Venture capital isn’t easily available these days. Unless, that is, your startup is based in Glasgow. A recent report by Dealroom ranked the city as the second fastest-growing metro area in the UK by VC funding raised. Another, the Glasgow Ecosystem Report, placed the city’s startups third for growth based on VC investment (behind only Manchester and Birmingham).
What’s behind the city’s superb ability to attract investment? For starters, a robust tech ecosystem that shows many of the traits present in other growing tech hubs around the world. And that includes both educational and governmental initiatives.
Glasgow tech scene
Glasgow’s local government has continuously prioritised the tech sector, most recently in its Glasgow Economic Strategy report. Its education system, anchored on the University of Strathclyde and the University of Glasgow, increasingly fosters entrepreneurship, with more than 100 spinouts coming out of its universities.
Sprinkle in a mixture of accelerators, incubators and innovation centres and you have an environment that’s ideal for startups and small businesses. Through both financial and non-financial collaborations, their seeds of innovation can be nurtured into successful businesses.
“The Glasgow Tech Ecosystem has entered a virtuous cycle. Catalysts such as the Innovation Districts, Tech Scaler, and an increased focus from our universities on entrepreneurship are combining to create more, and stronger startups. These, in turn, create more belief and strengthen the ecosystemʼs experience base, leading to further startup creation. It is the most exciting entrepreneurial environment we have seen in Glasgow in living memory.”Mark Logan Chief Entrepreneurial Advisor at Scottish Government
The above is not without its challenges. Glasgow, a pioneer of the first Industrial Revolution, has always been known as an industrious, hard-working, city. Yet a report published in February 2023 highlighted that productivity remains lower than in other Scottish cities, while Glaswegians earn less on average than their Scottish peers. At times, it seems, Glasgow’s strengths are not fully translating into economic outputs that can benefit the whole.
It is against this backdrop that startups vie for their spot in the sun. There are many tech companies finding success, notably in fintech, healthcare and cybersecurity. Here, we highlight nine world-class technology companies that are raising standards not just in the UK, but in Europe and beyond.
Jump to (in no particular order):
Have you ever compared a debit card receipt for a purchase you made with an entry on your bank statement? If so, congratulations. In accounting, you have done what is generally referred to as “reconciliation”.
Now, we won’t go into the nitty of what reconciliation is — for that, we recommend this article on Investopedia. But for the purpose of introducing you to AutoRek, keep this in mind: if you run a business, reconciliation is a very important part of making sure your company’s finances are A-OK. The bigger the business and the more transactions it processes, the more important reconciliation becomes.
At some point, your business might be handling so many transactions that “comparing receipts to statements” one at a time is no longer scalable. In addition, chances are that your business must be able to demonstrate its finances for tax and/or compliance purposes.
That’s where AutoRek comes into play. Originally founded as Oasys Technology in 1994, this fintech company specialises in automated reconciliation software. Over the past 30 years, it has built a portfolio of more than 100 clients in the financial industry sector and handled more than 2.4 billion transactions.
Today, it employs more than 130 employees across its offices in Glasgow, Edinburgh, London and New York. Little wonder that it’s an award-winning Scottish enterprise, most recently claiming the Regtech Innovation award at the Scottish Fintech Awards.
In 2019, the World Green Building Council issued a challenge to the construction sector: “100% net zero emissions buildings by 2050”.
That challenge was part of a set of measures designed to curb emissions from real estate and infrastructure projects and instigate the kind of transformation that will certainly be necessary to curb climatic disasters. And it was a much-needed challenge. As IES — a company developing technology solutions for the environmental sector — states on its homepage, the “built environment accounts for 40% of global emissions”.
But how does one go about making a building, or similar construct, “greener”?
Thankfully, the opportunities here are vast. From the materials being used to the design and architecture of the building, from the cooling and heating to the lighting and connectivity, there are plenty of choices that can be made to reduce the impact of a construction project on the planet. For example, part of the challenge is retrofitting older buildings to today’s standards.
Yet, despite the abundant opportunities, the problem at hand is still incredibly complex to tackle. Construction, for good reason, is an industry cemented on data, paperwork and administrative processes.
