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 technological minds from around the world choose London or perhaps Berlin, and we talked about the need to build a showcase to genuinely celebrate what’s happening across Scotland.
We recognised that 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 the Scottish capital to be part of it with over 3,000 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 its 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 representatives from Facebook and Google. A key part of the planning was to also recruit speakers from local Scottish startups 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 of contributors from CERN representatives and Professor Higgs, to a music hack event and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. 2013 was equally diverse, with the likes of GitHub, Square, Songkick and Salesforce, as well as Science Fiction author Neal Stephenson attending.
In recent years, the Edinburgh tech startup scene has flourished. From the notable success stories of Skyscanner, FanDuel and Craneware, to an explosion of product focused companies working in Fintech, medicine, security, education, gaming and more. The festival has become an annual event to bring people together, to share experiences and knowledge – not to mention 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 for internationalisation.
Building new technologies is a tough business, requiring grit and determination. Sometimes this means that we forget the sheer joy that come from creative people applying their vision to technology. Edinburgh, in August, is the ideal place to rekindle that enjoyment. The cream of the world’s creative talent comes to the capital 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.
You can find out more about the Turing Festival on their website.