Edinburgh is building on its strong history of innovation and invention with some notable technology start-ups. In fact, the city plays host to the most start-ups in the UK. 

It has fostered an interesting mix of new firms and small and medium-sized enterprises with a global outlook, including Skyscanner, which was established in 2001 and is now the number one flight search engine in Europe.

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Start-ups are located in a number of clusters across the city, including Appleton Tower, TechCube, Waverley Gate, Silicon Walk, Quatermile and Evo House. FanDuel, which entered the market in 2009 and now employs 60 people in the US and Edinburgh, is based in Tech Cube, a centre for early stage technology firms. The firm’s CEO, Nigel Eccles, says: “TechCube has been a great landlord, has been flexible and has enabled us to be based near other start-ups.”

Online identity proofing service Miicard has been up and running for about two years. “The city has a fantastic start-up community, and it’s one that I've been involved in for past 10 to 15 years,” says its CEO, James Varga. “I have friends with other start-ups [in Edinburgh] that are doing fantastically well because of this community. It’s also attractive for start-ups because of the combination of skill sets that are coming out of the universities, the investment community, especially on the angel side, and the expertise and support from groups such as Scottish Enterprise. And for us, the fact that financial services is so strong in the city [presents an opportunity] to connect with the banks.”

And the environment for start-ups is still improving. Mr Eccles says: “People are coming out of start-ups such as Skyscanner who have experience of scaling a business. Edinburgh also has an advantage because there’s very good tech talent availability and there’s much better staff retention here than in London.”

University support

Edinburgh University’s School of Informatics is behind a series of schemes to help entrepreneurs. Its ProspeKT programme focuses on generating start-ups from the university’s talent pool. “Between 2006 and 2011, we supported 43 start-ups and spin-outs,” says Colin Adams, the university’s director of commercialisation in the School of Informatics. “That’s now reached 61, and I doubt that there's another school in the UK that has that kind of record.”

The university also supports entrepreneurs by offering bursaries and holding networking events such as demoFEST, techmeetup.co.uk, IVenture Tuesday and CEO Master Classes. In addition it runs an Entrepreneurs in Residence programme, which links successful business people with the university’s most promising potential entrepreneurs.

Finance availability

The Scottish Informatics and Computer Science Alliance runs the Informatics Ventures programme, and helps foster innovation and entrepreneurship within start-up and spin-out companies. The programme’s Engage Invest Exploit annual investor showcase features high-quality companies that have been spun out of Scotland’s research departments as well as early-stage firms from the wider business community. It attracts about 150 investors from Scotland, the rest of the UK, Europe, Asia and the Americas, including corporate venturers, venture capitalists, business angel syndicates and high-net-worth individuals.

Cally Russell, CEO and founder of personal shopper app firm Mallzee, believes one of the advantages of starting up in Edinburgh is the availability of finance. He says: “There’s a huge number of companies chasing capital in London. It’s easier to get face-to-face time with investors here in Edinburgh.”

Investment firm Par Equity is based in the city. “There’s no shortage of deals to go round in Edinburgh,” says ParEquity partner Robert Higginson. "There’s stunning science coming out of Edinburgh University – and clearly the market is international for these products. It has been extremely successful in creating an increasingly large number of small high-tech growth companies. And inward investments are being driven by some of the small innovative firms.”

The cost of this report was underwritten by the City of Edinburgh Council. Reporting and editing were carried out independently by fDi Magazine