How Glasgow is Becoming a Technology and Innovation Hub
By Bruntwood SciTech
We recently looked at Birmingham’s burgeoning status as a technology and innovation hub - a very similar story is unfolding north of the border too. This feature will look at Glasgow’s status as a tech and innovation hub, with a look towards how future political and infrastructural developments could benefit the country.
We asked Alisdair Gunn, Project Director of the Glasgow City Innovation District for his expert opinion on the advantages and opportunities exclusive to Scotland, in comparison with the rest of the UK. In this article, he shared his insights into Scotland’s Tech Ecosystem, the private and public sector partnerships and educational institutions supporting its growth - and the barriers it’s facing too - as well as his thoughts on the future of the ecosystem.
Scotland's Tech Ecosystem
Successful tech ecosystems typically have key characteristics that make them successful – a strong talent pool, access to funding and a culture of innovation. However, their growth is reliant upon the community being actively involved in building them.
Since the impact of the dot-com era, Scotland has been steadily developing its start-up community, which has produced global businesses like Current Health, Fanduel, Calnex and Skyscanner. Tech conferences like Turing Fest, Glasgow Tech Fest and DigitalDNA also attract founders and leaders from the international tech community, bringing the latest insight into scaling products, teams, and revenue growth.
What sets Scotland’s tech ecosystem apart from others is its connectedness and strength of community in linking to investors and peer support.
Glasgow's Innovation Districts
The creation of three innovation districts in Glasgow has supported the development of Scotland’s tech and digital ecosystem. Scotland’s first such district, Glasgow City Innovation District (GCID), is recognised as the nation’s hub of innovation, entrepreneurship and collaboration. The formation of GCID and two other Districts in the Glasgow City Region - Glasgow Riverside Innovation District (GRID) and the Advanced Manufacturing Innovation District (AMIDS) - gives tech start-ups and enterprises access to a range of accelerator programmes that support innovation, product and talent development, and revenue growth.
Building upon this strategy, Glasgow has become the first city in the UK to launch its own open-access database to showcase and scale its £2.6bn regional tech ecosystem. The Invest Glasgow platform Dealroom provides intelligence and detailed data on Glasgow’s tech meetups, investors, accelerators, start-ups and scaleups. Alongside the vast one-to-one business support available through Scotland’s economic agencies, the country’s support of both personal and business growth stands it apart from similar tech hubs.
How Glasgow’s Higher Education Offering is Supporting the Sector
Scotland has a strong higher education system, with several of its universities having an international reputation for excellence in fields such as engineering, computer science, and life sciences.
With over 280,000 enrolled students, Scotland has two universities ranked in the top 10 leading universities within the UK. Focused on creating inclusive pathways by 2030, the Scottish government aims to ensure that 20% of all students entering higher education come from Scotland’s most deprived backgrounds.
Glasgow is home to the University of Strathclyde, which is one of the most prestigious international technological universities. The University has a strong focus on research and innovation, offering a wide range of undergraduate and graduate programmes in fields related to technology and digital industries.
With a record number of students entering Scotland’s higher education, Glasgow has 12 world-leading colleges and universities who educate, research, and innovate across a variety of industries including financial services, health and care, engineering, space and photonics. Shaped by its culture in design, science, engineering and creativity, Glasgow hosts the highest number of students studying computing science and software engineering in Scotland.
In addition to traditional university programmes, Scotland offers several apprenticeship and alternative training opportunities in digital fields. The Scottish government has funded several initiatives, like Codeclan’s ’Access to Tech’ course, designed to support the development of digital skills and encourage the growth of digital industries across the country. Within GCID, the University of Strathclyde offers graduate and degree apprenticeships focused on digital and technology learning, including software development and cyber security.
Growth in the Science and Tech Sector
Glasgow is internationally recognised for its expertise in science, engineering, technology, design and creativity. As a city, it continues to flourish through a renewed focus on its three grand challenges - enhanced productivity, the climate emergency and inclusive growth.
