24 Mar 2021

Accelerating Scotland’s tech-led recovery

The following announcement from Scottish Government was published today building on the recommendations of last year’s Scottish Technology Ecosystem Review. In September, Digital Xtra Fund expressed its support for this Review and in particular, it’s recognition of the importance of extracurricular activities when engaging young people with tech (Recommendations 7 and 25). Shortly thereafter, Scottish Government committed to implementing all 34 recommendations.

Scottish Government has been a significant supporter of Digital Xtra Fund and our grants programme since the Fund’s creation in 2016. Their support continues to be a vital part of achieving our goals and objectives. This announcement, and the recently updated Digital Strategy for Scotland, has the potential to ensure Scotland is a global tech centre. However, sufficient digital talent, creativity, and an entrepreneurial mindset are keystone to achieving these plans. 

We are very excited by these developments and hope this latest announcement ensures we will continue to work with Scottish Government to support the hard work of schools and organisations across the country engaging young people with technology both in and out of the classroom.


A leading expert in scaling digital businesses has been appointed to oversee work to establish Scotland as a world-class technology hub.

Mark Logan, former Skyscanner executive and Professor of Computing Science at the University of Glasgow, will advise ministers on implementing the recommendations stemming from his independent review of the Scottish tech ecosystem.

The programme will be delivered with £7 million Scottish Government funding in its first year (2021-22). This will include a £1 million fund to make strategic investments in organisations and activities – such as tech conferences, meet-ups or training programmes – that create the best possible environment for Scottish start-ups to succeed.

Procurement for a network of growth-focused entrepreneurial hubs known as “tech scalers” will open for bids later this year. It is anticipated that there will be five scalers in different parts of the country by 2022, with the aim of supporting around 300 high-quality start-ups over the next five years.

Progress will be supported by a gender-balanced advisory board composed of some of Scotland’s most successful entrepreneurs and digital leaders including:

  • Lesley Eccles, founder and CEO of HelloRelish and co-founder of gaming platform Fanduel
  • Roan Lavery, co-founder of online accounting firm FreeAgent
  • Sarah Ronald, founder of Nile HQ strategic design agency
  • Stephen Ingledew, executive chair of FinTech Scotland

Finance Secretary Kate Forbes said:

“Mark is one of the most respected figures in Scotland’s tech scene and his experience, passion and global profile will be invaluable in our joint mission to elevate the tech ecosystem to world-class level.

“The expertise and industry perspective of the advisory board will also be instrumental in ensuring we create the conditions and infrastructure needed to incubate a stream of start-ups that reach sustained profitability and can do so at scale.

“From attracting young people into computing science courses to supporting a community of high-growth businesses, this programme of work will be critical in determining the future contribution of Scotland’s tech sector to our economic recovery.”

Online travel business Skyscanner was Scotland’s first “unicorn” – the industry term for a tech company valued at more than $1 billion. Professor Logan joined the firm as Chief Operating Officer in 2012 until its acquisition in 2017.

Professor Logan said:

“It’s very exciting to witness the shared sense of mission and ambition across government, industry and the education sector in bringing the tech ecosystem review’s recommendations to life. I’m pleased to have the support of such an experienced board as we strive to make Scotland a leading technology economy.”

Background

Mark Logan’s Scottish Technology Ecosystem Review was published in August 2020 and the Scottish Government has committed to implementing its recommendations.

A full list of board members will be published ahead of its first meeting in May 2021.

The £1 million Ecosystem Fund is expected to open for applications in summer 2021.

A document setting out the Scottish Government’s initial expectations of tech scalers will be published shortly and used as a basis for discussions with potential bidders.

Work to develop the technology sector will contribute to the successful delivery of Scotland’s updated digital strategy which was published this month and complements the artificial intelligence strategy published earlier this week.

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10 Mar 2021

Financial awards now available from Digital Xtra Fund to secure key skills in Scottish youngsters

The following Editorial appeared in The Herald on Wednesday 10 March 2021 as part of their ongoing series about the Future of Education.


SCOTLAND has ambitious plans to become a global digital economy. In order to achieve this, however, it needs to encourage its young people to become engaged with technology, learning the innovative skills needed to develop rewarding careers in this critical sector. By Andrew Collier

Luckily, help and encouragement are available, with new grant applications currently being accepted by Digital Xtra Fund to stimulate interest and boost confidence in computer technology among Scots aged 16 and under.

The Fund brings together industry, educators and the public sector to achieve the common goal of helping young people succeed in an increasingly digital world.

Blue chip organisations acting as key partners include Baillie Gifford, Skyscanner, AWS, JP Morgan, and CGI.

Digital Xtra Fund currently has £75,000 to disburse, with the charity aiming to foster and encourage the development of high quality projects in schools and other organisations across Scotland. There are also hopes this amount will increase further in the coming months.

