Sector Insights

Scenery and Software: Technology Opportunities in the Highland and Islands

John MacKenzie, Senior Development Manager - Technology and Advanced Engineering at Highlands and Islands Enterprise, is our guest contributor this month and offers his thoughts on the growing opportunities for tech in the Highlands and Islands.

Published: 29/01/2018

Digital life science

Software and technology have been the real success story for Scotland in recent years. Young, innovative companies are doing incredible things, and companies such as Skyscanner and FanDuel are developing into multinational corporations offering exciting and lucrative opportunities for graduates in Scotland.

The bulk of this activity has been in the Central Belt and Tayside, however the Highlands and Islands are now home to a number of vibrant technology companies.  Prospects in this region for starting a career or business in this sector have never been greater.

Over 500 digital technologies enterprises are registered in the Highlands and Islands: an increase of over 120 companies in the last five years. The bulk of these businesses are micro and SMEs supplemented by some key multinationals, such as Capgemini based In Inverness.

Technology-themed clusters are now emerging in the region, such as digital health. Specialist companies are popping up, such as Sitekit on the Isle of Skye, MIME Technologies in Inverness and openbrolly in Elgin.  A small cluster of companies working in gaming and on-line sports is also starting to grow in the Moray area.

The tourism sector is also a market for many web and software development businesses. Amongst the region’s large businesses, IT services and support as well as cyber security services are the main activities.

And there’s further good news for those looking to work in the technology sector.  As well as being Scotland’s official Year of Young People, 2018 will see the development of a new £16 million Northern Innovation Hub.  The Hub will focus on life sciences, tourism, food & drink and creative industries, whilst creating new 12-month graduate placement opportunities in technology SMEs, and 12-week student summer placements.

There will also be support for 30 high-growth young or start-up companies each year, and a ‘Coding Academy’ to train and develop a new generation of industry-ready programmers and software developers. 

New projects will help technology firms accelerate innovation towards commercialisation, attract inward investors and provide physical space for collaboration. The Pathfinder Accelerator aims to drive the growth of start-ups and early-stage life science and technology businesses. 

So why did I call this blog ‘Scenery and Software’?  Well, in many cases, what sets our region apart is not just the infrastructure that can be offered (such as connectivity, access to skills and networks of support - all of which are extremely important) but also the exceptional quality of life and environment here in the Highlands and Islands.

It’s been often quoted that the quality of life and the environment is a key factor in the establishment of a digital technologies business in the region.

A significant motivation for such founders is the desire to live in the Highlands and Islands, with many of them already living there before starting the business, but some are also new or returning residents. There are many examples of companies that have consciously located in the Highlands and Islands for its special quality of life, such as Kyloe Partners in Orkney, DP Digital Media in Dingwall, Dynam in Inverness and BC Technologies in Dunoon.

The demand - both by companies working directly in the sector, and those in other sectors who now require digital expertise and skilled staff – is set to continue to grow in the Highlands and Islands.  This growth will increase the opportunities for employment and the level of salaries on offer, whilst giving graduates and students the chance to work and play in an exciting and beautiful region of Scotland.

Glen Elg landscape