- Raising Partners founder Helena Murphy asks why Scotland can’t replicate success of country a quarter of its size
- Baltic nation has more $1billion+ privately held companies per capita than any other country in Europe
- ‘Postage-stamp powerhouse’ Estonia home to global tech leaders including Skype, Transferwise and Bolt
- Scotland missing out by neglecting industry expertise from its diaspora amid ‘disconnect’
A Scottish investment expert fears time is running out for Scotland to become a force on the global tech scene as she calls on the Scottish Government to look towards the Baltic region for inspiration, and follow the lead of a country a quarter of its size.
Despite having a population of just 1.329million, Estonia’s tech industry has thrived since separating from the Soviet Union in 1991, becoming a breeding ground for firms to achieve international success, with prominent examples including Skype, Bolt and Transferwise.
Per capita, Estonia is the European leader when it comes to start-ups, investments and unicorns – a privately held company with a value over $1billion – having been the birthplace of ten separate businesses going on to achieve unicorn status. By comparison, Scotland has produced three: Skyscanner, FanDuel and BrewDog despite its population dwarfing Estonia by over four to one.
Helena Murphy founded Raising Partners in 2017 after becoming frustrated at the lack of finance options for growing businesses. Her company has since gone on to help grow the likes of Celtic Renewables, generating over £3.7million from 2,500 investors, while securing in excess of £2.8 million for Plum Guide, eclipsing its £1 million target.
And the Glasgow-based entrepreneur believes Scotland could have its own blessing of unicorns if we follow the Estonian example: giving fledgling companies the financial kickstart they need, and follow up with continued support.
As well as calling for the development of tech skills to be embedded within Scotland’s education system, Helena is also challenging the Government to recruit Scottish expats who have forged successful paths in the sector internationally to provide industry expertise.
Helena said: “Estonia has 10 unicorns, a higher rate per capita than any other country in Europe. It’s a postage-stamp powerhouse and in the next few years, they’ll produce even more unicorns.
“Despite its small population, it’s such fertile ground for nurturing billion-dollar businesses, in particular tech startups.
“Since independence, the government has invested heavily in technology and education, giving it everything it needed to make it a great place to run a tech business. They’re now reaping the rewards.
“How is a country a quarter the size of Scotland able to produce a consistent conveyor belt of successful tech start-ups, while we continue to struggle?’.
“There’s so much untapped potential in the Scottish tech sector, but we’re simply not harnessing it. We’re sitting on a pot of gold, but our policymakers aren’t doing enough, fast enough to unearth it.”
Last month, the Startup Grind Scotland cohort travelled to Finland on a fact-finding mission backed by the government and enterprise agency Scottish Development International (SDI).
Some of Scotland’s most promising tech entrepreneurs – including Brillband founder Duncan Di Biase and Victoria Fullarton of Toto Sleep
– were joined by tech incubator CodeBase in a bid to generate new connections with the global start-up community, while equipping themselves with best practice for ecosystem-building from the much-admired Finnish model.
However, Helena believes that just a two-hour ferry from Helsinki across the Gulf of Finland, Scots can also learn valuable lessons in how to grow their tech business into a global enterprise from industry pioneers in Estonia.
The finance firm chief added: “Not long after Estonia’s independence, the government gathered successful founders and held a forum about how to properly harness and mobilise this business acumen, before backing bright new entrepreneurial ideas with the required financial investment. Incubated talent in Estonia then travels far and wide to top international markets.
“But once these budding business minds have become experienced entrepreneurs and professional operators, they continue to feed back into the Estonian entrepreneurial landscape, either through remote mentorship or actually returning home to work for Estonian companies. It may seem a simple strategy, yet it’s one our government isn’t implementing.
“In Scotland, we’ve witnessed international success stories – the Scottish Government continues to dine out on Skyscanner – but after businesses make their mark on the global stage, there’s a disconnect. We need to make better use of our diaspora by tapping into the vast knowledge we’re gaining overseas and bring it back to our shores.”
In July of this year, the Scottish Government appointed tech giant Mark Logan as its chief entrepreneur. Occupying a two-year post, the former Skyscanner COO will be a senior adviser to the government’s start-up nation programme which was set up to implement the recommendation for entrepreneurship in the Scottish Government’s 10-year economic strategy, published in March 2022.
Logan has since voiced concerns there isn’t enough focus on the economy, while he’s revealed plans for a new public and private fund to give Scottish start-ups the support they need to succeed.
Raising Partners founder Murphy, who has helped more than 160 companies raise in excess of £60 million, has claimed the Scottish venture capital sector has behaved like an “old boys’ network” which avoided risk and limited the ambitions of entrepreneurs by keeping valuations low.
Helena has previously said her home city of Glasgow should have a ten-year target to become the Silicon Valley of the UK, citing ease of access to top tech talent, world-renowned universities and the attractiveness of lower cost of living than in London as potential game-changing factors.
Helena said: “Although there’s hope the public sector is heeding Mark’s recommendations and taking tentative steps towards transformative action, we’ve been here before.
“Fact-finding and network-building missions to the likes of Finland and the US will always be welcome, but we need to view the Estonian model as inspiration that we can grow industry-leading tech start-ups by following the path forged by previous Scottish success stories. It’s critical we take action, and all eyes will be on the new Codebase tech scaler initiative.
“By harnessing our very own expertise in conjunction with lessons we can learn from overseas – and upping levels of investment – Scotland can finally reach its full potential and have far more unicorns make their mark on the global stage.
Raising Partners’ mission is to “level the playing field” and empower entrepreneurs through expert guidance and education to give them clarity, confidence and conviction when it comes to raising investment.
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Image caption: Helena Murphy, Founder and MD of Raising Partners photographed at University of Strathclyde Technology and Innovation Centre, Glasgow