Mark Logan is the chief entrepreneurial advisor to the Scottish Authorities, appointed by first minister Nicola Sturgeon in 2022. He’s the previous chief working officer of Edinburgh-based journey search firm Skyscanner and a professor in computing science on the College of Glasgow, his alma mater.
In July 2020, he was requested by the Scottish Authorities’s finance minister, Kate Forbes, to jot down a technology ecosystem technique for Scotland. One in all his suggestions was to arrange a community of seven “tech scaler” incubators throughout the nation, and that was executed in July 2022, with £42m awarded to Codebase, which already had an Edinburgh incubator, to run the community.
Logan gave the interview that follows to Laptop Weekly’s enterprise functions editor Brian McKenna in the direction of the tip of final yr. The textual content that follows has been edited for sense and construction. It lays out among the philosophy behind what Logan is advocating in and for Scotland. This could possibly be summed up as turning Scotland into Finland – one other small European nation tech superpower.
Brian McKenna: I used to be as soon as instructed – by the late Dave Goldberg – that the individuals in Silicon Valley who held its institutional reminiscence are essential to its success. These are the legal professionals, accountants, enterprise capitalists, public relations professionals, and so on, who are usually not themselves techies. However they’ve seen era after era of 24-year-old tech entrepreneurs come and go. Some make it, most don’t. How may you replicate that institutional reminiscence in Scotland? It’s arduous sufficient in London.
Mark Logan: I don’t assume it’s a case of getting to duplicate Silicon Valley. What you want is a functioning ecosystem.
An ecosystem has a variety of elements that reinforce one another, similar to an precise ecosystem does. I believe it’s very doable to create a functioning, thriving ecosystem in any nation. You possibly can take a look at the tech scene in Israel, Finland, Estonia – I may go on. I very a lot consider that’s effectively inside Scotland’s attain, as a result of there’s completely no purpose why it shouldn’t be.
So once I take a look at Silicon Valley, what I’m primarily all in favour of is approach. Era after era have constructed a vital mass of corporations that attempt to exploit every era of pc technology, from microprocessor and PCs via to blockchain and AI [artificial intelligence]. The very best follow that allowed every era to achieve success will get distilled, and it will get concentrated. And other people transfer very quickly between corporations, so it will get it will get disseminated throughout corporations, and that turns into finest follow.
What I believe is vital to smaller ecosystems, even in London, is that as a result of Silicon Valley has such scale, finest follow tends to disseminate extra shortly, simply because there are extra corporations failing and succeeding. It’s vital to check that approach, after which deliver it into your individual setting and add to that to change into a part of that improvement. That’s the factor that almost all pursuits me concerning the Valley and is most replicable – finding out startup approach.
I take a look at how San Francisco has change into more and more divided as a metropolis between the very wealthy and the very poor – these doorways filling up with dozens of individuals sleeping tough each night time. We don’t need to replicate that.
The factor that I believe could be very hanging on this age is that should you take a look at Scotland, or any nation, 40 years in the past, for entry to markets, location was essential. However these days, each buyer is on the doorstep due to the web. And so is each competitor. At Skyscanner, for instance, we had been aware that we had been competing with Google and Priceline, they usually had been making an attempt to kill us as a result of we had been taking away clients they may have had. So it’s important to be pretty much as good as one of the best on the earth to compete with one of the best on the earth.
It’s a bit like chess. In any chess place, there are pluses and minuses. And it’s vital to not fixate on the negatives in your place, you’re going to take a look at the positives. For instance, Scotland is such a small nation, that early on, we at Skyscanner realised that we wanted to be as worldwide as quickly as doable. We had been hiring European staff and staff in Southeast Asia, and so on. We had 56 plus nationalities within the enterprise.
“You have to be as good as the best in the world to compete with the best in the world”
Mark Logan, Scottish Authorities
Corporations typically neglect that the mission the corporate has shouldn’t be the mission the staff have. Our personal missions are to have a sense of self-worth, some standing, and I need to be challenged and developed. What I defined to our individuals was that if Skyscanner is profitable, if we do make a international affect, then it’s a automobile for your individual private mission. You possibly can create or destroy human power relying on the way you organise as a crew.
McKenna: Inform me concerning the technology ecosystem report that Kate Forbes requested you write on the top of the Covid pandemic in 2020
Logan: I believe Covid created an impetus, however I fastidiously wrote the report as if Covid had not occurred. I needed to jot down one thing that was not a tactical response to that, however would set a strategic path for the nation. Covid is clearly a large peturbation on all of our lives, however the fundamentals stay the identical afterwards, by way of what makes a nice ecosystem.
