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Mark Logan is frank about the shortcomings in Scotland’s technology ecosystem. Tankfully, his comprehensive review and his recommendations have been fully endorsed by government


BY KEVIN O’SULLIVAN


When Mark Logan unveiled his wide-ranging and often candid report aimed at bolstering the for- tunes of the Scottish tech industry, he probably didn’t realise the impact it would have. Released in August, the Scottish Technol- ogy Ecosystem Review has not been left on a shelf to gather dust. Rather, it is spearheading a revolution in the way government supports the tech sector. With 34 separate recommenda-


tions, all of which have been “ac- cepted in full” according to finance secretary Kate Forbes, plans are underway to turn its proposals into meaningful action. Tis will include a nationwide hub of ‘tech scalers’, which will improve the ways that tech education and men- toring is used to support entrepre- neurs and help startups to realise their ambitions. Forbes, speaking at Digital Scotland, the annual


public sector digital and data conference, said she wants to see between 300 to 500 companies being supported by the network by the end of 2022. And the minister, who credited the former chief operating officer of Sky- scanner for his “brilliant” work, appeared to open up the prospect of a more foundational role for tech across the economy. She said: “I regularly ask myself


what decisions do we want to look back on in ten years’ time that deliver the results and the achievements that were key to our success post-Covid? Tat’s why I’ve worked quickly to respond to Mark’s recommendations and in our programme for government accepted the recommendations in full. It was important to respond to the review and to keep that mo- mentum going. I don’t mean to just praise it, but to back it up with real funding and real commitment.” Tat commitment will include an ecosystem fund that will make


Mark Logan carried out the review over summer as what he calls a “labour of love” to help draw together the tech sector to work more effectively and productively for Scotland


a strategic investment in the organisations and activities that help startups to succeed, for ex- ample investing in key tech con- ferences as well as programmes to increase the number of startups and extracurricular activities in schools. And Forbes, who was address-


ing the conference on 1 December virtually, said she wants a formal partnership to be established with the tech industry to push the reforms through. However she acknowledged: “We need to work together to implement Logan. I’m fully aware that this isn’t going to be easy but I don’t shirk from the challenge; some of those recommendations will be trickier to implement than others but what I want to emphasise is that the report shows that a full- system approach is needed and that is something that I whole- heartedly agree with and want to commit to.”


In sections of the 89-page report Logan is at times frank about the current failings of the education sector to adequately serve the tech economy; he describes an unsatisfactory situation whereby computing science is often taught by non-specialist teachers because of the lack of dedicated staff, and as a result of reduced provision much of the curriculum is “boring”. He says also that this “state of


affairs” is not aligned to Scot- land’s future economic needs, given that there is already a de- mand for 13,000 tech profession- als annually who can command salaries that are 26 per cent above the average. At higher education level,


Scotland’s universities also do not adequately equip computing science undergraduates with the necessary entrepreneurial skills they need to build the next tech unicorn company, Logan says. He cites the desired model as


that of the US, where Stanford University in California created a “start-up-friendly, supportive environment” in the early days of Silicon Valley. He writes: “Of the 300 private tech companies valued at more than $1b in 2019, 63, or one fifth, of their


founders studied at Stanford.” Conversely, Logan identifies a


weak culture of entrepreneur- ialism within Scotland’s uni- versities, and that existing key performance indicators (KPIs) “risk operating to actively reduce institutional enthusiasm for entrepreneurialism to below its otherwise natural level” – because universities are partly measured on the number of students who finish courses. “If Larry Page had attended a


Scottish university, a KPI some- where would have tipped towards amber when he co-founded Google, then towards red when Sergey Brin joined him,” he writes. “In effect, it is in the local interests of universities to disin- centivise entrepreneurial startup activities, lest students drop out and form startups.”


One of the solutions Logan recommends is for universities to more actively bring together busi- ness students with computing science students, an intervention by which it is “likely that startups would emerge”. Logan, who has become a tech


investor, adviser and teacher at the University of Glasgow (where he teaches computing science students how to be tech entrepre- neurs) since his departure from Skyscanner, was asked to conduct the review in May 2020. He car- ried out that work, pro bono, over summer as what he calls a “labour of love” and wanted to help draw together the tech sector to work more effectively and pro- ductively for Scotland as a whole, no matter where individuals or companies are based, a point that has taken on particular salience during lockdown.


Eventually he hopes that the ecosystem will develop to a matu- rity which he calls “post-tipping point”, which means it will be self-sustaining and no longer require government intervention, in that it hosts a critical mass of viable startups. Logan says: “Te report takes


a stance that we do a pretty good job as an ecosystem today but we


Continued on Page 12 FUTURESCOT | WINTER 2020/21 | 11


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