Rewriting Diktionary as high-tech Shetland future dawns

by Tom Morton -

International coverage of a new software company’s launch in Shetland has focussed attention on the advantages the islands offer digital and high-tech startups, with the possibility of a ‘tech hub’ being set up to bring cutting edge companies together in one place.

Diktionary, said co-founder Chris Clough, will allow users to choose a single word through which all their online and social media activity can be accessed. If you’re a firm supplying submarines, you could choose the word ‘submarine’ and have it permanently attached to your online identity, offering potential customers and clients a direct route to your business. Or individuals can define their personality in a single word (“naughty” is an example given) to provide friends or acquaintances with an easy, intimate connection.

Jonathan Margolis of The Financial Times described the idea, which is currently well on the way to raising £5000 seed money on Kickstarter, as “just as promising an offering as you might find from a company in a big hub...it could be a fine social and business tool.”

Chris Clough said the start-up’s location in his native Shetland was “a massive advantage. We will exploit people’s surprise at where we are, hopefully even to benefit these islands one day, where we have lived for most of our lives.”

But Diktionary is not alone. Several companies are thriving in the digital world from their Shetland base, with high-speed fibre broadband available well beyond Lerwick, Shetland’s capital, and even the most remote communities expected to have such connections soon. These firms include MH Apps, which has provided business software for the likes of Setanta, McDonalds and Opgen; Mesomorphic, working on bespoke software for small and medium sized companies locally and nationally; Web developer and marketing and communications specialist NB Communication, and pioneers Kildrummy, whose CostMANAGER program has over 25 years become an oil and gas industry standard worldwide.

Shetland location is a massive advantage

Development agency Highlands and Islands Enterprise is keen to help new companies in the field start up in Shetland. HIE Shetland’s Rachel Hunter said:

“A number of young ‘tech’ businesses have been establishing themselves in Shetland over the past few years, in addition to growing numbers of advertising, digital marketing, design and media companies that have been established throughout Shetland.

“Why are we seeing this? Well, our digital connectivity has improved significantly over the past few years which means that many of these businesses can provide their products and services to a worldwide audience whilst at the same time benefiting from the quality of life that Shetland has to offer. Including a rich and diverse natural environment, first class recreational and cultural opportunities and, for employees with children, good quality schools and teaching.”

The possibility of converting part of the former Anderson High School complex at the Knab in Lerwick into a “digital hub” where high-tech start-ups could be nurtured is being explored, said Hunter, as one of several options for the council-owned site. This is a vision keenly support by Barnaby Mercer of Mesamorphic, who sees no reason why more and more companies involved in digital development could not base themselves in Shetland. He too mentioned the reliable and high-speed broadband enjoyed by the isles.

“It’s pretty good broadband compared to the rest of the UK and the likes of Australia or rural America,” he said. And David Nicol of NB believes that more and more companies and individuals will recognise the advantages of locating in Shetland:

"Shetland is a fantastic place to live and work, and that applies as much to technology jobs as it does to more traditional roles. At NB, we work for clients all over the UK, and beyond, and have everything we need here to deliver services that are every bit as good as - indeed better than - our clients would expect from agencies located elsewhere.

Nicol recognises the importance of face-to-face communication in business development, but pointed out that Shetland’s excellent transport connections to the UK mainland make this completely achievable.

“It is great to see some new software development companies getting underway in Shetland,” he adds. “I have no doubt that we'll see many more starting up here in the coming years as tech entrepreneurs realise that this stunning location provides the space they need to think clearly, and the ideal environment to raise a family at the same time as growing a business."

this stunning space...this ideal environment
Broadband provision better than much of the UK