A key catalyst to the growth of Glasgow’s science and tech sector has been its strong research institutions and their eagerness to solve many of the key challenges facing society. Each of Glasgow’s academic institutions produces cutting-edge research, providing a talent pipeline for the science, digital and tech sector, which in turn leads to the creation of new start-up businesses.
Many leaders and changemakers are alumni from Glasgow’s universities. The University of Strathclyde boasts alumni such as Toni Scullion, the founder of dressCode, the first non-profit charity focused on closing the gender gap in computing science, and John Giannandrea, who became Apple’s Senior Vice President Machine of Learning and AI.
Glasgow’s Innovation Ecosystem
The founders of Glasgow-based, innovation-driven businesses have the advantage of accessing GCID’s Innovation Ecosystem, which has been established to support businesses and provide access to market leading tech expertise. The Ecosystem is able to provide assistance across a variety of fields, including the Internet of Things (IoT), data and AI, quantum, 5G/6G, photonics, software and digital manufacturing.
The Ecosystem’s expertise is derived from organisations like the Scotland 5G Centre, who provide resources to develop 5G/6G solutions, and the Offshore Renewable Catapult, which is the UK’s leading technology innovation and research centre for Offshore Renewable Energy.
What’s Next for Scotland’s Digital Development?
Glasgow is internationally recognised for its financial services expertise that has attracted businesses like Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan and Blackarrow. JP Morgan is now one of Scotland’s largest tech employers, with over 1,200 employees developing a range of innovative digital products.
Access to the breadth of highly skilled digital talent across Glasgow was the catalyst behind Barclays creating its new world-class technology campus, which will be the home to 5,000 employees, situated on the banks of the River Clyde.
With each of Glasgow’s Innovation Districts leading on supporting the development of new spinout, start-ups and high growth SME businesses, Glasgow’s Innovation Ecosystem is expanding its expertise and reputation in areas like fintech, green economy, space, advanced manufacturing, digital, creative, healthtech, and precision medicine.
Becoming a Leading Digital Innovation Hub
Glasgow is set to become one of the world’s leading digital innovation hubs in the coming years. Not only does the city produce the largest number of software and engineering graduates in Scotland, it’s home to both the Tech Scaler and Innovation Accelerator programmes.
That’s why Bruntwood SciTech is redeveloping the city’s iconic Met Tower into a large scale dedicated digital and tech hub - to provide a base for the innovators making Glasgow one of the most exciting UK tech hotspots right now. The £60m investment will be a step-change for Glasgow, providing the necessary infrastructure to power the growth of its tech and digital sector. Once redeveloped, Met Tower will provide over 200,000 sq ft of space for the city’s startups, scaleups and larger businesses, all of which will benefit from the specialist support available from both Bruntwood SciTech’s innovation services team and partner network, and the wider city ecosystem, including highly skilled talent, funding and access to markets.
Glasgow’s growth depends on a variety of factors such as central and regional government policy, access to equity investment and the actions of business founders amongst the local tech ecosystem.
The indicator of a vibrant, scaling tech ecosystem is its access to early-stage investment. With businesses across Glasgow securing over £120m of private equity investment in 2021, businesses are choosing to set up their operations in Glasgow because of the quality of its workforce, as well as it being one of the most affordable cities in the UK and Europe.
Glasgow has already established itself as a centre for innovation in areas such as fintech and space and is home to several successful technology companies. Alba Orbital, which designs and builds PocketQube spacecraft, and Novosound, which designs and develops ultrasound sensors, are both based in Glasgow. It’s likely that Scotland will continue to attract investment and talent into the digital sector, growing areas like artificial intelligence and data analytics based around the development of quantum technologies.
Scotland is fast becoming a thriving tech and innovation hub, with myriad routes for budding entrepreneurs, experts and businesspeople to traverse. Whether you’re looking to found or grow your tech business, immerse yourself in a thriving and innovative community, meet talented individuals in your sector, or seek technical and financial support through less traditional routes, Scotland - and specifically Glasgow - is the place to be. Doubling the investment in our Scottish endeavours illustrates Bruntwood SciTech’s commitment to supercharging tech and innovation sectors. Check out Glasgow’s Met Tower, the city’s future dedicated digital and tech hub - due to open in summer 2025.