In late 2010 I was sitting in an Edinburgh pub with Gordon Guthrie and Alistair Gunn having a beer and bemoaning the difficulty in getting international tech folks to come to Scotland.
We were all deeply involved in the emerging startup scene and had involvement with some of the larger success stories and major tech corporates locally. Often, great technology people from around the world would go to London or perhaps Berlin, and we talked about the need to build a showcase and a genuine celebration of what was happening here. The startup scene needed to increase international connections and to continue to grow organically building networks and access to finance.
It was then that the penny dropped. The answer was staring us in the face. The Edinburgh International Festival and Fringe is the world’s largest arts and cultural event. People from all over the globe travel to Edinburgh to be part of it with over 3000 shows daily with everything from music, theatre and dance to comedy, fine art and film. This was how to build an international showcase.
Naming the Festival in honour of Alan Turing, the founding father of modern computing, was key to our ideas of celebrating computing at the same time as we sought to understand the wider social impact.
With blood, sweat, tears and a lot of hustle, the bare bones of the event came to life. In year one we had a spectacular array of speakers from Richard Stallman and Peter Sunde to Facebook and Google. A key part of the planning was to sprinkle speakers from local Scottish startups into the mix and this worked incredibly well.
2012 was the Turing Centenary and we planned a series of events to celebrate it. Amongst the 19 separate events, we had an increasingly diverse mix from CERN and Professor Higgs to a music hack event and Apple CoFounder Steve Wozniak. 2013 was equally diverse with the likes of GitHub, Square, Songkick and Salesforce all the way to Science Fiction author Neal Stephenson.
During these years, the Edinburgh tech startup scene has flourished. From the notable success stories of Skyscanner, FanDuel and Craneware to an explosion of product focussed companies working in Fintech, Medicine, Security, Education, Games and more. The festival has acted as an annual event to bring people together, to share experiences and knowledge amongst one of the greatest parties on earth.
2015 sees the next incarnation of the event. A core theme is helping spread knowledge on how to grow and scale internationally. Scotland is a small country which has always meant that we have to look beyond our own borders. The next key step in the evolution of the Edinburgh startup scene is in helping everyone to gain the skills to do this.
Building new technologies is tough business, requiring grit and determination. Sometimes this means that we forget the sheer joy to be had that these technologies can bring in the hands of creative people. Edinburgh, in August, is the ideal place to rekindle that enjoyment. The cream of the world’s creative talent comes to Edinburgh for the Festivals. The hope is that we can all learn not simply how to build but what to build and why. I hope that many of you are able to join us on this journey. It has certainly been a lot of fun so far.