How Glasgow is growing into one of the UK's most successful tech hubs

A common complaint about the UK is that it is skewed towards London. The country's politics, culture and business all cluster within the capital, to the detriment of other cities and regions.

It can be hard to detect, but the UK seems to be becoming less centralised. Local mayors, devolution and regional health budgets are part of this trend. Could the technology sector follow?

Glasgowis surely a strong candidate if so. There are already some major names within tech in the city, especially where it intersects with finance. Glasgow hosts Morgan Stanley's European tech team, Barclays has tech functions here and both FDM Group and SAS have major offices in the city.

That's before you even turn to the city's burgeoning startup scene, its new Tontine business incubator, programming schools and its three well-regarded universities.

Glasgow has a rich and complex history. It was the centre of the Scottish enlightenment, an industrial powerhouse during the 18th century, then the world's shipbuilding capital. However the city went into decline in the 1960s. More recently it has transformed into a growing, vibrant city that hosted the Commonwealth Games in 2014, bringing in £1.3 billion in government investment.

Glasgow is home to 1.5 million people either living there or commuting in daily. Last year the city's Finnieston neighbourhood was voted the 'hippest place in the UK' thanks to its exciting new restaurants, hotels and bars.

Those that haven't visited might be surprised by how beautiful the city is (at least when it isn't raining). Its nickname as the 'dear green place' seems justified given it has over 90 parks or gardens.

Given the quality of life and better value for money, it is not surprising that tech companies are choosing to relocate or expand here.

Alex Ford, VP of operations at compliance tech startup Encompass Corporation, volunteered to move to Glasgow from Sydney in 2015 to set up the office there, making her an ideal person to explain its appeal.

"We have really good access to clients – the banks especially. There is so much technology talent here, at a lower cost than London. Also, the quality of life is great," she says. The company has 25 staff in Glasgow and 10 based in London at WeWork.

Ford's husband Adam Bannon is acting CEO at CodeClan, which claims to be Scotland's first digital skills academy, offering a 16-week course for people who want to learn programming skills. They have recently expanded from Edinburgh to Glasgow. CodeClan's office is in the city's Tontine House, previously the workshop of famous Scottish inventor James Watt. Now it is a tech accelerator for startups which hosts rapid-growth companies like infrastructure provider CityFibre and digital consultancy Incremental Group, plus other organisations such as Scottish Enterprise, Scotland's main development agency.

Across the river Clyde there is a cluster of media and tech groups including BBC Scotland's headquarters, STV, Capital Radio and another startup coworking space called Rookie Oven, all a short walk from the SSE Hydro, a 13,000-capacity arena recently ranked the world's second busiest live entertainment venue.

The overall impression is that Glasgow's tech sector is experiencing something of a boom.

"We've gone from six to 31 permanent staff, with over 20 clients including big names like Barclays and RBS," says Norman Yarwood, operations manager of tech recruitment firm FDM Group.

Glasgow was chosen as a new location for FDM because of its size – bigger than the capital Edinburgh – but also because of the huge sums of money the government has invested into the city.

"There are big tech firms are here, companies with big tech teams, and we have the IFSD [International Financial Services District]. Its lifeblood is technology. Glasgow draws people from all over the world, from the US, India and beyond. Another draw is we generally all have a very short commute," he laughs.

However, it isn't confined to big, established firms and government money. It's clear there is also a grassroots startup scene, as exemplified by two very different companies, Castlight Financial and Swipii.

Castlight Financial is an award-winning bootstrapped fintech startup that uses the latest tech to provide real-time credit and affordability checking. It is a timely service given the rise of 'open banking', where consumers are given greater control and allowed to pick and choose between financial products.

CEO Phil Grady tells Techworld its mission is a 'safer financial world' and 'to bring truth and transparency to finance', sloganeering, perhaps, but he seems genuine. "All of us came from financial services, we were tired of working in a sector driven by greed and fear," he says. "The Chinese stock market crash really rammed that home."

The founders all have strong industry credentials. Grady's background is in insolvency, chairman Martin Hagerty was chief risk officer at HSBC, while COO Martin Leonard worked at Equifax and Callcredit.

The company has built an 'affordability passport', which (with the consumer's explicit consent) instantly pools bank and credit data to judge whether an individual can afford a loan.

The other company is called Swipii, which launched two and a half years ago. The concept is to give brick and mortar business owners access to loyalty schemes, by allowing them to quickly and easily collect customer data. The company is eyeing France as an expansion market, but is still very happily headquartered in Glasgow.

Louis Schena maintains an upbeat tone when asked about the future of tech in Scotland. He says: "Brexit is affecting us, but what's cool about Glasgow is we're in a bit of a bubble already. We already had challenges with hiring, so it's nothing new for us. We're confident for the future."

This story, "How Glasgow is growing into one of the UK's most successful tech hubs" was originally published by

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