It’s in this context that private and public alike turn to the aforementioned IES. The company leverages data science to provide customers with the software they need to model, analyse and measure the climate output of their construction projects. Among other capabilities, it integrates with IoT sensors as well as utility and building management systems that typically measure a myriad of data points, collating all that data and serving it in virtual environments that customers can utilise for better decision-making.
A standout tech company in Scotland, IES has progressively made a mark on the world stage. Today, it operates in more than 13 countries and virtually every continent.
It feels strange to say it, but as we publish this article, the Covid-19 pandemic seems to be a thing of the past. Of course, Covid continues to be present among communities and one doesn’t have to go browse for too long to learn of a new wave making the rounds somewhere. But all in all, the world has largely moved on — Covid is old news.
Yet, at the height of the Pandemic, governments and healthcare organisations of all kinds were moving mountains to work together and slow the spread of the disease. One of the many obstacles bogging down research progress pertained to how to collaborate with fellow healthcare professionals.
This is not the kind of work you handle with a couple of emails and a Google Sheet. In addition to the limitations imposed by travel restrictions, the data being handled is extremely sensitive (think databases with patient names) and the urgency of the occasion demands fast turnaround times. Not to mention, everyone needs to be speaking the same “research” language: for example, they must work on and off the same datasets with agreed-upon terminology and processes.
This is the kind of logistical challenge most of us will never dedicate a single second of our lives thinking about. Thankfully, since 2007, it’s all that Aridhia does. This software development company has specialised in digital research environments, a SaaS field that sits at the intersection of project management, biological research and cloud (in Aridhia’s specific case, it leverages Microsoft Azure).
Its products enable organisations to collaborate on healthcare research projects from one centralised platform, designed with access rights and privacy in mind, and with analytical and publishing features built in that are meant to make the life of researchers simpler.
During the Pandemic, that’s exactly what they did. The company was behind Workbench, a tool that essentially enabled members of the International Covid-19 Data Alliance (ICODA) to work together in real time.
Perhaps part of why COVID-19 seems to be a thing of the past is because the work done by health and science professionals allowed us to return to “normality” a lot quicker than expected (not to mention save millions of lives).
A small miracle, if you may. And, in our opinion, one with a hint of a Scottish accent.
The next company on this list, Altia, is another using Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) to assist institutions. Especially forward-thinking ones looking to improve their collaboration by digitising processes that handle private and sensitive data in vast amounts (see also Aridhia).
In the case of Altia, its customers are typically busy solving crimes.
The Glasgow-founded software development company specialises in providing law enforcement agencies, investigators and other organisations in both the private and public security sectors, with some of the tools they need to collaborate in real-time.
So, what does that mean in practice?
There was a time when ringed notebooks were the norm for recording any piece of information collected in the course of an investigation. Whether you were a police officer or a private investigator, chances are you’d go through hundreds (if not thousands) of these throughout your career.
There were, of course, problems with carrying paper notebooks around. For one, the information they contained wouldn’t often be digitised, losing value as a result of not being searchable or shareable. And when it was digitised, it would be at the expense of time that could be better spent.
Then there was the issue of accessibility. Sometimes the information you needed was written down in the notebook you left back at the office. Finally, losing a notebook could be extremely damning — to the point of risking lives if it contained confidential or sensitive information.
Altia’s products are designed with these realities in mind. The company has even leaned into app development with its Verinote solution, a mobile app that allows users to capture images, record text (including voice-to-text), create voice recordings and securely store all of that sensitive information in a central repository that can be accessed by others. Simultaneously, it’s capable of recording the time and location of each data entry, which is particularly helpful when that data needs to be presented as evidence (say, in court).
The company’s capabilities also extend into financial investigations. In this area, it is worth mentioning its recent acquisition of Aquila, an artificial intelligence platform that helps with processing, analysing and extracting insights from high volumes of documents. While it will certainly prove helpful to traditional law enforcement, we’d imagine that the ability to extract insights in that manner will also prove handy when looking for financial fraud (an area in which Altia shares something in common with another Glaswegian company in this list, the above-mentioned AutoRek).
Note: we typically look for companies headquartered in the city we are covering. In the case of Altia, the company was originally founded in Glasgow and, according to LinkedIn, still has a number of employees based in the city. However, following its acquisition of ABM, its main office appears to have moved to Nottingham. We decided to make an exception given Altia’s long-time presence in Glasgow and the fact it still retains its namesake, some staff and an office in the city.
