While the furore of Brexit permeates the airwaves, questions still linger over the potential impact upon British businesses.
As organisations across the UK anxiously await the nation’s exit from the European Union in March 2019, the true effect on Britain’s industries, services and economic success still hasn’t been fully established or detailed.
In Scotland in particular, the digital technology sector with its vibrant patchwork of nationalities, innovative startups and talented individuals could be seriously affected by Brexit.
Money isn’t the only thing at stake for many businesses in Scotland – talent is, too. People from around the globe travel to Scotland to live, work and study. In fact, a significant portion of Edinburgh’s tech scene workforce is made up of non-UK nationals.
How, then, can Scotland’s tech ecosystem retain the bread and butter of its workforce, continue business as usual and build on success?
Talking Scotland Up
Speaking at Startup Summit 2018 a host of figures from across the digital technology sector discussed the perils and pitfalls of Scotland leaving the European Union.
Casting aside personal political views, the panel – which included Turing Fest CEO Brian Corcoran and FutureX co-founder Zoi Kantounatou – underlined the need for Scotland to project an image of inclusivity and an ‘open for business’ atmosphere.
Chris van der Kuyl, the panel host, asserted that this will be a key challenge moving forward as Scotland considers its place in a global tech ecosystem.
“One of the biggest challenges in a post-Brexit era,” he predicted, “will be keeping talent here and letting people know this is a place they are welcome.”
Although the panel conceded there may well be a negative economic impact on Scotland’s digital technology sector, the reigns are still firmly in our hands. Corcoran suggested that a key component of success in a post-Brexit Britain will be a concerted effort between industry, academia and the Scottish people to project this image.
In doing so, he said, Scotland can still attract talent from around the world, retain talent currently within the tech ecosystem and enable the sector to compete in both a global and national capacity.
“A lot of this will be about bringing people together and projecting Scotland’s image and building on our success so far,” he explained.
This process won’t be without its challenges, he conceded. While the nation’s technology sector continues to flourish and attract global attention, Scotland must address its age-old problem with self-promotion. As a nation, he insisted, Scotland has traditionally struggled to market or talk itself up.
Moving into an era in which competition may skyrocket between cities and regions within the UK, Scotland must set itself apart from competitors.
“[Post-Brexit] Scotland is going to have to up its game to market and redefine itself to set it apart from other countries,” he said.
“Building the entrepreneurial community and building Scotland’s brand as a welcoming place is important. There is a lot we can do from the ground up, such as building communities or physical spaces, such as Codebase for example, or promoting events.
“A lot of it will be about bringing people together and projecting this message and building on the success we’ve already achieved.”
Similarly, the panel highlighted Edinburgh as a key component in Scotland’s efforts to market itself as a nation to do business in. With its world-renowned academic institutions, quality of life and, generally, as a city to live in, Scotland’s capital is an attractive and highly marketable place.
Toxicity in Politics
Kantounatou, however, noted that the extensive – and sometimes toxic – debate that has raged for more than two years could have projected a negative image.
In the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote, she told the audience, there was a feeling of “are we welcomed?” Hailing from Greece, the FutureX co-founder said the importance of projecting a positive image cannot be understated.
At the beginning of the panel discussion, van der Kuyl touched on this issue as well. For businesses in Scotland looking to grow and scale, he said, there could be significant challenges due to a poor talent pipeline going forward.
“The big overarching thing for us as we scale businesses up is talent,” he said. “We all know that Scottish, high-growth businesses do not grow on indigenous talent alone, and that pipeline is what’s worrying many people right now.”
Van der Kuyl added that the perception and image of Brexit may have already hurt Scotland and, indeed, the UK as a whole, with EU and foreign nationals already showing signs of hesitation in regards to living and working here. Additionally, based on his experience thus far exploring the issue, he has noticed a contrast in regards to how people in business and government view the situation.
He said: “It’s interesting that perception talks more than reality and everyone I’ve talked to in government has said ‘we’re going to see some really good opportunities for fast-track immigration for our businesses. I honestly do not think that’s going to be a challenge.’
“I think the perception has already hit us where it hurts and in our businesses. We’re already seeing a massive drop off in applications not only from European nationals but from foreign nationals in general, just because the vibe is ‘this isn’t necessarily a country we want to be in.'”