As part of the Scottish Government’s Technology Ecosystem Fund, Startup Grind Scotland will take 20 Founders from across the country for an immersive week in San Francisco and Silicon Valley in April.
The cohort will enjoy a week immersed in the entrepreneurship mecca, complemented by meetings with investors and visits with global tech companies including Alchemist Accelerator, Salesforce, User Testing and Nvidia.
The team have designed the programme using Agile Methodologies in their evenings, weekends and around their family responsibilities, day jobs in tech startups, (Caro Melendez at WelcoMe, Dec McGlaughlin and Nick Murray at Frog Systems) and studies (Anna Brow, Strategic Comms Masters Candidate at QMU).
The Can Do Collective caught up with the Startup Grind Scotland team and some of the partners that have helped bring this ambitious venture to fruition.
How did the idea for this programme come about?
Dec McLaughlin, Startup Grind Scotland Director:
“We saw the news of the funding and knew we wanted to throw our hat in the ring. We’ve been hosting monthly fireside chats and panel discussions throughout the pandemic and lockdown, and have really brought an excellent community together. We wanted to do something bold that could support founders beyond of the education and inspiration they get from our events”
The Scottish Government launched the Technology Ecosystem Fund following the 2020 Logan Report, an independent review of the Scottish technology ecosystem. The report, led by former Skyscanner COO Mark Logan, provided recommendations on developing a world-class technology sector, calling for greater investment in activities that assist peer learning, networking and more connected, community-led initiatives to support entrepreneurs in Scotland.
Nick Murray, Startup Grind Scotland Co-Director:
“We read the Logan Review and saw Mark was advocating to get Scottish leaders out of their comfort zones and their respective geographical bubbles. He spoke about the need to inspire entrepreneurs at international conferences, take best practice from world-leading accelerators and globally-recognised scaleups, and put them on the radar of US tech investors. Dec and I had been out to San Francisco in early 2020, and we knew that a group trip based around the Startup Grind Global Conference could tick all those boxes”
Support from within the entrepreneurial ecosystem
Once funding had been secured, the entrepreneurship community opened applications from technology startup founders and c-suite executives from across Scotland. The group were inundated with responses and closed after just 18 days with 178 applications from technology startups and scaleups from 26 locations across Scotland. The final cohort was selected with the help of an independent judging panel, comprised of Collective members Evelyn McDonald (Scottish EDGE), Dr. Poonam Malik (Strathclyde University) and Stephanie Anderson (Scottish Enterprise).
Nick; “I knew that when it came down to the selection process, we needed expert support. As a longtime Collective member, I went straight to the relationships that I had forged there. I knew these three were experienced at reviewing and qualifying applications for pitching competitions like Scottish EDGE and that they would likely know many of the businesses so would have a good idea of who could benefit most from the opportunity. The judges were very generous with their time and expertise, and soon we had our final 20.”
The group had attracted attention, not just from founders, but also from other business support organisations from within the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Scottish Development International’s (SDI) Capital Investment Team were monitoring the projects that had received funding and took particular interest in what Startup Grind Scotland were doing.
Elitsa Marinova, Investor Relations Manager at SDI:
“Our department connects international investors with Scotland’s most promising startups. We’re essentially investor-venture matchmakers, so we keep a close eye on what we can do to maximise exposure for high-growth potential businesses. The Tech Ecosystem Fund gave birth to some incredible initiatives across the country, but this one was particularly ambitious. We got in touch with the team to find out more about the plans on the ground in the US and if we could support with VC introductions. We hit it off instantly and proposed to leverage our network in the Bay area so that companies could make the most of their time there. For example, we put together a pitching event where our team and our US-based SDI colleagues, led by Pendy Pendyala, would invite our investor network and give cohort the chance to showcase their businesses and ask for investment”
Pendy Pendyala, Senior Vice President at Scottish Development International;
“At one point I think about four people in my emails trying to introduce me to the Startup Grind Scotland team. I thought, I better see what these guys are doing! My team in San Jose has supported many similar trips to the Valley, but nothing since the pandemic struck, and certainly not with this many people. The San Francisco area is still recovering from the pandemic, but in recent months we’ve seen a real appetite within the business and investor community to get out and socialize. We’ve had numerous international video calls across timezones to ideate and organize different activities for the cohort and I’ve been delighted to open up my network to ensure the team and the cohort get the most out of their time here, both in face time with investors and soaking up the various marvels that the Valley has to offer.”
Making some noise in the US
Across the pond, the project had attracted the attention of GlobalScot and Scottish Business Network President, Ian Houston.
