Local Life

Local life with ... Jamie Coleman, CodeBase From the outside you might not think it, but Argyle House is what you could call a factory of innovation – a quarter of a million square feet spanning eleven floors, home to a vast number of tech start-ups all looking to change the world in their own ways. There’s a good chance that many of them will, and become billion dollar companies in doing so. Several already have.

Presiding over it, founder and Managing Director Jamie Coleman sits in an office with arguably the best views in the city. He could have established CodeBase in London, Shanghai, even Silicon Valley. But instead he chose Edinburgh, and for good reason: he believes it’s at the very heart of the international start-up community. CodeBase is now the largest technology incubator in the UK and one of the fastest growing in Europe. Conference Call gets an insight into Jamie’s background, his business and what he loves most about Edinburgh.

Tell us about your background.

I started in life sciences and drug discovery – what would now be called big data genomics – before starting to build businesses and software associated with that, and then moving into the incubation and investment world. Now it doesn’t matter to me what sector people are in but the tech core of what they do. I’ve got medicine, security, education, gaming and everything else in with me, and although the industries might appear different, many of the software challenges are shared amongst them.

What makes you so passionate about supporting such companies?

The desire to see talented people succeed. That’s the core. There are some of the most unbelievably talented technical and creative minds building businesses in this part of the world.

“There are some of the most unbelievably talented technical and creative minds building businesses in this part of the world”
FanDuel is the single largest valuation start-up in the UK

How do you know a success story when it knocks at your door?

You’re looking for a smart team, an amazing product and a colossal market. There are plenty of people who can build lovely SMEs that will grow at 5% or 6% each year and I hope they do well, but I’m only interested in building billion dollar companies. That means I need to look for the market opportunities that will be game changing – something that’s going to come along and completely change the way things are done.

What’s your biggest success story to date?

It’s got to be FanDuel. They’re the single largest valuation start-up in the UK and the largest unicorn [a start-up whose value has exceeded $1 billion] here. And to think that their absolute market is in the US while the core engineering and brainpower behind the business is here in Edinburgh – it’s just spectacular.

You say that the stars are aligned here in Edinburgh for start-ups. What does this mean?

For a number of years we had so many of the moving parts that could make a great tech ecosystem here, but they weren’t necessarily gelling together. You need universities, multinationals, investors, entrepreneurial density, a mix of creative and technical talents, and a city with the right lifestyle and culture. Edinburgh’s got all of this and so what’s happening now is that we’re pulling together people who really know how to build companies on the internet. It feels like the time is right to pull a lever under all of this and really make it happen.

Why did you move into Argyle House?

It’s perfect. Location is absolutely critical to the kind of businesses here. Unlike in my old world of life sciences with out-of-town wet labs and science parks, that simply doesn’t work in software tech. In order to retain staff, people want to be slap bang in the city centre – they want to be right by the universities, they want their amazing coffees and great bars, and they want to have a great lifestyle because that is very much part of building start-ups. Think of Google Campus – it’s that kind of idea.

What else do you love about Edinburgh?

Because of its great beauty, its cultural identity and its festival scene, Edinburgh’s a massive magnet for international talent. Creative and technical people just love to come here. Edinburgh is actually a modestly sized city; we’re nowhere near as big as New York and certainly nothing like Shanghai, yet we’re able to attract people from around the world.

Something else I absolutely see in Edinburgh is a twin track. On one side, we have post-Enlightenment, post-Industrial Revolution technical skills – a core of people who are great at building the big, hard stuff. On the other side, we have some of the most creative people on the planet, some of the best art colleges and of course, some amazing festivals. Having those two pools of people living very close to one another ends up being the right kind of mix to make good things happen.

Jamie’s favourite spots in the city

  • RestaurantCastle Terrace, because it’s right outside the door from CodeBase so I can just wander out.
  • ViewHonestly, the one from my office. If you could see what I’m looking out on right now – I’ve got Arthur’s Seat and the Castle right there. It’s the best marketing I’ve got. When I’ve got the venture capitalists in America on Skype, I’ve got Game of Thrones in the background. They love that.
  • PubThe Ventoux. German beer, bicycles and fish tanks. What more could you want?
  • Green spaceRegent Terrace Gardens, if I’m allowed a private one.