Seeking a share of digital spoils
Edinburgh and Glasgow have long been traditional foes, fighting for bragging rights on everything from shopping and entertainment to deciding who wears the technology crown.
Now there’s a new kid on the block. Stirling is muscling in on the big boys in an ambitious bid to grab a share of the limelight in what is being dubbed the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Stewart Carruth is leading the charge. As chief executive of Stirling Council he’s busy pulling together a strategy to build a new digital economy.
It has a number of components, from developing a source of finance to building out fibre connectivity.
“Stirling has some strong sectors, from construction and food production to tourism,” he says. “But we recognised that if we left the economy like it is it will go into decline.”
Ahead of the soon-to-be announced City Deal the council has begun investing in its digital plans, spending more on infrastructure, fibre optics and introducing young people to coding skills.
Codebase, the technology incubator, has opened a satellite in the city centre, providing a focus for new business ideas, and the university is being encouraged to provide a flow of skilled graduates for local firms.
Carruth has also forged a pioneering partnership with Steven Morris, one of the city’s key drivers of investment, a vital component in helping to attract companies and top talent to the region.
Morris, who is also a city commissioner, runs ESM Investments which is filling a vital funding gap for scale-up companies.
He has thrown his weight behind Morris’s ESM Capital Growth Enterprise Investment Scheme Fund, which is raising £25m to address a badly-served sector of the growth market. Investors and other interested parties have been invited to a pre-launch event at the Codebase centre on Friday.
“There are funds serving the £5m to £10m market, and there are lots of angels providing maybe £100,000,” says Morris.
“But there are few dedicated funds looking to invest between £1 million and £3m into a scale-up business.”
Carruth sees the City Deal and the ESM fund as key components in building the new eco-system. He also has a “growing spaces” strategy which will provide the facilities to support the City Deal backed infrastructure.
A purpose-built business centre is on the drawing board and a site has been identified.
“At the moment Stirling is full at the seams so we need to grow places for businesses. We want to create a cluster where companies can learn from each other,” he says.
Carruth and Morris are like-minded on the potential for transforming Stirling’s prospects and are now appealing to investors to help them fulfil their ambitions.
“To do this in Edinburgh or Glasgow would not give us a point of difference,” says Morris, who admits he is playing in a much smaller pool of investors and companies seeking finance.
“We have pitched this deliberately as a ‘place-based fund’. I may be from Falkirk, but I have lived and worked in Stirling for some time. My kids have grown up here. I want to make this work for the area.”
Carruth, as a former PwC adviser, has brought a rare business background into town hall management and believes it has helped him build relationships in the corporate community that will bode well.
Morris is hoping that same community sees the benefits that can be gained from putting capital behind emerging companies.
“Corporates should be mindful that investing in these firms creates a positive impact on their own business,” he says.
“They can back good ideas that may benefit what they do. That’s a win-win for everyone.”