhere.
Yes, it is an investment. But relative to the success it can bring, we shouldn’t consider money a barrier. If we don’t work harder to bring new opportunities to our start-ups and scale-ups or to highlight support that is already there, we risk stunting brilliant companies’ potential for growth – and with that, the growth of our wider economy.
Like maths and music, the beauty of tech is that there is no language barrier. The skills that a cyber engineer or a software developer learns in Scotland are valuable in any corner of the world. But while the skills are global, the competition is too. Our hotbed of talent gives us an advantage. But if we don’t support our talent to access new markets, that value of that advantage may fall.