AN hour in the company of Brian Corcoran is all one needs to be convinced about the importance of the tech sector to Scotland’s future prosperity.

The entrepreneur is the driving force behind Turing Fest, an annual conference dedicated to supporting the tech ecosystem in Scotland, brokering connections, and giving start-ups access to potential investors and tech leaders from around the world.

It is a role which has given him a deep understanding of the opportunities and challenges facing the sector, and he offers plenty of insight into how Scotland can learn from blossoming ecosystems elsewhere in the world. Mr Corcoran, who recently received the award for Outstanding Contribution to the Digital Community at The Herald Digital Business Awards, also articulates the dangers posed by Brexit to an industry in Scotland which must compete with countries all over the world for much-needed talent.

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While much is made of the success of the Scottish tech scene, which in recent years has produced stellar names such as Skyscanner and FanDuel, and provides nearly 60,000 jobs, Mr Corcoran believes there is still much to do for the industry to realise its full potential.

“One way to look at building a tech economy is about the opportunity,” he said. “But the flip side is an interesting lens to look through as well, which is what happens if we don’t do this? And I don’t think that outcome would be remotely positive for Scotland.

“There’s a lot of jobs that are going to effectively disappear over the next decade or two. Often, when we think about that, we maybe think about manufacturing jobs and traditional blue collar jobs, but it goes far beyond that. It is jobs in every sector, every industry.”

Moreover, Mr Corcoran argues that although the perception lingers that tech is a “nice little small sub-set of the economy”, he warned that if the “right foundations are not built over the next couple of years, we are not going to be in a good position.”

Broadly speaking, Mr Corcoran acknowledged that it is hard for governments to keep up, given the pace of change in the industry, but noted there are exceptions, including Finland and Portugal.

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Finland is now home to the one of the biggest tech conferences in the world, Slush, which Mr Corcoran said only came about after its government realised several years ago that action was needed to create a culture of entrepreneurship to help grow its economy.

Broader trends could be working in Scotland’s favour, though. While Dublin is home to the European headquarters of US titans such as Twitter, Facebook, Google and LinkedIn, Mr Corcoran speculated that it may now be more appealing to set up a tech company in Scotland than Ireland.

“Dublin is a very expensive city,” he said. “It’s a hard place to find accommodation; there is a real shortage. If you are trying to hire software engineers, you are competing literally against some of the top companies in the world.

“Also, Ireland has probably not set up its tax environment to be as friendly towards entrepreneurs as the UK has.”

In a similar vein, he feels Glasgow is “ripe” to become the next major cluster in the Scottish tech ecosystem. Mr Corcoran, who branded the traditional civic rivalry between Scotland’s two biggest cities as “absurd”, feels Glasgow is an attractive location for companies because of the talent emerging from its universities, its reputation as a “creative city” and increasing strain on the supply of office space in Edinburgh. That Edinburgh is becoming more expensive for companies hiring staff could also be in Glasgow’s favour.

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“Edinburgh has clearly become Scotland’s tech capital, and it is genuinely becoming one of Europe’s most interesting tech eco-systems,” he said. “But if you rolled back 10 or 15 years, and tried to design all of this, it all arguably should have started in Glasgow.

“There’s a reasonably strong argument to say that the next wave of development, or a lot of the next wave of progress in the Scottish economy, will come from Glasgow. Glasgow is ripe for it.”

Mr Corcoran added: “Edinburgh is starting to get the problems that come with building successful ecosystems. It is starting to get more expensive to live in, and also as a city to hire in."

The great unknown hovering over the industry in Scotland, though, is Brexit.

Mr Corcoran describes the result of the 2016 referendum as a “JFK” moment for a sector which competes on the world stage for skills.

“There are a lot of real concerns,” he said. “The most obvious one is around people. I was in [tech incubator] CodeBase the day the Brexit vote result was announced, and it may be felt like when JFK was shot.

“A lot of people who work at Codebase are not British or Scottish. If, overnight. you were to remove those people from those companies, a lot of those companies would go under.

“Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that Draconian scenario.

“But even without that, something that is not well understood at government level is that skilled people in the tech industry can go wherever they want in the world. Any country would have them." He points to Silicon Valley and Dublin, where the tech industries have prospered as a result of companies targeting the best talent the world has to offer.

Mr Corcoran’s own journey in tech began when he found himself living in Barcelona in 2001, after attending Trinity College in his native Dublin, having spent time in Granada as part of the Erasmus programme. He set up a marketing agency specialising in data collection, which he sold in 2008. It was around then he hooked up with Steven Drost, now chief strategy officer at CodeBase. The two decided to set up a tech company, even though neither “knew much about software”.

Having chosen to leave Spain, they launched a visual content marketing specialist, Stipso, in Edinburgh, and even though it ultimately did not last the distance, the experience was invaluable. “The software worked, and the customers we got really liked it, but the business model had lots of flaws,” Mr Corcoran reflected, noting that Stipso was closed down at the end of 2015. “It was an amazing experience in lots of ways. I learned so much.”

It was after Stipso that Mr Corcoran first became involved in Turing Fest (originally Turing Festival) when he came into the orbit of its “original ringleader”, Jamie Coleman in 2011.

Mr Coleman, who founded CodeBase, believed strongly in its potential but approached Mr Corcoran to take it on as he was juggling other projects.

Under Mr Corcoran, Turing Fest has spawned Turing Founders, linking founders and investors, the NextGen networking events for up and coming entrepreneurs, and the Scottish Tech Startup Awards, which take place in Edinburgh next week. “The thing that underpins them is connecting people to create a stronger community,” Mr Corcoran said.

Six Questions

What countries have you most enjoyed travelling to, for business or leisure, and why?
I spent 10 years in Spain, and it remains one of my favourite countries, but these days the country that I enjoy visiting regularly is Brazil. 
My wife is Brazilian, and I speak Portuguese, so I get a fascinating perspective on an immensely interesting country.
When you were a child, what was your ideal job? Why did it appeal?
I grew up in Dublin in the 1980s, and restaurant visits were a rarity and a real treat. My brother and I always loved the idea of running our own restaurant. By ages 11 and 8, we had a whole concept planned out - it had a pirate ship theme - with my brother running the kitchen and me front of house. 
What was your biggest break in business?
When I was 26 and living in Barcelona, the firm that I worked for were frustrated with various outsourced marketing agencies. I asked my boss if they would help bankroll me to hire an external team and also be my first client, and that is how I got my marketing agency started.
What was your worst moment in business?
Shutting down my software startup, Stipso. My co-founder and I had put blood, sweat and tears into it - as well as our own capital, and some investor cash. We learned so much.
Who do you most admire and why?
Over the past few years with Turing Fest, I’ve had the privilege of getting to know literally hundreds of the smartest, most fascinating and most successful people in the global tech industry - many of whom have been on our stage in Edinburgh. 

What book are you reading and what music are you listening to?
I’m in the middle of a most extraordinarily hard science fiction trilogy called The Three Body Problem by Chinese writer Liu Cixin. This week, I’ve been listening to Dublin rock band Fontaines DC, jazz maestro Bill Evans, and afrobeat legend Fela Kuti.