Edinburgh’s Flat White Economy

Published: 01 February 2016

This article featured on the New Statesman website on 01 February 2016.

The phrase ‘Flat White Economy’, penned after the coffee of choice of young workers, describes the explosion of digital businesses in London. The vital ingredients driving this phenomenal success story – technology, demand, and skills – are now having a profound impact on Edinburgh’s economy.

A digital knowledge economy

The city’s strong performance in the new digital knowledge economy is borne out by recent research from KPMG, which has found that the tech sector now accounts for one in every eight businesses in Edinburgh. That figure is reflected in the city’s emergence as the largest technology cluster outside London in terms of productivity. Every year, Edinburgh’s universities produce another 1,200 computing graduates, while the intensive coding course offered by the CodeClan digital skills academy produces 20 new coders every 16 weeks. It’s a success story that proves that the Flat White Economy is thriving in Edinburgh.

The success and growth of creative communities across the city speaks volumes about the potential of Edinburgh’s digital economy, with its many rising stars. One such example can be found at CodeBase, a tech incubator home to more than 60 of the country’s most exciting businesses.

Founded by web developers Andrew Baker and Ross Knight in 2012, GetCommerce has established itself as one of Scotland’s preeminent developers of e-commerce websites using Magento software. Since joining the first wave of CodeBase tenants in early 2013, GetCommerce has grown to employ eight people servicing an expanding client base.

“The market for skilled Magento developers is global. That’s where we benefit from being located in Edinburgh – a city with true international appeal,” said Ross.

GetCommerce’s success has been repeated by numerous other technology-led businesses across Edinburgh. Intelligent Point of Sale, whose cloud-based application allows bars, restaurants and clubs to control and track sales and stock in real time, more than doubled its client base last year, with revenues already exceeding £1 million after just two years of trading. This success extends all the way to travel search engine Skyscanner, which was valued at £1 billion in a recent funding round.

City tech collaboration

In December 2014 StartEDIN was formed as a tech collective to internationally promote Edinburgh’s thriving and vibrant community. “Edinburgh needed to create a brand that as a community we can all get behind and help promote what is simply a fantastic place to live, work and develop your tech business potential”, said James Varga of miiCard and a founding partner of StartEDIN. “Edinburgh is uniquely positioned as one of the best start-up destinations – that includes strong research, serious investment, cultural heritage, and a fantastic lifestyle with an outdoor environment on your doorstep.”

Edinburgh has an incredible diversity of small, independent creative businesses. Many of these are members of Creative Edinburgh, which was formed in 2011 to bring together Edinburgh’s creative entrepreneurs through networking and events.

“Right now, creative space is a hot topic, with an ever increasing need for pop-ups, incubators and co-working spaces,” explains Janine Matheson, director of Creative Edinburgh. “Throughout 2015, we’ve been working with businesses across the city to offer ‘Hotdesk Hangouts’ – opportunities for our individual and freelance members to co-work and network for the day in places such as corporate boardrooms.” 

Creative community

“I see a creative network and community in Edinburgh, sharing a strong sense of optimism about the future,” adds Janine. “Creative minds tend to see opportunities and take risks. The boundary between the tech scene and creative scene is increasingly blurred – today’s businesses and individuals are less concerned by failure. You learn from it and move on.”

It’s this sense of collaboration and community that transcends economic sectors and gives rise to the growth of incubator spaces seen across the city. It’s enabled sole traders and small businesses to move out of front bedrooms into tailor-made spaces designed to inspire and nurture talent.

For cities such as Edinburgh, with its multi-cultural, global appeal, strong economic track record and vibrant talent pool, the emergence of a creative tech cluster at the heart of a Flat White Economy looks set to continue.

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