Life in the Edinburgh Tech Cube

The company I work for is fortunate enough to have offices in the Edinburgh TechCube, a technology and startup accelerator/incubator/hub that opened in January of this year.  I thought I’d show people what life is like working from the “World Class Startup Space” that we have here in Scotland.  The mission of the TechCube is to be a magnet for the area’s technology companies and technologists, help get startups up and running, see them fail or succeed, rinse, and repeat.

The City

For those who have never been, Edinburgh is a breathtaking city, one of the most beautiful in the world.  The entire downtown is a UNESCO world heritage site due to the incredible architecture (dating from as early as medieval times) that surrounds the iconic Edinburgh castle which is perched atop a dormant volcano.  Known for its festivals and culture, it has the highest resident satisfaction of any city surveyed (by MORI), more restaurants per head of population of any UK city, and a temperate climate that has the same annual rainfall of New York City, Frankfurt, and Rome.  Its compact footprint is small enough to walk across, yet it has an excellent public transport system, a great airport, and convenient rail links to other UK cities. (Source)

The TechCube really benefits from being in such an inspiring and historic city that’s just a short flight from most of Europe.  Just a couple blocks away is the campus of the University of Edinburgh and its excellent Computer Sciences and Informatics department which provides a steady supply of top graduates each year.  There’s a lively tech community that has monthly meetups focused on a variety of technical subjects and several annual conferences that attract technologists from around the world.  I can’t think of a better place to live or start up a business.

Follow the TechCube on Twitter

The Building and Location

The TechCube began life as the Royal Dick College of Veterinary Medicine, and was constructed sometime in the 60s.  It’s an incredibly ugly building from the outside, but the key to ugly buildings (if they must exist) is to make sure that you’re on the inside looking out.  We have offices on the 1st (2nd floor for Americans) and 4th floors which means we have spectacular views of the Pentlands to the South, Arthur’s Seat to the Northwest, and the Meadows to the East.  It’s an amazing sight to see the Scottish weather rolling in from a distance, experience the rain or snow that it brings, then have a crystal clear view of the sun as it breaks through, all within a couple of hours.

View of Arthur's Seat from the TechCube
View of Arthur’s Seat from the TechCube

The Techcube is just a few steps from the University of Edinburgh, is located on several bus lines, and within walking distance of most of the city centre, the Waverly train station, and airport shuttle.  There are also several excellent cafes, sandwich shops, pubs, and eateries within just a few minutes walk of the building.

The Team

How many times have you been happy with the landlord of your office? It’s rare enough that it warrants mentioning  that one of the things that sets the Techcube apart from other office buildings you might consider is the team that manages the facility.  Composed of managing director Jamie Coleman and his intrepid team, they make being a tenant here completely hassle free, really fun, and they’re very aggressive about consistently improving the facilities and public profile of the building.  Running a startup can be quite an emotional roller coaster, particularly for early stage, pre-revenue startups that need an environment like the TechCube to get launched from, and my guess is the cheerful words and laughter upon entry and exit of the building from the front desk staff are a special kind of therapy to many founders within the building.  It’s really hard to overstate how great the crew behind the TechCube is.

The Resources and Facilities

While the building may be ugly, the facilities available are top notch.  The entire building was renovated from top to bottom and each floor includes ample meeting room space as well as a kitchen.  Access to each floor (as well as 24 hour access) is controlled by RFID proximity cards that make the environment informal yet much more secure than your typical office space.  High ceilings and the freedom to paint and decorate as desired is another major plus.  While the windows look small from the outside, they provide plenty of light, and all outlets and ethernet ports (of which each room has dozens) are located at desk height.  Thanks to a generous donation from Skyscanner, there are free, high quality desks available to tenants to save on office costs.  Offices are well lit, well heated, and quiet (you can’t hear other tenants).  The offices available range from the very small (2 man teams) to very large with space for 20+ bodies.  Electricity is included in your monthly rent and internet is priced at a flat rate per head.  Leases are available for periods as short as 6 months, and all leases allow a break with 2 month notice.


Pricing for office space depends on the stage your company is at, with price hikes occurring at important financial milestones such as break-even and profitability.  The goal that later stage companies eventually find space elsewhere to make way for newcomers.

The TechCube is part of the larger Summerhall complex that caters to the arts and creative community in Edinburgh and enjoys the benefits of several shared facilities:

  • The Summerhall Cafe serves coffees, sandwiches, snacks, and provides a great “offsite but not” meeting location.  There’s an outdoor deck for seating during the summer.
  • The Royal Dick brewery and pub is located across the way and serves their onsite-brewed Ale along with other bites to eat, and makes a nice place to have a meeting as well.
  • Summerhall boasts some extremely unique meeting rooms that can be rented as required for larger or more formal functions.
  • There is a theatre in the basement of the TechCube for presentations to audiences up to roughly 150.
  • The ground floor of the TechCube includes a just-completed hot-desking environment which can double as a meet up space or be used for hackathons/special events that require desk and network connectivity.
  • There’s a massive boardroom/meeting room still under construction also on the ground floor.

Another resource that’s connected to the building is a pool of early stage funding currently being raised by the building to have for those companies that meet their (yet unannounced) criteria.  Expect this to be broadly patterned after well known incubators like YCombinator or Techstars.

