A technology incubator in Govan is encouraging a new generation of Scottish innovators

Alice Muir

Govan-based, Rookie Oven, has been set-up to bring a much-needed Silicon Valley environment to the Scottish startup scene.

THE UK internet economy has exceeded both the manufacturing and retail industries, representing more than 12.4 per cent of UK GDP, according to a report written by the Boston Consulting Group.   

This sector of the UK economy represents the second biggest UK economic contributor behind the property sector and has grown strongly from 10 per cent of the UK GDP in 2015 to 12.4 per cent in 2016. Its valuation has almost doubled from $187 billion in 2010 to $347 billion in 2016. Small geographical constituencies of the UK, such as London’s ‘Silicon Roundabout’ are taking advantage of this explosive growth by encouraging tech companies to work in close proximity to one another, encouraging collaboration and the creation of new business and investment opportunities.

Likewise in San Francisco, Silicon Valley is an area in which many successful technology companies, such as Apple, Facebook and Google, choose to base their global headquarters. ‘The Valley’ as it gets called for short, is an area famous for innovation. It’s where the first Apple product was created; it’s where Google and Facebook chose to build million dollar office campuses and it’s where angel investors from around the world look to make smart investment choices.

“the Govan area of Glasgow was the Silicon Valley of its day during the shipbuilding boom of the early nineteen hundreds.”

It could be said that the Govan area of Glasgow was the Silicon Valley of its day during the shipbuilding boom of the early nineteen hundreds. However, since the rapid decline of the Scottish shipbuilding industry, the area has been viewed as a lower working-class area with a reputation for deprivation and poverty. It was even highlighted as one of Britain’s ‘no-go’ areas by The Independent in 1994.

Rookie Oven founder, Michael Hayes, came up with an idea for reviving Govan’s once-world renowned reputation for innovation by creating a more vibrant startup community in Glasgow. With a budget of just £500, Michael was able to create a vibrant, fresh and comfortable space for startups. The office space is called Rookie Oven and it’s situated on the top floor of the Fairfield Heritage Centre, a museum showcasing examples of some of the shipbuilding models which were built during Govan’s shipbuilding boom.

The tech hub, which offers desk space to entrepreneurs wishing to work on start-up business projects, started in 2011 with just 8 tenants. In 2016, Rookie Oven has eighteen residents with projects which range from mobile app development to content delivery networks, and they even have an employee of Microsoft.

The hub is entirely financially independent from external funding bodies, and most of the startup residents of the incubator are bootstrapped companies with little-to-no external investment.

Hayes spent £500 of his own capital turning the space into an inspiring environment for young technology entrepreneurs. The majority of the budget was spent on the office pool table, and the furniture in the office was mostly donated by Michael’s family and friends.

“When we first moved in to the office we were having major issues with our internet provider and it was SNP MSP Humza Yousaf who stepped-in to ensure the problem was sorted out,” explains Michael.

“Since then Rookie Oven has also received support from The Queen, who I met at the 2014 National Technology Industry Conference, as well as being invited to make appearences at SXSW festival in Texas and the global Web Summit conference, which recently took place in Dublin.”

The appeal of the hub is the idea of collaboration and cooperation between startup enterprises in Scotland, something in which the industry is lacking. An open office space with an emphasis on being social is a perfect environment for stimulating creativity and harnessing creative ideas and partnerhsip.

Kieran Smith, an employee of Glasgow-based startup Newspaper Club, commented “Rookie Oven gives small startups a place thats affordable to work and grow their business, It also gives startups a way to Socialise and Engage with other businesses. It nurtures a community of Entrepreneurs, Contractors and the like.”

The hub has also become somewhat of a community for the wider technology scene with people from all over the world attending their monthly networking meet-up, which takes place in The Raven bar on Renfield Street in Glasgow. Michael explains that the Rookie Oven community is looked upon as a valuable resource in the tech community, with speaker events and hackathons taking place regularly.

An academy for 16-18 year old school pupils has been launched at Rookie Oven to teach children about starting up a business. The classes cover many issues involved in startup projects in terms of marketing and raising finance among other aspects that might arise. The academy has received funding support of £8,000 from both Glasgow City Council and Skills Development Scotland and is free for participants to take part.

“Among G-20 countries, the UK’s digital economy is the largest as a proportion of GDP, and we expect the UK to retain its position.” Paul Zwillenberg

In response to BCG’s report on the internet economy, digital economy expert Paul Zwillenberg commented; “Among G-20 countries, the UK’s digital economy is the largest as a proportion of GDP, and we expect the UK to retain its position.

“The Internet economy in the UK, which includes online retailing, sales of Internet-related devices, IT and telecommunications investments, and Internet-related government spending, is expected to grow to more than £200 billion over the life of the next government and to double in size from 2010.”

Areas like Govan can take advantage of this growing sector of the economy through collaborative projects such as Rookie Oven, which bring like-minded entrepreneurs together to create more opportunities for innovation and investment.

Pictures courtesy of Michael Hayes

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