By Scott Wright

A LEADING light of the Scottish technology scene has made a series of recommendations to help Glasgow emulate Edinburgh’s record of producing tech success stories.

The vibrancy of Edinburgh’s close-knit tech community is credited with spawning “unicorns” Skyscanner and FanDuel – businesses that went on to be worth $1 billion – as well as a host of fast-growing start-ups in recent years.

Commentators have regularly questioned why Glasgow has not had the same success in generating such stellar tech start-ups, despite the steady stream of graduates and apprentices produced by the city being snapped up by financial giants such as JP Morgan, Barclays and Morgan Stanley.

Gordon Guthrie, a former IT strategist at Royal Bank of Scotland and now vice president of product delivery at US fintech unicorn BlockFi, has written a paper in which he suggests how Glasgow can narrow the gap.

He emphasises the importance of establishing a place where “ecosystem participants” can meet and learn from each other, and where investors can access multiple businesses easily – a role which has been performed successfully in Edinburgh by the Turing Fest in recent years.

Speaking to the Herald, Mr Guthrie dismissed the notion that it would take vast amounts of money to stimulate the development of the tech start-up scene in Glasgow, declaring that the success of Edinburgh stems from making “small measurable interventions”.

“The emphasis has to be on getting a sustainable business flow, where the businesses are generating revenue and learning,” he said.

“It really is this focus on small measurable interventions… you are looking for an organic way to grow. You need to get people meeting regularly and learning from each other.”

He added: “The key is to get away from this nonsense that you have to spend half a billion pounds [to make a difference],” he said.

Mr Guthrie, a co-founder of Turing Fest, said the role played by the event in Edinburgh in recent years cannot be overstated. “It is not an accident that the Turing Festival is [a] Festival and not a conference,” Mr Guthrie writes in the paper.

“It is not a coincidence that it takes place immediately before the Edinburgh Festival. It is not a mistake that the first class tech speaker, Steve Wozniak – the co-founder of Apple with Steve Jobs – spoke at the distinctly fifth rate Turing Festival. He came for the Edinburgh Festival.”

Mr Guthrie raised the prospect of Turing Fest coming to Glasgow, but at a different time and with different content to that on offer in Edinburgh.

“Glasgow should commission Turing to do an event out of cycle with the Edinburgh Festival,” he said. “Do something in the spring, do it differently, and use that experience and contacts and make it a success. You want to try and build something that is additional, that expands [Turing], rather than copying it.”

Mr Guthrie also addressed the question of how Glasgow can staunch the flow of its best IT talent to cities such as Edinburgh and London, and attract graduates from elsewhere. He said tempting to people to make their careers in Glasgow can be done by “crafting” a reputation for the city based on employment opportunity alongside attractions such as its cultural life and proximity to outdoor pursuits. He also emphasised the importance of tech companies displaying strong ambition, in tandem with a “realistic road to it.”

Mr Guthrie said: “One of the advantages Glasgow has got that Edinburgh didn’t have 10 years ago is FanDuel and Skyscanner. [It shows] it is possible to do this in Glasgow.

“There are people in Glasgow who I know are thinking: I could try and start a $1bn company, but I am not convinced that the political class, the media class or other people see that as a realistic ambition. When you get the universities, politicians, economic development and practitioners saying it is realistic, that is when you get the magic synergy.”

He added: “People always assume big outcomes are associated with big input. But you can have big ambitious outcomes with small but intelligent inputs.”