The Neighbours

While the building is still very new, it’s already almost filled with technology companies that range from product companies to consultancies, pre-revenue to post break-even, funded, bootstrapped, and everything else you’d expect from assembling a wide range of tech companies.  There are still two floors to be renovated, and as companies succeed and fail, I’d expect the range of companies to always be in flux.  There are plenty of opportunities to bump into others in the halls, and everyone operates an open door policy for visitors.

The Intangibles

Most accelerates/incubators/hubs really sell themselves on the intangible benefits they provide such as proximity to other likeminded companies, access to the broader technical community, ongoing events, and the possibility of funding.  TechCube is no exception as all of these things are squarely on its radar and if not already available, are in the planning stages.  Already I’ve been to a few meetups and events held in the TechCube that I normally might not attend as we can just walk down after work, and that is a huge benefit.  Even if you’re like me and a bit skeptical of how much an incubator like the TechCube really matters, right now there are more than enough tangible benefits to make the building a no brainer decision, even if the planned items never materialise.

The Bottom Line

Great people, great culture, a great location, great resources, and a cadre of peers who are all at different stages in the startup journey conspire to create a place that is greater than the sum of its parts.

The Future of Education

When I was growing up, one of the few certainties in my life was that I was going to college (for our British readers, this means university).  The day I was born my late grandfather gave me $1,000 USD, which was set aside in a college fund that my middle class parents diligently added to for the next 18 years.  As I graduated high school, this fund had grown into enough money to pay for all four years at a state (public) school, or roughly two years at a private university.  I chose the private education route and managed to graduate (by the skin of my teeth) four years later with approximately $50,000 USD in debt.  I was fortunate to have parents and a family who prepared for my education, and I have been blessed with a career that meant I could pay off my loans in just a few years. All in all, it was a sound investment.

Today, that story would almost be impossible.

When I graduated in 2003, tuition was roughly $21,000 USD per year.  Today, only ten years later, it costs over $35,000 USD per year to attend a high quality liberal arts university, and many (if not most) charge more!  Graduates routinely carry over $100,000 USD in debt, and if they happen to find a spouse from a similar educational and socioeconomic background, this sum could easily be double that amount.  Fun fact – student loans are the only form of debt in America that can’t be discharged through bankruptcy!

Higher education in America, particularly private higher education, is in the midst of a massive bubble that is unsustainable by anyone’s definition.  In the UK, this is mirrored to a somewhat lesser extent by the fact that tuition is now required for university in England.

A similar but slightly different challenge exists in developing economies as millions begin to look towards education as a way to better themselves and their children.  Massive emerging economies such as China, India, and Brazil are joined by other developing countries around the world facing the challenge of not having enough higher education resources and opportunities.

Americans and the developed Western world increasingly can’t afford higher education.  Can you imagine staring at a tuition bill for a year of education that is approaching your expected starting salary?  This is quickly becoming a fact of life for those pursuing many liberal arts degrees in most private schools across America.

Citizens in developing economies increasingly can’t access higher education.  Can you imagine competing against literally millions of others to get access to a university?

Both problems are essentially access related: one is financial, the other logistical.

Something has to give, and the access gap is increasingly being filled by specialised training, certifications, on the job training, and skills based education.  These courses and programs are more focused, shorter term, and generally higher value (due to their focused and specific nature) than traditional higher education.  Even if you dispute the higher value view, most will concede that focused instruction based on acquiring relevant, current skills throughout your lifetime is probably a better approach than an one-time, intense four year program.

All of these things combine to set the stage for a dramatic transformation in how we access and pay for that learning over the next few years.

This is one of the reasons I’m extremely excited about the prospects for the company that I have the privilege of leading.  Our software helps training providers (whether an internal training department, commercial training company, or non-degreed training division) manage their operations, reduce their internal administration burden, and increase their course bookings.  These training providers can use our software to do more with less while opening up the possibility of delivering their courses online to ever growing audiences.

It might appear somewhat ironic that many of us working at Administrate didn’t finish university or perform well academically, yet we’re dedicated to furthering the mission of educators around the world.  However, all of us deeply value education and educational experiences – in fact, most of us cite the delivery mechanism of a traditional university as one of the main reasons we dropped out or performed poorly.  Courses were too abstract, couldn’t be immediately applied, or we got tired of sitting in school for years.  Being able to pick and choose from high quality, lower cost education options would have suited many of us much better, and we believe that this will be the future.

In the United States, for-profit education often a pejorative term, but if you stop to think about it, high quality training programs and providers are all around you, providing huge value to their students.  We have clients that provide training on everything from CPA exam prep to the safest and best way to construct building scaffolding to internal corporate leadership training.

Most feel that their university degree had very little relationship to the skills they use every day, but most recipients of the training our clients provide feel the courses were relevant, high quality, and used every day in their careers!  When we consider how quickly technology and skills are changing, is this really a surprise?  Why do we expect a 4 year education to last us for the next 30+ years anymore?

There are a lot of big problems in the world and efficient delivery of education has to certainly be considered one of them.  We believe that facilitating providers of relevant, high value, ongoing education is one of the core solutions to this problem.  We’re very excited to be part of the global educational revolution!