The essential essence of it was to say that we have to do methods considering.
Scotland has nice ambitions for its tech sector, we’ve got numerous the elements of a nice tech sector, by way of nice universities, numerous nice college students, a lot of expertise, and a willingness from completely different businesses and the federal government to make this work. However I believe what was lacking was a widespread narrative and mannequin for tips on how to enhance the ecosystem. So what I attempted to do with the ecosystem overview was outline a mannequin and terminology that we may all cohere round, and I believe that’s bought a lot of benefits.
One in all them is you possibly can, to begin with, agree on what the output is. On this case, it’s a stream of profitable tech corporations that scale to their pure level of scale. It doesn’t imply everyone needs to be a unicorn. However corporations must construct to get to the extent of scale that they may have executed in a bigger ecosystem.
The opposite factor it makes us do is to determine interventions that, should you didn’t take a look at them from a system perspective, you may contemplate unimportant. For instance, we want extra computing science academics in Scotland, and that’s not instantly apparent as a lever to extend the variety of unicorns we’ve got.
The metaphor I used was that what’s the distinction between an ecosystem that’s nonetheless growing and the one we see London or Silicon Valley? The distinction is that the bigger ecosystems are previous the tipping factors, the place the vital variety of startups and scaleups begin to set up constructive reinforcement loops.
For instance, once I was at Skyscanner, it was very arduous to rent a senior vice-president of engineering into Edinburgh as a result of … let’s say she’s based mostly in Silicon Valley and he or she’s bought to relocate her household right here, after which the job doesn’t work out – because it typically doesn’t for senior hires – she’s bought no different place to go, she’s bought to return to the place she got here from. However should you’ve bought 20 Skyscanners, she will go to the corporate subsequent door.
When you get previous that tipping level, it turns into a lot simpler to rent senior expertise, which makes it simpler to rent extra expertise.
You get the identical factor with funding. One thing like 80% of all investments that VCs [venture capitalists] make, are made inside 60 miles of their residence location. When you’re a VC in London, you possibly can come as much as Scotland for the day and see one firm, or you may get on the Tube and see 10.
My thesis within the report was that we have to determine interventions that may speed up us to that tipping level. And as soon as we’re there, the ecosystem takes care of itself and we are able to begin to chill out the interventions. That’s the fundamental philosophy.
McKenna: You set a lot of emphasis on bettering the pc science curriculum in faculties by reskilling academics and swapping in pc programmers from business? However do you not assume it’s doable to over-emphasise pc science training at secondary faculty degree? Heaps of people that work in technology or for tech corporations or who implement IT initiatives for corporates have a number of instructional backgrounds
Logan: There are numerous routes into the business, however the largest constraint on any tech firm rising is expertise. In Scotland, there are 3 ways we are able to handle that. One is to deliver individuals into the nation – however within the post-Brexit state of affairs, that’s more durable than earlier than.
The second route is to retrain individuals, particularly as industries begin to wane and others rise. And I believe we may do a lot extra on taking mature individuals with life expertise and coaching them to be programmers. Codeclan is an organisation that may take individuals with a mean age of 30 and put them via an intensive 19-week programme to change into a software program engineer.
However, and that is the third method, in my excellent world, in the identical method as arithmetic underpins many topics, from geography to psychology to physics, the trendy faculty syllabus ought to tightly combine computing science or programming functionality. As a result of in each self-discipline I’ve simply talked about, a practitioner will want these expertise. They’ll want good knowledge science expertise as effectively. They’ll want to know AI fashions. However we’re a great distance from doing that in our college system. So I believe it’s extraordinarily vital that we increase the attention of our training authorities, of our head academics and native authorities, that computing science is as vital as studying and writing. It must be a peer of arithmetic. That’s what business wants. And that’s what different international locations are doing.
“It’s extremely important that we raise the awareness … that computing science is as important as reading and writing. It needs to be a peer of mathematics. That’s what industry needs”
Mark Logan, Scottish Authorities
In universities, typically one of the best college students are from Estonia, Lithuania, and different Japanese European international locations. Why? As a result of their faculty system works. These younger of us arrive as literate programmers able to do superior stuff. Our youngsters, who’re simply as clever, arrive at a remedial degree, due to a failure of the training system. I don’t assume we must be complacent about that. And the explanation I index on it’s as a result of it’s a disaster of the long run we’re making now. So, with each fibre of my being, I’m going to advocate for this till somebody locks me up.
McKenna: Laptop Weekly interviewed the then UK chancellor Rishi Sunak on stage earlier than an viewers of tech traders in 2021. When our editor in chief Bryan Glick requested how the UK may hope to compete on technology with the US and China, Sunak stated by focusing on a couple of issues. We’re not, he stated, going to attempt to do all the pieces, we’re going to focus on fintech and life sciences, two issues we’re excellent at. What do you consider that?