For the next entry in this list, we’d like to ask you, dear reader, to take on the role of an aquafarmer.
Your business runs multiple sites and regularly monitors a number of data points critical to the survival of the fish: water temperature, salinity and turbidity, just to name a few. When the data indicates something is off, you deploy countermeasures. These routines have been perfected over generations and have only improved over the years.
Yet, you are only getting about 70% yield out of your farm. There are still productivity gains to be had.
To achieve them, you need to know more about your farm. You need to know when the weather is about to turn and when’s the best time to feed your fish. In summary, you need more data, better data and for that data to be accessible in real-time.
This is where Krucial comes into play. Collecting that data is a job IoT sensors have become increasingly good at. But making that data readily available is a connectivity challenge, and achieving connectivity in the sea comes with its own set of environmental obstacles. Krucial addresses these challenges by utilising dual satellite and cellular technology, which in turn helps ensure uptime and prevent data loss.
We used aquafarming as an example, but Krucial is deploying its connectivity platform across a number of industries, including agriculture, utilities and the energy sector. And it’s not just sticking to the United Kingdom. Co-founder Kevin Quillien recently announced a partnership that will see it digitise farming operations in Australia. The tech startup is quickly making a name for itself and given how important the food production, utilities and energy sectors will be in curbing climate change, we will be watching its progress intently.
One software development category that has been around for almost as long as the computer itself is customer relationship management. For the longest time, though, CRM solutions were, for the most part, pretty vanilla. The major players more or less offered similar features and capabilities that were designed to appeal to as many companies as possible.
This made sense at the start. But as both customers and technologies evolved, CRM software began to branch into vertical specialization (a phenomenon also observed in other SaaS fields, such as HR or project management). A number of tech startups were launched with the purpose of offering a CRM platform custom-built for a particular industry. Fanbase — which we covered in our top tech companies in Edinburgh — is a CRM designed for sports organisations. Clio is a leading CRM solution for legal firms. Innovaccer specifically serves the healthcare industry. Several CRM solutions are optimised for medium-sized businesses. You get the idea.
If you are in the HR recruitment business, then chances are you’ve heard of Firefish Software.
What makes the Scottish company a leader in its field is how many of its workflows are customised for recruitment, right out of the box. While one might be able to create those workflows in other CRM platforms, chances are it would take an unreasonable (and cost-prohibitive) amount of work hours, getting help from a consultancy firm and all that without the certainty of the final result being just as good. Why take the chance?
Moreover, the platform natively integrates with a number of third parties, making it simpler for recruiters to manage their outreach through job boards, communicate with candidates and track performance metrics all from one place.
With all this, it’s no wonder that the company is used by more than 500 recruitment agencies across 25 countries. And looking at the number of awards it has won, we suspect it won’t stop there.
Global cosmetics brand, Avon, had a challenge. The company, which employs a staggering 6.2 million sales representatives across 60 countries, needed to improve the support available to those sales representatives when working with Avon’s core customer service team. This was particularly important given that those sales representatives are interfacing with customers directly — empowering them with the right tools and information could have a direct impact on sales.
Given that we’re talking of a workforce bigger than the population of many countries, the opportunity was huge. But so was the complexity of the task. How do you make sure these many workers have access to information about customers that is being collected across half a dozen channels?
The answer, as you might suspect by now, is one that Inisoft was well-placed to answer. The software development company specialises in contact centre solutions and its flagship product, Syntelate XA, is designed to bring data collected through voice, web chat, WhatsApp, social media messaging, email and SMS into one single platform. It also equips agents with the messaging and information they need to answer queries (you can read Avon’s story, here).
We mentioned in the intro to this article that Glasgow universities play a role in the success of the region as a tech hub. Inisoft is a great example of that: of the 24 current staff, 20% came from either the University of Strathclyde or Glasgow Caledonian University.
If the answer to both those questions is “negative”, that’s alright. Up until five minutes ago, neither did we.
We can guarantee you, though, that if you head to Oxford House on Oxford Street in Glasgow you’ll find around 15 people who know a lot about it. That’s the HQ for Alba Orbital.
