Scotland has the ability to build large-scale technology companies and needs to inspire today's schoolchildren with the desire to work in them, the industry's annual forum in Edinburgh has been told.

ScotSoft, the annual conference for the digital technologies industries organised by trade body ScotlandIS, devoted its first session at EICC to a schools event involving 371 secondary age pupils and teachers.

Then 500 delegates heard from Skyscanner co-founder Gareth Williams, serial entrepreneur David Sibbald, and Sherry Coutu, an adviser to Cambridge University and a blue-chip list of digital companies.

Ms Coutu, chairman of Silicon Valley Comes to UK, said the UK would need one million new science engineering and technology professionals by 2020, while the OECD had predicted that today's 1.8m people working in the app economy would rise to 5.8m by 2018.

"If we don't do something about it a lot of those jobs will be filled elsewhere," she said.

Ms Coutu said just one hour-long awareness session pushed the proportion of pupils interested in a technology career from a national average of 18 per cent to 54 per cent.

She added: "Sometimes it seems we are preparing kids for jobs that were, rather than jobs that are."

Gareth Williams said Skyscanner had received only £6m of external investment.

Yet it is one of only two firms to be among the top 100 technology companies for each of the past five years, while the $1billion digital giants had been backed with hundreds of millions of dollars.

He said: "Entrepreneurship is not about raising money, it is about solving catch 22s....funding buys you time."

He said Skyscanner with 30m annual users was poised for a new stage of rapid growth,adding: "We can produce $1bn internet economy companies."

David Sibbald, who sold his first company Atlantech to Cisco for £113m in 2000, said his third company Aridhia Informatics was working in joint venture with the academic sector and the health service to create data that would personalise medicine.

Mr Sibbald said the Saltire Foundation's international management training programme showed Scotland was well placed to compete for the digital prizes of the future.

"I think we are good at that, and we could be great at that," he said.