Data wizardry and the future of Glasgow’s tech ecosystem

At the 2023 City Nation Place Awards, Glasgow became the first city to take home the trophy for Best Use of Data, in recognition of the comprehensive and innovative work undertaken to map out the city’s tech ecosystem and create a foundation for data-driven storytelling around the sector.

So, how exactly did Glasgow impress the judges with their approach? We sat down with Gavin Smyth, Tech Ecosystem Manager for Glasgow City Council and the powerhouse behind this new strategy, to understand precisely what it is that led to this data-driven triumph.


Well done on winning the Best Use of Data award. Can you share what started your journey to develop a data-driven approach to telling the story of Glasgow’s Tech Ecosystem?

The journey started a couple of years ago and was actually born of frustration. To my eye at that time, the largest untapped marketing opportunity for Glasgow City Region from a business and investment perspective lay in its rapidly growing technology ecosystem. It felt, however, like the country’s best kept secret.

To be better equipped to tell that particular story, I needed access to an accurate and up-to-date list of high growth company and investment data for the region to help place Glasgow’s highly investible startup and scaleup scene in a larger and more visible shop window.

I struggled, however, to find good datasets with the right level of detail and accuracy in order to tell those stories effectively while at the same time making that intelligence freely available to all.

In their absence, I started to compile my own list on an Excel spreadsheet. Over time, this grew exponentially into a complex Google Sheet with multiple tabs until at last I felt this manual method was getting a little ridiculous and reasoned there must be a better way to tackle this, at which point I began to explore potential solutions on the open market. While there were a number of providers offering to map our tech ecosystem, I found the majority had poor overall coverage of our location (10-15% at best) and were reliant on the client to build this from the ground up. There was one that bucked that trend with a good level of national coverage and while not perfect, my thinking was ‘well, they have some data and I have some data, why don’t we knock our heads together and see what we might collectively build by collaborating and curating the data to extract the best of both.’ That company was Amsterdam-based database company, Dealroom, to whom I put in a call and the relationship and project originated from there.

How did you engage your stakeholders in this process? Data is often viewed as highly sensitive, so how did you overcome this?

People assume this type of data is ‘gospel’, not to mention proprietary, and often find it is typically tucked away behind paywalls with access restricted to larger organisations with the ability to pay.

On the contrary, most of the relevant information that we were looking to share was available in the public domain, albeit not extracted into one convenient platform that both democratised the data and made it visible to all actors – from large corporates through to one-person startups. Also, much of the data I had seen shared about our location had been ‘scraped’ by external sources and either not verified by local intelligence or resulted in relatively blunt top-level data that didn’t translate into what I would term actionable insight. While there were some open-source solutions on the market, no one certainly at UK city or regional level was, to my mind, taking best advantage of that.

Data is only as useful as the insights you can pull from it. Do you have any advice for other destinations looking to root their storytelling in data?

Wherever possible, go down the open-source route. Yes – it can sometimes feel like a slog to encourage individual actors to update their own data (countering the ‘so what?’ factor) but if you can support a route that’s relatively low touch for the user and the benefits to them outweigh the maintenance (e.g. replacing a high-touch and often outdated CRM on their website with an interactive and dynamic visual landscape embedded as an iframe that’s updated on-the-fly) then it’s much easier for people to participate. It’s infinitely more powerful to build a community around the data than have it enforced upon them.

Tell a regular and consistent story. You can typically come across ‘not invented here’ syndrome where each organisation wants to put their own stamp on a product, often resulting in a “wild west” with multiple homegrown solutions that may fill an immediate need for them at individual level but perhaps are not in the best interests of the whole community. What we have tried to do is to invest in an open access solution that provides all the data we believe is needed on behalf of the tech community for them to rally around – one that provides regional data free at the point of access (with global data that can be tapped into for benchmarking and development purposes) and more broadly provides a platform-based solution that’s easily scalable to national level.

You also have to recruit organisational advocates and ambassadors with built-in networks to help tell the story more widely. With limited resources, it is challenging to drive widescale adoption of the platform, and you need to pick and choose your battles. Identify potential champions from within membership-based or cohort-driven organisations with notably strong networks, win them over with the benefits to their organisation, and collaborate with them to distribute data-driven insights through some targeted co-marketing work.

How are you now using this data source to support the growth and development of your start-up and scale-up community?

We are publishing a series of regular insights to shine a light on different aspects of Glasgow’s tech ecosystem for a broader audience – whether through top startups to watch, health of the tech meetup community, funding competitions, measurable performance of cohort companies within prominent accelerators, or domestic vs. international investment into key clusters and enabling technologies allied to regional strengths.

We are increasingly embedding the data in a number of content creation platforms and visualisation tools to support our storytelling efforts. For these to punch through, we always adhere to the “holy trinity” of content creation making it: 1) visual, 2) interactive, and 3) ‘snackable’.

Through these vehicles, we can:

  • Create an opportunity to collaborate with local experts
  • Grow knowledge and data on the platform
  • Easily share an appealing piece of content with the public
  • Give credits to selected startups
  • Grow engagement with the community and generate feedback.

With the benefit of hindsight, is there anything you would have done differently?

Partner with at least one major organisation from the start to ensure they have ‘skin in the game’ - ideally one with broader reach into your target market than you can easily address on your own, either through their membership or cohort companies or wider network. Prove the concept early through easy-to-articulate benefits. Use the ‘small wins’ as case studies to bring further collaborators into the fold and co-market the heck out of it at every opportunity.

Take every opportunity to “bang the drum” about your work, including speaking and presenting opportunities. Although you may quickly get bored of the sound of your own voice evangelising the same points, always keep in mind there’s always someone new who hasn’t heard the story that could become your next development opportunity waiting to happen.

What’s next for Glasgow?

Glasgow, as one of the fastest growing metro areas in the UK for VC investment, needs to build on the visibility and connections made this year to impart a greater frequency and variety of stories centred on its attractiveness as a location in which to invest, work and live. We are actively working to build out a team of content creators and evangelists for the city’s business and investment narrative and are looking to develop more formal and informal partnerships to help co-promote the tech platform as an everyday tool for use by the wider tech ecosystem and established global networks independent of origin.

We have an opportunity at City Region level to reorganise around an outward-facing marketing engine with a singular point of contact. One that better leverages collective resources across public, private and academic sectors while using data storytelling to tell a more consistent narrative about Glasgow’s business and investment credentials. In an increasingly competitive battle for international talent and investors’ hearts and minds (and wallets!), we need to grasp it.

Sounds fascinating! We look forward to seeing what Glasgow does next!

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