Silicon Roundabout - the heart of London’s startup scene
By 2016 the amount of the UK’s GDP invested in tech is expected to be around 12.4%, a huge increase from its current investment. However, even at 8.3%, the UK invests a far greater percentage of its GDP in tech than any other country in the G20. But where is all that money going? And how much of the UK is taking advantage of the recent explosion of and investment in technology?
When thinking about tech in the UK, London comes first to mind with Tech City at its heart, the ‘Silicon Roundabout’ which refers to the cluster of tech companies based around Old Street, East London. London’s booming financial district, its evolving startup ecosystem and access to the best talent in the world means it indisputably holds first place as the startup and tech capital of the UK. But aside from these advantages, what can London offer that other great UK cities can’t? The phenomenal expense of running a business and living in the capital are forcing some startups to look elsewhere in the UK for a place to establish themselves and they are not short of places to go. Cities up and down the country are meeting this influx of innovation and talent, with startup clusters finding homes in Bath, Brighton, Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, and Sheffield.
With lower rents and a slower pace of life Brighton is attracting many young entrepreneurs who are put off by London’s high prices and frenetic pace.
Of course London’s influence on the UK’s startup scene cannot be understated (last year over 15,000 startups launched in Tech City alone), but this trend of technology companies looking to other British cities when starting up is becoming more prevalent, with reports showing there are over 270,000 digital companies now across the whole country. With companies like Sage, a software supplier, based in Newcastle since the 1980s and startup weekends at Sheffield University giving advice to young entrepreneurs, the rest of the the UK is certainly taking an interest in the increasing importance of the technology space. Emerging talents like the people behind Dyn and Brandwatch have chosen Brighton over London as their UK home. Although no one would argue that the decision to set up in one of these further flung places isn’t partly due to the ever-increasing cost of setting up a home and business in London, there is definitely an emerging group of entrepreneurs who see setting up outside of London a genuine choice that takes into account the individual culture of that city, and the calmer work and lifestyle alternative these smaller cities offer over a frenetic and often stressful London life.
“We chose Brighton over London for the same reason we chose Manchester, New Hampshire over Boston or New York City: it was a cultural fit and we could aim to be a top tech company employer. We wanted a city that combined a vibrant employee pool with a high quality of life. We found that in Brighton and we intend on growing a global power there to service the region”, said said Kyle York, Chief Revenue Officer, Dyn.
Birmingham’s famous canals. Websites like http://siliconcanal.co.uk/ work to promote Birmingham’s startup scene.
Birmingham, whose economy has been largely dominated by the service sector in recent years, is also emerging as an innovative hub for young entrepreneurs. In 2013 Birmingham topped the new startup list with 16, 281 enterprises launching over the course of that year. The UK government has given the city ‘Enterprise Zone’ status, with simplified planning rules, super-fast broadband and over £150 million in tax breaks for new businesses over the next 4 years, exactly the sort of support growing startups need. An evolving tech community has grown at the Innovation Birmingham Campus, where 38,000 square feet of open work space promotes mobile working for startups. In 2011 a new accelerator emerged from the city, Oxygen Accelerator, which set out to welcome startups from anywhere in the world, with a £200,000 fund to cover 9-10 teams a year. By 2012 it had opened up Tech Tropicana, a tech incubator space that worked in partnership with Birmingham science park: “Created by start-ups, for start-ups”.
The Midlands as a whole is home to over 317, 040 new small businesses, coming a close second to London’s startup capital. Universities in the Midlands are also hosting startup activity, with graduate successes like Allinea and ScriptSwitch both beginning life in the region. There’s also a generation of young entrepreneurs who are leading pioneering digital enterprises like Birmingham-based Whisk, a shopping list app that is already integrated into the online delivery operations of big-name supermarkets Tesco and Waitrose. With so many new initiatives and an incredible amount of support for startups in England’s ‘second city’ it seems that London has some stiff competition if it wants to remain the UK’s tech hub. It’s vital to the industry and the country that digital innovation is not focused only in the capital; if this were to happen it would deprive huge parts of the country the phenomenal advantages of working in and reaping the benefits of technology.