Logan: I personally don’t subscribe to that view, in these phrases.
Let’s think about that we, in Scotland, determined we had been solely going to focus on a type of issues. Does that imply that a firm like Skyscanner ought to get no assist, shouldn’t be within the tech scaler community? I believe you’ve bought to watch out you don’t swap off the curiosity of your tech group by saying, “We only do this flavour, not that flavour.” I believe the way in which to consider it’s to make sure that your nation, your ecosystem, is able to correctly supporting a tech firm of any flavour.
Within the tech scaler community, we focus on a nice incubation setting and world-class founder training. In a “market square” setting, individuals can study from one another in a general-purpose setting for any tech firm.
Why did the Italian Renaissance cities come to the fore after they did? Why did we’ve got the Scottish Enlightenment?
I don’t consider it’s as a result of immediately there was a focus of genius in a few cities. Expertise is fairly evenly unfold in all places. However what Leonardo da Vinci did was not simply say he was an artist, or a mathematician, or a botanist, or an anatomist. He was all of these issues. He simply adopted his curiosity. And when he went into the literal bodily market sq., in Florence, or Naples, he met individuals who had been simply the identical they usually shared a lot of data and data and nice issues got here from that. And to some extent, you possibly can see comparable behaviours right here, in Edinburgh, throughout the Enlightenment interval, the place individuals with very completely different backgrounds lived on high of one another.
Now, within the fashionable age, that’s not handy for the training system. We’re instructed to specialise and sub-specialise and we get uncomfortable with different disciplines. We just like the advertising individuals to be separate from the engineers. At Skyscanner, I didn’t like that. So I blended everyone up, they usually didn’t like that. However then what began taking place was advertising individuals who used to construct touchdown pages, optimised for search engine optimization, one web page at a time, may automate the touchdown pages as a result of an engineer confirmed them tips on how to use Python.
Speaking about Renaissance market squares sounds grandiose, however it’s about getting individuals collectively to share information and expertise. We attempt to do two issues within the scaler setting. One is to supply a assembly place for individuals, and the opposite is to begin bringing completely different disciplines collectively, in order that our nice inventive sector in Scotland isn’t simply a freelance factor, it turns into able to constructing a Pixar.
The rhythm of presidency, besides in a disaster, is six month-to-month to yearly. The income of the tech business is weekly, day by day. Skyscanner releases software program each single day, numerous occasions a day. Google does the identical. It makes product selections each week.
What should you focus on one thing after which the US or China focuses on that, too? It’s not about country-to-country competitors, it’s company-to-company. That’s the actual battle, as a result of, in web phrases, there are not any international locations: all the shoppers can be found to everyone.
Estonia is an incredible instance of this. From authorities to instructing to their tech sector. They’ve taken a methods strategy, they usually’ve sustained that. Equally in Finland with Nokia, which has gone into decline, clearly, it nonetheless exists. There was a lot of tech expertise popping out of Nokia, and the federal government realised there was a chance to make use of that or have it disappear, so it invested closely in a comparable methods strategy. So, we’re knowledgeable by what they do. They’re similar-sized international locations doing disproportionately effectively.
McKenna: Do you assume there is a bonus in Scotland being extra pro-European than England?
Logan: Societally, completely. Now, there are a lot of individuals in England who’re very European-oriented, as effectively. And England is an instance of a nice tech nation. It’s extra about being keen to study from outdoors your setting. As a result of, in any other case, you find yourself with what mathematicians name a native optimum: you’re bettering on your individual native follow. It’s all the time vital to look outdoors your self for what’s finest follow elsewhere.
The actual difficulty for Scotland and England is the present friction in bringing Europeans to work right here. I believe that’s been an appalling, disastrous coverage.
An organization like Skyscanner in its earliest days wouldn’t have been profitable in a post-Brexit setting. It was vitally vital that European college students who got here to Edinburgh and liked Edinburgh may keep and work for Skyscanner.
Whereas what we’ve got executed in Britain is make the nation a little bit hostile. It’s not such a welcoming place. I believe Scotland has tried arduous to counter that narrative. However Britain has change into a place the place Europeans don’t really feel welcome anymore. That is a gigantic tragedy. It’s additionally a tragedy for the tech business.
I’m, at one degree, astounded that it isn’t talked about extra. I believe, traditionally, will probably be, however simply now, perhaps it’s too delicate a topic. It’s been a catastrophe for the nation, and it’s a large difficulty for the tech business. Not least in Scotland.