2018 marks the tenth anniversary of EIE. Over the last decade, the event has featured some of Scotland’s most innovative and successful startup companies. From early stage start-ups to companies scaling globally, the country’s tech sector has benefitted from having a platform which allows them to showcase their products and services to the world.
DIGIT spoke to the entrepreneurs behind three of Scotland’s most high-profile digital tech companies, all of which have participated in EIE over the last several years, to find out more about their involvement with the event – and how it helped.
Callum Murray is the founder CEO of Amiqus Resolution. The company’s focus is on building products to make civil justice available to everyone. Amiqus handles client onboarding, identity, anti money laundering and compliance checks online for law firms and regulated markets. Towards the end of 2017 Calum was named the Entrepreneurial Scotland Rising Star Entrepreneur of the Year award, Amiqus was named Scottish Start-Up of the Year in the 2017 Barclay’s Entrepreneur Awards and completed its most recent round of funding. Calum was also the recipient of the ‘pitch of the day’ award at EIE 2017.
Leah Hutcheon is the founder and CEO of Appointedd, the online booking and smart scheduling software for businesses. In 2017 Leah was named UK Small Business Entrepreneur of the Year at Great British Entrepreneur Awards, was a finalist in EY Entrepreneur of the Year, won funding from the Scottish Edge awards and featured in the BBC documentary The Entrepreneurs. Leah is also an ambassador for Women’s Enterprise Scotland and Entreprenurial Scotland.
Julie Grieve is the founder and CEO of Criton, software which allows hoteliers to create a guest app which acts as a portal for all of their guest facing technology. Julie is an experienced company director having been MD/CEO of three companies since 2004, as well as a shareholder in Abbey Business Centres, which she successfully sold in 2011. Julie is a member of The Royal Merchant Company of Edinburgh, having sat on the Master’s Court from 2011-2014. She is a former Chair of the Business Centre Association and prior to starting Criton she was a governor of Erskine Stewart Melville Schools in Edinburgh and the Edinburgh Regional Chair for The Princes Trust – Youth Business Scotland.
Dr Jamie Graves is a data security and enterprise software entrepreneur and is the CEO at ZoneFox. He attended the prestigious Ignite course at Cambridge University’s Judge Business School, and the Entrepreneur Development Programme at MIT. Jamie has a PhD in Computer Science, extensive security and digital forensics experience and was recently recognised as the ‘Champion of Champions’ at the inaugural Scottish Cyber Security awards for his contribution to the industry.
DIGIT: At what stage in your company’s growth did you first get involved with EIE?
Callum Murray: “Amiqus was founded in July of 2015, and we began the application process for EIE in October of that year. Despite being a young company with a beta product, we had strength in our conviction of the purpose and value of our ideas, and we were chosen for a one minute pitch at EIE 16.
“Through this opportunity, Amiqus secured an initial pre-seed round of funding for our first product, Amiqus ID. When we returned to EIE in 2017, the company had made significant progress: Amiqus ID had been taken from beta to market and had begun generating revenue, our team numbers had doubled and we welcomed Sir Sandy Crombie as our Chairman. We presented an extended six minute pitch, which won us audience’s choice and pitch of the day. The investment and support directed towards Amiqus played an important role in driving the business forward.”
Leah Hutcheon: “We have taken part in EIE three times. One at the very beginning, when there was just two of us, then I was involved in EIE London, which was amazing. It was a group of us who went down and pitched alongside European startups, and it was really well attended by investors from all over Europe. Latterly, we did EIE 2017.”
Julie Grieve: “I signed up to EIE just as we launched the business in December 2016. When I started the business I knew I would have to raise after proof of concept and I saw EIE very much as a way to kick off that process.
“I was pleasantly surprised to find out just how in-depth EIE is, it is great programme for improving your pitch and preparing for investment. You also can’t underestimate the power of the network, its 60 companies all of whom are looking to raise and therefore you are all in a very similar place.”
Jamie Graves: “We got involved with EIE during certain key points in our company’s evolution. The first instance was prior to us spinning out, when we were endeavouring to understand the funding landscape; the next instance was just after we spun out to pitch our business to investors.”
DIGIT: Did EIE actually help your company grow, tangibly and directly?
Callum: “The EIE event itself allowed us exposure to a variety of local and international investors who have a genuine interest in what Scotland’s entrepreneurial ecosystem has to offer. Naturally, the investment we received helped Amiqus ID to move quickly into the next stages of development, but there was also an immense amount of value in preparing for the event itself.
“The knowledge, insights and connections with a range of event supporters and partners on the lead up to EIE impacted the way we approached the challenges we faced as we moved forward.”