While you’re there, don’t let the relatively low number of employees fool you — this is no tech startup. The company has been around for more than a decade and has established itself as a leader in the business of manufacturing mini-satellites. And having them sent to space.
Like many companies challenging the status quo, the idea it pursued was originally met with disbelief. The people who did know what picosatellites and PocketQubes were, laughed off one of its earliest enthusiasts, Professor Robert Twiggs from Morehead State University.
“Everybody laughed at us,” said Twiggs, laughing. “They said, ‘That’s absolutely the dumbest idea we’ve ever heard of.’”Source: RedOrbit interview.
Roughly ten years ago, that didn’t stop Tom Walkinshaw, the Founder of Alba Orbital. The then-aspiring entrepreneur launched his version of PocketQubes through a Kickstarter campaign, which turned out to be the first step in a journey that, more recently, saw his company secure $3.4m in funding.
And there’s a lot to be excited about. SpaceX has open possibilities in the space industry that have gotten investors excited while inspiring a new generation of inventors, researchers and entrepreneurs. You could say that companies like Alba Orbital are not only well positioned to capitalise on that excitement but, also, adding their own rocket fuel to the fire.
We’ll leave you with this very cool video produced by Wired, Qualcomm and Alba Orbital. Worth a watch.
Photonics, the science dedicated to the technical application of light, is at the heart of laser technology. Lasers, in turn, are used everywhere, be it telecommunications infrastructure, medical procedures, robotics or lightsabers.
Well, maybe not lightsabers. It’s unclear. What is not unclear, is that when it comes to photonics, Glasgow and Scotland’s central belt have long topped the rankings as the place to be. A report issued last year by TechnologyScotland highlighted that 96% of the output generated by photonics companies was exported to countries outside Scotland, highlighting the region’s ability to punch above its weight and market its products to much bigger economies.
“The Photonics industry is at the forefront of many key technologies that will be used to tackle the most pressing issues of our society. From bespoke sensors for monitoring our environment to innovative diagnostic tools to improve health management or encrypted technologies to secure our communication, the need for innovation and the speed to deliver those changes have never been greater.”Peter McBride Founder and Patent Attorney Scintlla IP
At least some of that success can be attributed to the academic circuit, renowned worldwide for its expertise and research. Only last month, the Universities of Glasgow and Strathclyde received £4.7m in funding to further accelerate the development of the industry in the region.
Perhaps it’s no wonder then, that the next entry on this article, Vector Photonics is actually a spinout from the University of Glasgow.
Launched in 2012, the company laid its claim to fame by creating PCSEL-based semiconductor lasers, a particularly powerful technology that, among other benefits, reduces the latency, costs and power consumption associated with operating its lasers. This combination means Vector Photonics’ offering is particularly appealing to data centres, a sector that can benefit from all those qualities when handling increasing volumes of data at increasingly higher speeds.
It’s not only data centres that can benefit from higher calibre lasers. On its website, the company highlights “additive manufacturing, including metal and plastic printing; LiDAR; and optical sensing” as potential areas of growth.
No mention of applications for the space industry… Make of that what you will.
Other cities we’ve covered in the UK & Ireland
- Top tech companies in Dublin
- Top tech companies in Galway, Ireland
- Top tech companies in Limerick, Ireland
- Top tech companies in Cork, Ireland
- Top tech companies in Leeds
- Top tech companies in Bournemouth
- Top Tech Companies in Reading and the Thames Valley
 Page 8 of UK Q3 2023 wrap-up – Dealroom x HSBC Innovation Banking
 Page 29 of Glasgow Ecosystem Report 2023
 Pages 26-29 in the Glasgow Economic Strategy report
 Page 17 of Glasgow Ecosystem Report 2023
 Page 6 of Glasgow’s Economy in Context
 World GBC Report
 Source: Inisoft LinkedIn page, accurate as of original publishing date.
 Page 8, Photonics survey 2022
 PCSEL stands for Photonic Crystal Surface Emitting Lasers
Amazon introduces new storage class that makes it cheaper to store rarely used files
Robot carers are real, but caregiving has bigger problems, writes Richard Trenholm in this FlashForward edition
The AFP, in coordination with the Malaysia’s Royal Police and the FBI, brought down a scam seeking to exploit Australian MyGov users.