Available grants will range from a minimum of £500 to a maximum of £5000. For those wanting to take part, time is tight – applications close on April 22, so that the grants can be awarded before the start of the summer holidays and new academic year. As a result, the Fund is encouraging project entries to be lodged as soon as possible. Supported activities must then be delivered between July 1 and June 30, 2022.

“I want to ensure that the word gets out”, says Kraig Brown, Digital Xtra Fund’s Partnerships and Development Manager. “Being able to offer this is really exciting, especially in a year that has been so challenging, particularly for schools. With everyone still focusing on the pandemic and lockdowns, I don’t want them to miss this opportunity.

“I think applicants should also plan on things being relatively back to normal during the next academic year with full time face-to-face learning and hopefully gathering outwith class bubbles. There will likely still be some issues around non-school staff coming onsite, but the learning we gained over the past year means most of this engagement could be done through virtual channels. Plus, we have added a new question to the application about remote learning because we realise we do still need to have a Plan B.”

The list of organisations that can apply for a grant is extensive and includes chartered bodies, companies, charities, local authorities, colleges and universities as well as schools.

The Fund is also looking to still develop more partnerships with industry to further increase the amount of grant awards available this year. The more grants it can award, the more young people it can help inspire to study digital and related courses and ultimately to pursue careers within the technology sector.

Last year’s Logan Review into the Scottish technology sector concluded that computing science should be treated as a core school subject in the same way as maths and physics. It also highlighted the pivotal role extracurricular activities can play to engage more young people in tech.

For the first time, at least two grants will also focus specifically on cyber security skills, funded by the Scottish Government under its cyber resilience strategy.

“It’s a new thing for us”, says Kraig. “In the past, we have awarded funding based on geography or for projects primarily aimed at girls and young women. But this is the first time we have done it based on skill set.

“Young people don’t generally know where the jobs are in tech, but cyber is growing exponentially. It sees itself as one of the rock stars of the tech sector probably because it is genuinely on the front line where the action’s at.”

He gives the example of a well-known company in Glasgow. “For eight hours a day, this office is responsible for the worldwide security of a global financial company. These are the sorts of opportunities now available here in Scotland.

“We’re seeing attacks on elections, power grids and the NHS. What you don’t hear as much about though is 40% of cyber attacks target small businesses. As the world becomes more and more connected through advances such as the Internet of Things, cyber security is only going to become more and more relevant. The Scottish Government realises this.”

“We’re trialling this approach of targeting grants to engage young people in specific elements of tech, as well as the broader scope. Cyber security is just so important – not only in the private sector, but in the public sector too. You only need to look at the recent attack on the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA). I really hope we get some innovative cyber applications.”

He adds: “Last year, 46% of UK businesses and charities reported a cyber-attack during the year. We need more young people with the right skills to maintain a proportionate level of protection. Once again, this ties back to the Logan Report.”

Kraig says there are two good reasons for youngsters to become adept in cyber security. Firstly, to tap into a pipeline of exciting – and lucrative – career options.

“There is expected to be a 32% rise in cyber security jobs globally between now and 2028. Everyone is going to need cyber security staff or support.”

The other is so young people have the knowledge and skills to ensure they stay safe themselves when online. “Unfortunately, Covid-19 has led to a massive uptick in online crime.”

Kraig says he is confident that the quality of grant applications this year will be high. “It’s been going up year on year. Teachers, schools and other organisations recognise just how important this is and the options that are out there for them.”

It is not enough, he adds, for people just to be able to get online and use apps.

“It is imperative that we teach young people to understand and to create with technology, not simply to use it. We must focus on activities and lessons that teach them skills such as computational thinking, the design process and resilience. Perhaps most importantly, we need to do this in a fun and exciting way to inspire their creativity as well.

“We really want schools and organisations to look ahead. We have a really positive outlook on what we can achieve in the next academic year.”


Opportunities for all in the Heart of the community

ONE of the most interesting of the 25 projects to be funded last year was Heart of Midlothian FC’s new Innovation Centre – a community based initiative offering courses to help participants learn digital skills.

The project also helps to support local businesses and recently launched an all-female Apps For Good programme which has received excellent feedback.

Another of its initiatives was a course in building an online shop. Both projects were successful enough for repeat sessions to be planned.

Originally, activities involving young people were scheduled to be delivered on a traditional face-to-face basis, but the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic meant that they had to be switched to remote learning. The funding they received helped this to happen.

Ann Park, Director of Community and Partnerships at Hearts, says: “It’s been great working with Digital Xtra Fund. Its support has enabled us to reach young people from a broad range of backgrounds and inspire them in taking the next steps in forging a digital career.”

Nicola Gallen, Business Development Manager for Devolved Nations at AWS (Amazon Web Services) says her business is pleased to be a key supporter of the Fund.

“We believe that everyone should be involved in building the future and we want to inspire as many people as possible to become creators of tech as well as consumers of it. Helping more schools and organisations shows young people how exciting this can be. The Fund’s grants programme is something that we’re very proud to be part of.”

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