TECH TALK: BILL MAGEE says that calling off this year’s EIE investor showcase is a big mistake
A year ago I wrote how an Engage Invest Exploit (EIE) London Innovation & Investment gathering had engaged investors from around the world. EIE worked hard at pressing home Scotland’s burgeoning position as the gateway to global investment and finance and I highlighted how this small, but smart, nation can be a fully-fledged North European commercial hub.
So, news that this year’s EIE showcase will not be held has come as a bit of shock. What’s changed?
In that column last year I pointed out how the country’s premier technological-based platform was supported by the devolved government’s ecosystem fund, in connection with the Scottish Technology Ecosystem 2020 Review. I assume this financial backing is still in place.
The piece coincided with the then First Minister Nichola Sturgeon’s visit to Washington DC to press home the case of Scotland’s unique positioning as an international hub for these modern digital times.
Furthermore, that it was abundantly clear how EIE developed and nurtured a cluster of cutting-edge (a phrase to be used sparingly) high-tech start-ups in key areas including clean tech, robotics, electric vehicles, agile diagnostics, mental wellbeing and stem cell advancements.
Of Course, the COVID-19 pandemic drew a halt to a plethora of face-to-face events across all sectors, albeit temporarily. Or in the case of EIE should that be permanent?
There can always be an excuse for something not happening, no matter how successful. The latest global catastrophe is Russia’s attempted invasion of Ukraine. Then there will be something else.
I ask these questions because since the country’s premier technology-based investors’ pitching event was subsumed into the Bayes Centre, opened by HRH The Princess Royal five years ago this October, EIE has not so much been absorbed as disappeared. Key commercially-led senior personnel have left.
New that an EIE pitching event will not be staged this year – as exclusively revealed by Daily Business last week – is disappointing and begs a few questions.
Bayes is described as “a multi-disciplinary collaborative hub for staff across the University of Edinburgh.” The staff highlight smacks of an insular response. Almost as if there isn’t an outside world, not outside academia anyway.
Somewhere within this spanking new academic establishment is the School for Informatics. It was created following a realisation in the late Nineties the university’s Department of Artificial Intelligence, Centre for Cognitive Science and Department of Computer Science should be brought under one roof.
The Informatics Forum was opened in 2008 and houses the school and the commercial and collaborative arm Informatics Ventures opened for business. In the next decade it became, for me, certainly one of the UK’s most popular start-up investor showcase/pitching events.
Over £1.1 billion has been raised involving 540 start-ups and bears testimony to a success story in what is a vibrant, very much hands-on investment event.
Over those years I was chuffed to be one of the mentor/judges on several occasions to what is a stand-out collaborative effort with the start-ups pitching beauty parade always the focal point.
The annual gig would finish with a rooftop BBQ and the start-up stars leaving with that precious glow of entrepreneurial optimism, helping carry them through to the grand final pitching stage.
Investors were attracted from all over the world and many became regulars attending year-on-year.
Yes, of course, we all live in difficult times when the money men and women are being more careful over their spend. I would argue this is the very time when EIE is especially needed.
It was held online during the lockdown – this begs a further question: why not at least do this again on a remote basis. With the intention of returning face-to-face in 2024?
After a solid decade of global investor interest and opening their wallets, calling a temporary halt to EIE is a mistake.
Financial folks aren’t shy at seeking out new investor-led avenues ie beyond Scotland. It’s not the time to pull back Bayes – think again.