Why Dundee’s digital legacy is a magnet for international tech investors

Dundee is well known for its gaming and life science expertise. However, the city's tech scene has much more going on and that makes it an ideal location for tech investors. Graham Hatton, our inward investment team leader shines the spotlight on Scotland's sunniest city.

Written by Graham Hatton 

Since the games industry is core to the city's tech sector let's first look at what the future of the games industry might look like in Dundee.

From games to esports

By 2025, 'esports' – the world of competitive, organised video gaming – is predicted to triple in size to $3 billion USD per year from its current value of around $1 billion USD per year.

For Dundee, where talks are underway to bring a 4,000 capacity esports arena to the city’s £1 billion waterfront development, this is a hugely exciting opportunity.

"It’s a rapidly growing sector," says Robin Presswood, Executive Director of City Development at Dundee City Council. "So, for Dundee to be at the heart of that global leisure market is phenomenally important."

The plans being developed by Northern Lights Arena Europe Limited (NLAE) involve building a multi-purpose arena that will host sporting events as well as an esports academy, retail, accommodation and working spaces.

"It puts us on the international talent map," Robin adds. "Crucially, the broadcast audience for esports is now bigger than physical sports, so the potential for Dundee and our talent base is huge."

Digital Dundee

Dundee’s global reputation for computer games has helped to fuel rapid growth in the city’s tech sector and draw international attention.

Colorado-based enterprise software business Cherwell chose Dundee for its first research and development centre outside the United States in 2018.

"Scotland was on our list of various opportunities around the world, but it quickly rose to the top because of the high level of technology there, its knowledge economy and culture – and also the backing from educational institutions."

Helen Duckett, Vice President of Operations, Cherwell

Duckett, VP of Operations, Cherwell

Telecoms group BT also employs around 1,000 people at its Dundee operation, which is to remain a key location for the business as part of a major workplace improvement and consolidation programme.

"This is a real sign of BT’s commitment to Dundee and Scotland generally," BT Group director in Scotland Jane Wood said.

Dundee’s digital cluster also includes mobile app developer Waracle, which has blue-chip clients including Virgin Money, Sainsbury’s Bank and the National Health Service. MTC Media, based in Dundee and Edinburgh, is one of Scotland’s top web design and ecommerce specialists and launched more than 150 new websites last year.

Leading in Fintech since 1946

A key catalyst in Dundee’s growth as a computer sciences hub was the arrival in 1946 of banking technology specialist NCR, which was founded in 1884 in the US as the National Cash Register Company.

NCR designed and built its first ever autoteller machine (ATM) in Dundee more than 40 years ago.

Today, NCR employs around 600 people at its Research and Development Centre of Excellence in Dundee, called the NCR Discovery Centre.

"In Dundee NCR found talent that contributed to some of the most innovative banking technologies deployed globally today," says Neill Harris, a global banking marketing director for NCR. "The city’s 'One City, Many Discoveries' brand is inspired by explorer Robert Scott's famous ship, which is moored here (pictured). Dundee has long been a pioneer in scientific and technological advancement.

In fact, our latest ATM series "NCR SelfServ" was developed in Dundee and last year we celebrated its one-millionth milestone. With over one million ATMs sold in the last 12 years, SelfServ is the world’s most popular ATM brand."

RRS Discovery at Dundee Waterfront

New fintech hub

Fintech will continue to play a significant role in the growth of Dundee's tech sector. Last year Embark Group acquired the advised and partnership client books of Alliance Trust Savings and have now announced plans to create a fintech hub in the city.

Embark Group together with technology partner FNZ are creating the first dedicated FinTech Venture Studio in Dundee with the support and collaboration from the Scottish Government, Scottish Enterprise, FinTech Scotland and the Scottish Investment Bank.

They are partnering with a leading FinTech Venture Capital firm, Anthemis to support the venture studio and lead the investment strategy. They are adopting a collaborative model that brings together Embark Group, with its institutional shareholders, clients, and ecosystem of partners from across the financial services supply chain, to deliver a broad Wealth and Asset Management led Venture Studio in Dundee.

Tech talent

Access to talent is a key attraction for inward investors. Dundee has one of the UK’s highest student population ratios providing a steady flow of talented graduates. 

The most recent Research Excellence Framework (REF) assessed the University of Dundee to be 'excellent' in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and 76% of research rated was 'world-leading' or 'internationally renowned'. 

The University of Dundee is also a top UK university for biological sciences and law. It incorporates Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design, one of the UK’s top art and design schools. 

 

Europe's leading games school

Abertay University is a recognised centre of digital design, cyber security and computer games innovation and launched the world’s first computer games degrees in 1997. It has since become the UK’s first ever Centre for Excellence in Computer Games Education and is ranked as Europe’s leading games school by the Princeton Review, offering a range of dedicated degrees.

Dundee & Angus College is one of Scotland’s largest further education providers and is committed to building skills in ‘STEM’ education – science, technology, engineering and maths.

Computer games students, Abertay University

Gregor White, Abertay’s Dean of Design and Informatics, joined our recent webinar on opportunities in Scotland’s games industry. He said: "There are 26 colleges and 14 universities in Scotland, plus smaller institutions like Glasgow School of Art and The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. Most of these will have some kind of computing, digital media or computer science offer as part of their portfolio of courses.

"In Dundee, it's really the concentration of games companies in the city and the way the cluster operates, that has supported the development of this dedicated educational resource in and around the city," Gregor added.

Abertay recently launched a new £5.5 million Emergent Technology Centre for video games and cyber security. It includes studios for experimental games design, hacking projects and digital arts research. It's home to a Usability Lab kitted with eye-tracking equipment, specialist cameras and an observation room. And it also has an XR (extended reality) Lab for experimentation with room-scale virtual reality, motion tracking and multi-user augmented reality and mixed reality projects.

Investing in the future

Dundee’s vision is to become a ‘smart city’ through the use of data and technology.

Substantial investment has been earmarked for Dundee’s digital sector under the Tay Cities Deal, a package of government funding designed to boost productivity, employment and economic growth across Tayside and Fife.

Projects include a new £11.7 million cyberQuarter led by Abertay University, a £15 million investment into cutting edge, technology-led forensic science at the University of Dundee and a £25 million commitment to grow Tayside’s biomedical cluster.

A 5G test bed, which will help companies develop 5G products, will receive £2 million. And £20 million will be invested in a skills and employability programme, including £4 million for digital skills. Existing talent projects include the Dundee & Angus Developing Young Workforce initiative, which connects employers, education and young people.

"We recognise that talent is one of the key things that drives the sector," says Diane Milne, senior policy officer at Dundee City Council. "So we want to try and grow some of our own talent in the city, as well as recruit talent externally."

Michelin Scotland Innovation Parc based in Dundee is a world leading innovation hub focused on sustainable mobility and low carbon energy. It will be home to a rich variety of projects, alongside companies, academia and skilled people to address key global challenges such as climate change and climate tech innovation. The Parc features excellent infrastructure, connectivity and space to grow as well as green energy and heat supplied from local sustainable sources.

Games legacy

Its reputation as a global hub of games design has helped Dundee become a magnet for talent and the sector will remain core to the growth of the wider tech community.

Grand Theft Auto, one of the most successful entertainment properties of all time, was launched in 1997 by Dundee games studio DMA Design. Its successor, Edinburgh-based Rockstar North, still develops the game as part of New York-based Rockstar Games.

Last year, Rockstar acquired Dundee studio Ruffian Games, developer of the Microsoft Xbox game Crackdown and a collaborator on other titles including the Halo franchise.

Dundee’s games cluster also includes 4J Studios, which develops the console versions of Minecraft, one of the best-selling video games of all time. Dundee-based Outplay Entertainment is one of the UK’s largest independent mobile games developers. Ninja Kiwi, an Auckland, New Zealand-based mobile and online video game developer, has had a base in the city since 2012.

Dundee is also home to games developers including YoYo Games, Hyper Luminal Games, Stormcloud Games and Tag Games.

"The games industry in Dundee goes back to the late 80s, early 90s, when the Sinclair Spectrum home computer was manufactured in the city by Timex,” says Brian Baglow, founder and director of sector body the Scottish Games Network. "This led to the formation of several informal computer clubs, one of which spawned a group which became DMA Design."

Cluster culture

The UK Games Fund supports early stage games development and has financed more than 130 companies since it was set up in 2015. The fund initially explored locations in Dundee and London. Dundee was selected after the team assessed the best way to serve their UK-wide community whilst maintaining a good quality of life.

Paul Durrant, the fund’s founding director, was also a guest on our recent games industry webinar. He said: "It made great sense for us to be rooted amongst a network of experienced founders and set in an established creative community. Being alongside a fantastic cultural investment like the V&A Dundee also means we can bring our wider UK stakeholders here for events."

Ideal for networking

V&A Dundee is the only design museum in the UK outside of London. Dundee is also the UK’s first and only UNESCO City of Design.

"Being embedded in a mature games development cluster, with a breadth of development scale, covering licensing, owned intellectual property and middleware, has been really important to us in terms of the expertise we've been able to call on," Paul added.

V&A Dundee, Dundee Waterfront

Dundee already has the prized '20-minute neighbourhoods' that planners everywhere are trying to create, Paul said. These are places where residents have easy access to many of the places and services they use daily, including grocery stores, restaurants, schools and parks, without relying heavily on a car.

“We really do have a 20-minute games cluster in Dundee, which means I can visit all the games companies within about 20 minutes on my bike. This makes for really effective networking. And we're doing all that from fantastic facilities and a fantastic location. That’s pretty hard to beat."

Paul Durrant, founding director, UK Games Fund

Dundee's 20 minute games cluster

Join Dundee's tech scene

My own role at Scottish Development International involves working with software and IT businesses from around the world, who are looking to invest or develop operations in Scotland. We can help you identify and understand the benefits of investing in Scotland, explore funding options, find premises and connect with potential partners. We can also support you by providing market intelligence and competitive insights.

Find out more about digital and technologies industries in Scotland

In the meantime, if you’d like to chat about specific support, contact me direct through LinkedIn. 

Graham Hatton - LinkedIn

This is a 2021 update of Graham's original LinkedIn post on 2 November 2020.

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