TechCrunch Edinburgh

So last Wednesday, TechCrunch came to Edinburgh. Beginning with a series of presentations from local start-ups and finishing with VC (Venture Capitalist) presentations and panel debates.

There was a cracking presentation from Richard Marshall at Rapid Mobile, though by the heck that man knows how to start a debate! A few (possibly carefully planned) throwaway comments about the lack of female techs in Dundee and the lack of enthusiasm from folk in Glasgow to mix with techs in Edinburgh (and vice versa) and he’d got the full attention of the audience! However, he wasn’t the only one to raise controversial questions; reservations about local work ethic, frustrations by and with VCs about their inflexibility to make investments in smaller start-ups were also very sharp points for debate.

The lack of enthusiasm by certain venture capitalists and “angels” to make small investments, angered a lot of local start-up folk. Sam Collins captured some of this frustration in an articulate letter to Eddie Anderson , a venture capitalist at Pentech Ventures. You will see from the volume of comments responding to Sam’s letter, that there is a significant amount of concern about Eddie’s views and what Scotland can do to compete with larger tech networks.

It’s important that we can discuss these questions openly. Since the tech community in Scotland wants to be more like Silicon Valley (which tech community wouldn’t?), perhaps we need to take a step back? I’ll move carefully here, because in all honesty I know very little about the start-up community in Scotland – only what I’ve heard from friends who work in these start-ups and what I’ve observed from conferences, meet-ups and pub chat. It’s just that I’ve heard students/post-grads and start-up folk continuously ask how we can make Scotland more like Silicon Valley and I just wonder if we looked at what we need to do, rather that what we need to look like – we’d make more progress.

For example, one of the VCs raised the point that there’s a lack of decent “product managers” in Scotland. As you can imagine this didn’t just go down like a lead balloon, it went down like an atomic bomb, firing plenty of discussion post-conference. I haven’t seen a job description for these award winning product managers (apparently found in abundance in The Valley), but I’ve met a lot of really influential commercial thinkers in Scotland and whilst they might not have the same profile as the wonderful Silicon Valley PMs, I think they’d have a positive impact on helping start-up companies flourish on a regional and national level, whilst helping the same companies develop links abroad. A pair of balls, some initiative, the ability to listen and a commercial mindset can take you a long way, but such aptitude and attitude are certainly not unique to the USA.

I’m almost teetotal at the moment due to running (or slow-jogging) a marathon in a week’s time. Consequently I remember most of the conversations I had at the TechCrunch after-show party with reasonable clarity. A friend of a friend there was visiting from San Francisco and launched into a tirade on how Scotland’s entrepreneurs should be addressing finance and insurance innovation. He’d had so much wine that it was clearly of little consequence whether I stayed in the conversation or not. I tried on three occasions to say that I’d worked on a number of  digital innovation projects for the financial services industry and had processed a lot of insight. I don’t always push this experience as much as I perhaps should, because the ownership is part Blonde, part me and part client; knowing how and where to separate isn’t always easy. What frustrates me most is that I’m sure agency culture and the start-up community have a lot to learn from each other, but there’s little point in trying to build the relationship if both sides feel they are too busy for such an exchange.

I also accept that there will certainly be more experienced commercial thinkers out there than me, but if the challenges aren’t offered, how can I rise to them? If the only way to become one of these genius product managers who really contribute to start-up success, is to “do start-up”, surely we can work out a better scheme to bring in commercial thinkers who evolve to become influential in the necessary communities?

Since writing this post, found Mark Littlewood’s thoughts via the Start-Up Café blog:

http://thebln.com/2010/05/vc-prozac-thoughts-on-the-scottish-entrepreneurial-ecosystem/

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