“What struck me was that this initiative came at a key moment. I have used the term SCENTER which means encouraging Scottish businesses across sectors to Enter the world in a creative and bold way. This initiative is doing just that. It affords an opportunity to showcase the power and diversity of Scottish innovation on the grandest scale. As a proud Scot, I knew I wanted to amplify this opportunity whether it be through introductions to Government and Embassy officials here in the states or through the GlobalScot network. The initiative also has reach well beyond the actual physical time that will be spent in Silicon Valley.”
Pendy and Scotland-based PR consultant Nick Freer have been key in making introductions to US-based establishments and individuals to enrich the programme activities. The cohort will enjoy visits, time and exclusive fireside chats with Nvidia AI, User Testing, Alchemist Accelerator, Werqwise, and numerous international investors and VC groups.
What did you learn when you originally went to SV?
Dec: “When we were out in 2020, it was a gamechanger. We learned to appreciate the importance of immersing ourselves in a different ecosystem, and the near-endless possibilities of what is possible with the right mindset and support. It’s so easy to get caught up in our own little world and forget about the thousands of inspiring companies overseas who are truly pioneers in their space. We learned that who you surround yourself with is critical to success as well as a willingness to take educated risks and believe that you too can outcompete larger organisations and survive in a fierce environment.”
How will this programme impact the participants and their businesses?
“We know the trip will bring inspiration and professional opportunities. The conference is an incredible two-day event that takes over the whole of downtown Redwood City. We’re expecting around 3000 people to be there. The talks, workshops, exhibitors and networking will be a truly immersive experience and we’ve tried to ensure our cohort’s elevator pitches aren’t too rusty after 2 years at home and on Zoom!”
We’re also being very considered and intentional about the dynamic of the cohort. We have a truly diverse group of people from all walks of life, and encouraging trust, openness and fostering peer relationships within the group will be a strong focus of our activities. We have co-designed workshops with Laura Westring from Amiqus who has experience facilitating cohort connection exercises overseas with FutureX. If we never have the chance to do something like this again, at least we know that these founders will have this shared experience, and more importantly, will have each other for support as they navigate their business journeys.”
Dec: “The key focus for us is ensuring that the trip provides a long-lasting legacy that will live on far beyond the seven days that we are in San Francisco. One of the most exciting potential outcomes personally is the peer-to-peer relationships that will be forged along the way. There’s something powerful about the idea of such a diverse set of founders and leaders becoming not only friends but mentors and mentees to each other.
We believe that the cohort will return to Scotland inspired by the opportunities that Silicon Valley has to offer and that they will spread this optimism and self-confidence to fellow founders in the ecosystem. For the participants, their businesses will benefit from world-leading advice from a variety of topics from fundraising to hiring a team and scaling. The possibilities really are endless.”
What the cohort are looking forward to
Sheila Hogan, CEO of Biscuit Tin Planning said;
“For me, it’s about connections all the way; potential partners, investors, peers, collaborators, friends, learning, growth, support, brand awareness and so much more. Having just closed our first round of investment, this cohort is perfect timing and an amazing opportunity to sow the seeds for our global plans and next round of investment scheduled within the next 12 months.”
Hannah Mercer, Founder and Director, DragonflAI
“I am looking to learn from others who have made the successful leap from ‘interesting start-up’ to a scale-up and viable business. People really drive both DragonflAI, and me personally, and I think being surrounded by either knowledgable or eager to learn people, will be invaluable for our business. It is rare that location, opportunity and people fall together in the same place, and I would really appreciate the opportunity to push our business to the next level, and bring the knowledge back to Scotland.”
Thomas Gillan, CFO at BR-DGE said
“We plan to enter North America later in 2022, so getting more hands-on experience on the ground and the opportunity to grow our partner base will be extremely helpful. I’m excited to connect with a global range of stakeholders, from leaders of other tech businesses to investors and payments related companies ahead of our Series B round.”
Wendy Lamin, Managing Director at Holoxica said
“I want to learn from the best in Silicon Valley and from my cohort peers, avoid mistakes others made, network like crazy, pique the interest of others with a view on collaboration or investment and accelerate our growth internationally.”
Roy Hotrabhvanon, CEO at PlayerData said
“PlayerData is looking to continue to build its network within the States in preparation for a US market launch in Q4 2022. I’m keen to learn from the heart of the world’s startup ecosystem, form new connections and share our experience with other founders to give back to the community.”
Jodie Sinclair, Founder and CEO of Theo Health said:
“I founded this company during the pandemic and so networking has been carried out almost completely virtual. Being amongst an atmosphere of visionaries, innovative thinkers and highly-driven entrepreneurs would be an experience that would be invaluable for the continued journey and growth of Theo Health, and also as a motivational and inspirational boost for myself as an individual.”
Find out more about Startup Grind on their website.