Leah: “EIE has helped Appointedd in many ways – it has connected us to investors and collaboration partners. The training you receive as part of the run up to the event is second to none, from pitch training to workshops to help you hone your business plan – it really is more than just a day.
“We have built up some relationships at EIE that have served us well years later – it’s a great chance to connect with the wider startup and investment network.”
Julie: “Once EIE was complete I was very focused on investment and closed my first round for £5 million in October. The training and confidence built from EIE definitely helped in the raise. Since then we’ve grown to 22 staff and the customer base is growing.”
Jamie: “EIE helped us to grow by exposing us to the wider investment and business community. Crucially, this move brought the benefit of allowing us to test and improve our commercialisation plan. On top of this, we enjoyed some great exposure that helped introduce our company to the wider world.”
DIGIT: From your perspective, what are the biggest challenges facing tech start-ups in Scotland?
Callum: “The main challenge that many startups come up against is attracting and competing for talent. Finding the right people and growing a strong team is crucial to building a successful business, and it’s easier said than done.
“This issue is becoming more prevalent given the uncertainty around Brexit, as skilled workers across all sectors search for opportunity elsewhere. We’re fortunate to have a strong remote element to our team, with people spread from Leith and St Andrews to Cambridge and Lisbon.
“Moving quickly and getting from a live product to a revenue generating position I think is probably the next biggest challenge. Proving what you’re working on is valued and destined for scalable growth is hugely important. You’ll likely raise some patient capital to get going but will find that capital expensive in terms of equity dilution unless you’re able to quickly get things moving upwards and to the right.”
Leah: “I think the biggest challenges come at the scale up point. It’s still hard to access talent at a management level in Scotland. There are tons of very talented graduates, but not so many world class managers, especially on the commercial side of the business.”
Julie: “I see it very much around access to capital, company valuations and the risk/reward for the entrepreneur.
“We have potential world class businesses started every month in Scotland but the founders are having to focus on raising to continue and sometimes its too small an amount, with costs that are too high. As soon as the raise is complete they are thinking about their next raise instead of focusing on commercialisation. Furthermore the valuation is much lower than their potential competitors are gaining in the States, which means the founder is giving away too much equity at an early stage where it almost feels like they have gone back into paid employment.
“In the meantime the business is grinding to a halt because the focus is on raising and not running the business.”
Jamie: “The most pressing issue is that there’s just not enough capital at all the right stages. Our world-class academic institutions contribute massively towards the likes of seed funding, but it becomes much more difficult to secure investment the later stage you get.”
DIGIT: Throughout your experience with the whole EIE programme, what was the best advice you were given?
Callum: “When we took part in EIE 2016, we were told to keep it simple. We’re building an online platform to resolve disputes which involves a lot of complexity. We had our first component built so we kept it uncomplicated and talked about the opportunity based on that.
“We took all of the input from potential investors and other industry-specific professionals and used it to build attainable goals for the next year. When we returned in 2017, we were able to clearly show that we had listened and executed on our plans, achieving everything we had suggested the year before.”
Leah: “The discipline of having to hone your pitch down to one minute, three minutes, seven minutes – whatever the time length, I always find it helpful to strip my business down to that short a time – it really makes you realise what’s important in the business.”
Julie: From the programme it was definitely the pitch honing, Maryanne in particular is amazing at getting everything you need into your 60 seconds.
Jamie: “Whatever you do, just keep going. Everyone suffers setbacks at some point, but founders shouldn’t be put off by teething problems. In an increasingly crowded market, perseverance is key — after all, foxes don’t stop hunting, no matter how close the competition.”
DIGIT: What are the most common problems you see start-ups in Scotland making?
Callum: “There can be an element of defensiveness in start-ups, stemming from the desire to protect and nurture their ideas. However, it’s increasingly clear that rewards are higher and progress is quicker when like-minded companies collaborate rather than compete.
“Many start-ups put little focus on their behaviours, particularly as an employer, which can detrimental down the line; it’s important that the next wave of successful companies in tech and beyond are modelled with clear values and purpose.”
Leah: “I think there can be too much short term thinking at times. Growing a startup is a marathon, not a sprint so you have to think strategically and take calculated risks that you believe will pay off in the long term. We are all keen to see fast results, but you can’t build a world-class business with short term thinking.”
Julie: I think its hoping a potential investor will come back to you. I was told by a mentor “no response from an investor is a polite no” and I think it’s very true. To start a business you need a lot of optimism and resilience and sometimes this means you can wait too long for someone to come back to you.
Jamie: “It’s all too often the case that Scotland’s startups fail to build a sufficiently effective sales and marketing machine. While it’s extremely important to have a brilliant idea and a strong founding team, that’s not enough to successfully commercialise an idea. Instead, it’s vital to keep all activity in line with business objectives, and Scottish founders must remember this.: