Scotland: the home of innovation and invention

Scotland is a real hotbed of innovation and invention. From Glasgow to Inverness, there are real gems across its small-business ecosystem, revolutionising countless areas of everyday life and business.

In line with our mission to map the success of UK SMEs, the 100 Stories of Growth campaign shines a light on scale-up stars the length and breadth of the UK. This week we’re holding a spotlight up to groundbreaking Scottish companies.

The Scale-up Institute’s annual review shows there are over 2000 scale-ups in Scotland, which makes up 6%of all the UK scale-ups. Together they employ 167.000 people and generate a total turnover of £29.4bn.

This week, the campaign is telling three Scottish success stories. Their business acumen, excellent eye for opportunities and perseverance of their founders have built award-winning companies leading the innovation in their respective fields.


Calcivis detects tooth decay in just one second

Edinburgh-based Calcivis’ groundbreaking patent revolutionised dentistry and kick-started the company’s rapid growth. Its novel tool diagnoses active tooth decay in just one second.

When founder Adam Christie came across a marine life that glows using calcium ions – the same molecules released during active tooth decay, he knew this could break the mould of dental diagnosis.

He swiftly secured backing from LUX, a company he was working for, and raised £1.2m in capital from business angel syndicate Archangels. This helped him recruit a blue-ribbon team of experts right from the start. Christie says these early hires were instrumental in Calcivis’ success.

Hiring the right people is one of the most difficult things. For a new company, it’s make or break.

With a great team on board, Calcivis raised a further £9.5m to develop the prototype and launch in the UK. This comprised £7m of equity and £2.5m from European Horizon 2020 and Innovate UK Grants.

Today, Calcivis is getting glowing reviews from its happy UK patients and Christie is getting ready to enter the lucrative dental market of the US. He estimates that the expansion would mean a conservative annual turnover estimate of £300m for the company. [Read Calcivis’ story]


Blaze is a champion of fire security

Blaze breathes fresh air into fire-safety systems for oil and gas industry. The company exports to 14 countries and makes a £5.6m turnover.

Husband and wife team Howard and Ann Johnson set up their business in 2016 from their summer house as a HQ Their novel ideas caught on and they quickly signed a first £1m deal.

The company grew organically without any external funding as the Johnsons reinvested their profits back into Blaze. Between 2012 and 2016 it boasted 500% year-on-year turnover and generated an impressive £18.6m turnover in 2016.

But the ship could’ve capsized that very year as the downturn in global oil prices put all of Blaze’s clients in dire straits. Unlike all of their competitors, the Johnsons didn’t take the redundancy and downsizing route. They branched out into new industries like renewable energy and mining instead.

We stay ahead of the competition in terms of innovation, but it’s the people who come together to make it all work. Without them, we’d have no company, simple as that.

The risky strategy paid off. The company is set to grow by 20% this year. The Blaze’s success story has been appreciated by many awards one of them being The Scottish Family Business of the Year, but Ann Johnson says Blaze’s main achievement was creating a great team. [Read Blaze’s story]


ThinkAnalytics helps brands tap into consumers needs

Glasgow-based ThinkAnalytics is a pioneer of personalised content recommendations and viewers insights. Though now it really thrives serving 250m subscribers in 40 countries across the globe, the early days were difficult.

Inventing a product way ahead of its time has drawbacks. Founder and CTO Peter Docherty says that back in 1996 convincing potential clients was a struggle.

We knew we could something nobody else could do. But soon we saw the problem of being so early. We had to evangelise the entire market because people didn’t know what was possible. It was tough going in those early days.

Unlike enlisting new clients, ThinkAnalytics didn’t have difficulties securing financial backing. Right from the start, it was supported by Nasdaq-listed Gentia. Unfortunately, when the product was ready to debut on the market, Gentia’s financial problems could’ve harmed the company.

But the current chairman Eddie Young came to ThinkAnalytics’ rescue. Not only did he help buy out the company, but his business expertise and in-depth understanding of customer needs opened up the door for ThinkAnalytics to deal with big players like Sky, Virgin Media and Vodafone.

With 70 major content providers as clients and four offices worldwide, ThinkAnalytics is a true global leader in the field. The company has increased its turnover by 25% and profits by 30% year-on-year and has many important awards under its belt. An Emmy and the Scottish Exporter of the Year title, to name but a few. [Read ThinkAnalytics’ story]


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