International Trade

Spotlight on Glasgow: What’s it like to start a business in Scotland’s biggest city?

6 min read

26 February 2018

Former special projects journalist

When starting a business, how much of a difference does it really make where you are based? Real Business takes a look at what it’s like to get entrepreneurial in Glasgow and how SMEs can use the power of digital to reach customers around the world.

There are lots of things to consider when you are starting a new business, and location should be one of them.

Many new entrepreneurs start businesses from their kitchen table, and so these companies are naturally based wherever they are. But what about when you’re looking to scale? Are there enough talented, employable people in the area? What about funding, office space, competition?

And then there is exporting. Is it possible to becomes a global business right from the off, reaching customers both at home and abroad through the power of technology?

This year the Amazon Academy is returning to Scotland, offering free advice to SMEs to help them scale and grow their global sales by harnessing digital technology. “We are seeing a record number of Scottish SMEs selling their products across the world through the power of the internet, opening themselves up to millions of additional potential customers,” said Doug Gurr, UK Country Manager, Amazon.

Ahead of the first Amazon Academy which takes place in Glasgow on 17 April, we caught up with some of the City’s SMEs to hear what it’s like to run a business in Scotland’s biggest city:

• Maureen Eisbrenner, co-founder, CEO and chairman of building energy simulation company arbnco
• Cameron Graham, CEO and co-founder of care management system Storii
• Sharon Caddie, founder of greeting card venture Text from a Friend

Why did you choose Glasgow?

Maureen Eisbrenner: “Glasgow, and indeed Scotland, offers a unique environment for green businesses, with a climate-friendly legislative framework, greater access to funding, academic expertise and a precedent of being a world leader in renewables.

“This combination of factors provides smaller companies within the energy sector with a progressive and collaborative environment, enabling them to undertake research projects and develop innovative capabilities.”

Cameron Graham: “I’ve lived in Glasgow my whole life, and I knew we had a growing technology scene from which we could hire talented people. Since then we’ve expanded to California, where we are opening a satellite office this year.

Sharon Caddie: “I live in Glasgow and have worked here, as well as Edinburgh in various advertising and design agencies. Nut this is my home and it’s the best city with the best sense of humour.”

Glasgow key statistics

• Key sectors – life sciences, financial services, retail
• 1.2m – people working within 45 min commute
• £19.3bn – Glasgow’s gross value added
• 2.2m – tourists per year

What was it like to set up a business in Glasgow, in your experience?

ME: “As a tech firm we have been impressed by the talent available on our doorstep. Glasgow also benefits from excellent transport links, with the air and rail infrastructure making it easier to do business nationally and internationally.

“The innovative projects arbnco undertakes as a result of being based in Scotland has generated considerable investment, and enabled the company to grow from a team of three to a team of fourteen in just over two years.”

CG: “There is a great deal of support out there for startup businesses. Scottish Enterprise, Business Gateway, Strathclyde Enterprise Hub and Scottish Edge are a few organisations that have been of great support over the years.”
What is the biggest opportunity for businesses in Glasgow?

ME: “The Scottish government has put innovation and collaboration high on its agenda.

“Schemes such as the CAN DO Unlocking Ambition Challenge is backed by a £4m fund and links startup leaders with successful entrepreneurs to develop their businesses.”

SG: “There’s a growing network of people doing it for themselves and it would be nice to see and meet more of these people.

“They’re definitely out there as I come across them, so it’s worthwhile taking your dream of an idea and just going with it. Opportunities being the connections you can make, I believe.”

What is the main piece of advice you would offer to businesses starting up in Glasgow?

ME: “Make the most of the support networks available to you. Organisations like InnovateUK, Scottish Enterprise & The Data Lab can help you grow and the Universities provide a rich network of researchers and graduate talent to help bring academic expertise into organisations.”

SG: “Meet with ten potential customers before you begin full work on your project. Surround yourself with relevant advisors within your sector, and attend networking events – you never know who you might meet.”

If you’re a small business or entrepreneur who would like to learn more about how to succeed in the digital economy, in particular by growing your global sales, then make sure to not miss out on the Amazon Academy event taking place in Glasgow on 17 April. Get your ticket to the free event here.