Government aims to join up UK tech clusters
Tech City UK has been tasked with figuring out how to do this
The government is aiming to link London up with other technology clusters around the UK through the taxpayer-funded Tech City UK organisation.
London has been at the forefront of the UK tech movement over the last few years but now there are some vague plans to link the capital up with cities such as Oxford, Cambridge and Newcastle.
Speaking at Bloomberg's UK headquarters in Central London last night, Gerard Grech, the newly appointed Tech City UK CEO, said: "London is going great guns, we all know that.
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"But there are other tech clusters around the UK that have a lot offer," he added, giving Edinburgh's expertise in the field of artificial intelligence (AI) as an example.
Tech City UK, previously known as the Tech City Investment Organisation (TCIO), was etablished three years ago by prime minister David Cameron to promote the technology companies in and around London's Shoreditch area. However, the organisation was recently renamed to Tech City UK in a move that hinted it was about to start operating at a more national level.
Former Blackerry executive Grech said he is trying to figure out how Tech City UK can bring the best of what's happening in other cities together with London so there is a more "joined up conversation" that ensures cities aren't working in isolation.
Many companies outside London have been grumbling that their achievements are going unnoticed as the government continues to shoud about all that's great with regards to the capital's tech scene.
“There is incredible technological talent, ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit outside of London,” according to Graham Harrison, partnership director at SETsquared – a collaboration between the universities of Bath, Bristol, Exeter, Southampton and Surrey that aims to promote the growth and success of new business opportunities through spin-outs, licensing, incubation and education.
Through its business incubators, SETsquared claims it has supported some 1,000 tech start-ups outside London in the last 10 years, helping them to raise £1 billion in investment. Successful alumni include equity-based crowdfunding platform, Crowdcube, software firm, Brightpearl, and Ubiquisys, which sold to US giant Cisco for $310m last year.
Andy Carter, founder and CEO of Cambridge-based software firm, RealVNC, told Techworld last October: “Tech City [the area around London's Old Street/Silicon Roundabout] is a new kid on the block, with nothing significant to show yet, and with no emphasis on core technology.
“RealVNC is part of the Cambridge Cluster. This has been going for 60 years or more, has 1,500 high-tech companies, 12 billion dollar turnover companies, and 50,000 high-tech jobs. It is the most significant technology cluster in Europe. There are plenty of companies who are going for the big-time and who are not interested in acquisition."
Harrison said he is concerned that regions outside London are suffering because talented locals believe they must go to London in order to be successful.
"There has always been a natural pull for entrepreneurs to head to London – it is after all one of the world’s greatest financial markets and so is a draw when starting a business," he said. "But it’s not the only place where support is available and regional government and businesses need to work together to get that message across and show what’s on offer right on the doorstep.”
Harrison said that he hopes SETsquared and other incubators like it will help to readdress the geographic split in the long term.
"We’ve certainly seen a trend in recent times for big businesses moving from London, like the BBC settling in Salford or the Met Office relocating from the south east to my very own home city of Exeter," he said. I suspect that this trend might gently trickle down to smaller businesses over time.”
Harrison cites investment in infrastructure, quality housing and facilities as some of the wider elements that could help keep tech start-ups at home.
Luke Lang, co-founder of Devon-based equity crowdfunding platform, Crowdcube, that started life in the SETsquared incubator, said he agrees that the lure of London can be tempting. Reflecting on his own firm’s experiences of doing business outside London as a fin-tech start-up, he said: “We’ve had no trouble attracting high quality professionals to join the team who actually find the prospect of escaping the city rather appealing.
“Similarly, it hasn’t adversely affected our business or ability to win customers in any way. We have competitors that are based in the heart of Silicon Roundabout and we’re beating them hands down. Essentially, if you have a superior product or service and you understand the needs of your customers, then you don’t necessarily need to be based on their doorstep.”