It’s undeniable that Aberdeen has had a difficult time in recent years. When the current downturn in oil and gas began in 2014 the direct energy sector employment was 72,000 in Scotland – a toll has been taken throughout the industry and surrounding economy. There is, however, a great deal of hope and optimism to be found among startups in Aberdeen.
The region has taken an innovative approach to recovery with the private and public sectors working together to ensure Aberdeen and the city region remains a major economic driver for Scotland and the UK. Opportunity North East (ONE) was launched in December 2015 following extensive consultation with the area’s business community. Private sector led, the organisation aims to maximize the long-term oil and gas opportunity for the region whilst rebalancing the area’s economy by diversifying into a number of key sectors. It has ambitious plans to deliver projects that enable businesses of all sizes to realise their full potential, from established companies to start-ups.
Bringing together Invest Aberdeen, Aberdeen City Council, Aberdeenshire Council and Opportunity North East, the recent Aberdeen City deal is an additional catalyst to broadening the economic base with investment in projects supporting food, drink and agriculture, life sciences, tourism and digital and entrepreneurship.
Supporting a culture of innovation in the region, The Oil and Gas Technology Centre (OGTC) funds and directs projects that help to unlock the full potential of the UK North Sea, supporting established partners and startups to develop technologies that solve key industry challenges. OGTC’s accelerator programme TechX offers access to co-working space, rapid prototyping, test facilities and field trials to help commercialise new technologies.
In addition, the Pioneers programme provides access to funding (up to £100,000 for start-ups with new technology ideas) expert mentors and global partners to help develop the ideas. The developer retains all intellectual property and TechX takes no equity or payback.
The Aberdeen City Deal will support increased delivery of ultrafast fibre connectivity and feed a regional data platform from which new innovative applications will develop. To facilitate this, Opportunity North East has partnered with Codebase to create a new digital and tech hub – ONE Codebase. As the UK’s largest tech incubator, Codebase has grown five-fold in Edinburgh where it launched in 2014. Following an initial expansion in Stirling, the new space in Aberdeen (which opens in 2019) will continue the tried and tested Codebase model of clustering tech companies together with access to events, advisors, and potential investors, to help to create new jobs and wealth. ONE Codebase, although not yet in its new facility, is already holding regular meetups with the local Aberdeen tech community to help anchor talent and encourage innovative thinking. The next event will be held on 7th March and Codebase is keen to draw an audience from across the sector.
Aberdeen is already home to a number of companies engaged in Life Science R&D and commercialization. Among them is Novabiotics, Elasmogen and Enterobiotix; exciting, innovative businesses developing the next generation of Bio-Therapeutics. The development of the £40M Aberdeen Bio-Therapeutic Hub for Innovation at the Foresterhill Health Campus (which has a planned open date of December 2020) will create an incubator and accelerator for new and existing life science companies with access to office and laboratory space and essential life science equipment. It’s goal is to to double the number of life science businesses in the area.
Capitalising on the area’s strength in agriculture and food production, The Agri-Food and Nutrition hub for innovation will build on existing research and development expertise to identify opportunities in sustainable agriculture and nutrition for commercial product development and innovation. The flagship project for Scotland’s food and drink industry will have a strong focus on the agriculture supply chain, creating a provenance for healthy eating, nutraceuticals and functional foods.
Having spent a few days in Aberdeen last week, the step change in the city is palpable. I’m excited to see Aberdeen’s start up scene accelerate and I look forward to TalentSpark assisting more exciting businesses, such as RAB Microfluidics, to source the talent they need to succeed.