What did I learn from EIE14?
EIE 14 took place in Edinburgh this week. Organised by Informatics Ventures it has quickly become the premier event for Startups and potential investors in Scotland and one of the most important in the UK. This was my first time attending and I must admit I was blown away by the scale and breadth of the whole event.
EIE stands for Engage, Invest, Exploit and despite the slightly creepy connotations of the last word, the concept works. The conference is focused in the Engage phase and is an opportunity for angels, VCS and other investors to meet with and hear from as many Startups as possible.
The whole day is centred around the Startups and this year they were organised into three main groups, Technology, Biosciences and Energy. Most of the main sessions were devoted to pitches from Startups with a separate room for each group so attendees could focus on the sector of most interest. Pitches in turn were split between one minute "pop up pitches" and longer 6 minute pitches which had a panel asking questions at the end. I would be interested to hear the feedback on these sessions. For me, the one minute version was great, gave me just enough to decide whether I wanted to go and seek out the company pitching and find out more. The longer versions were a bit staged and less helpful. This may just be me. Sitting listening to people talk from a stage has never been one of my strongpoints.
Luckily there was also plenty of opportunity to talk directly to the Startups. Companies from all three groups were gathered in one exhibition hall. There is no favouritism so everyone has a stand the same size and a huge throng of people just work their way round the room. I knew quite a few of the companies exhibiting and every time I went up to chat to someone I knew, they were engaged by at least one stranger trying to find out more. It was clearly working.
It is well worth checking out some of the pitches and other material on the website eie14.com. However, I always find with these events that it is the buzz and messaging around the room that sticks in the memory. So what did I learn from EIE14?
Look out for some serious marketing
Everything feels very optimistic and energetic. Although I focused on the Tech startups, there was an equal sense of urgency about the bioscience and energy stuff. On limited evidence, it would seem that this is indicative of the UK generally not just Edinburgh or Scotland. Just to reinforce this, the latest Tech Monitor from KPMG shows strong growth and especially the highest level of hiring in the sector for three years. The first part of the influx of funds is clearly being felt already.
I will be very interested to see the impact of the other part of the investment promise. One of my observations about the UK and especially Scottish startup sector has been lack of visibility in the wider public domain. My guess is that there will be a bunch of exciting and attention grabbing marketing from tech startups in the next 12-18 months. Hopefully, this will mark a big step forward for the startup ecosystem as a whole.
Kenny Fraser is the Director of Sunstone Communication and a personal investor in startups.