Starting the campaign for The Tech Hub

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I’ve long known about Dublin’s Digital Hub but seeing is believing, and when I was over there recently for our TechCrunch Meetup I visited the place and was mightily impressed. Here’s what it’s all about:

The Digital Hub is a community of people – artists, researchers, educators, technologists, entrepreneurs and consumers, all working together to create innovative and successful digital media products and services which support their future. The Digital Hub is an Irish Government initiative to create an international centre of excellence for knowledge, innovation and creativity focused on digital content and technology enterprises. The core development of nine acres is located a ten minute walk from the city centre within the historic Liberties area of Ireland’s capital city, Dublin. Over the next decade, this initiative will create a mixed-use development, consisting of enterprise, residential, retail, learning and civic space. The project is managed by an Irish government agency, the Digital Hub Development Agency, which was established in July 2003.

Fantastic. Totally and utterly fantastic.

So I am hereby serving notice that TechCrunch UK is going to start campaigning for a Digital Hub for the UK.

The working title for this concept is “The Tech Hub”.

Unfortunately this is going to sound boringly London-centric. But I think it ought to be in London. Why? Simple really. Money, access and the networks inside London. Startups can make use of the amazing access to the wealth of mentoring, venture capital and talent here. I know there is an argument for creating other centres around the UK. But the classic clustering effect created by Silicon Valley would be replicated by concentrating efforts on one geographical area.

The location would preferably by an airport (London City Airport? Near the Heathrow Express?) or other major transportation network where key industry players will be passing through.

A London Tech Hub could also be a great place for startups from other parts of the UK to lay their hat. Ideally it would even have a sort of “pod hotel” next door.

It would need to have super-fast broadband, a cafe/bar, hot-desk facilities and great transport links.

I’m thinking that one of the buildings in the plans for the London Olympics would be good for this Tech Hub, or perhaps it could be near Canary Wharf or in the East End of London? Perhaps there is already an existing project that can be expanded? Kings Cross might be the ideal area – loads of new development, access to the Heathrow Express and Eurostar.

[Update: Having said all that, I also know London has disadvantages, expense being the main one. It could be in Cambridge (45 mins away) or – maybe Brighton. But the important thing is that it’s a genuine geographical cluster with fast transport links to London].

There is also a European element to this. Why could we not have a European network of Tech Hubs, all with similar purposes, creating a network of startups? The idea could dove-tail well with the Open Coffee Club network.

This is going to require people from government to get involved [Maybe – unless I can find a willing millionaire]. I may even have to kidnap Boris Johnson and hold him to ransom.

What do you think? Please leave your feedback.

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UPDATE: Ian Forrester of BBC Backstage is not impressed with the idea and says:

Yawn! I’ve heard it all before, and to be frank its getting a little tired. What is it with people and big shiny shiny central locations? What would this all achieve? Remember the dome people dummys! What about all the other simular activities going on all across the country?

And he says I should “get some action by fingering through that massive contact list you must have and pulling some strings to get something done”. Er yeah, that’s the point Ian.

So to answer his points:

• Regional efforts are great but are not a true cluster and don’t have access to the amazing international tech scene of people, mentors, VCs etc that is constantly moving in and out of London. They don’t have an international footprint. That is the harsh reality.

• What’s to stop these other regional hubs creating a network with a London Tech Hub anyway?

• Yes, The Millenium Dome wasn’t great but it would have worked had it been filled with startups IMHO (no, I’m not joking)

• I am not out to copy Silicon Valley as such, but I am interested in the clustering effect SV has. That’s the real point.

• What is TechCrunch UK going to do to make this all happen? We’ll do what we’re good at – creating a debate and keeping on with lobbying. And yes, I will open my contact book to help it happen.

• Viz. the TechCrunch Euro Tour: As it happens I’m prepping several articles which will link up each city I went to. I think Europe is poised to create a true startups network. But Rome wasn’t built in a day.

• Geek Dinners and other ad-hoc events are great but meeting up in pubs is always one event away from fewer and fewer people turning up. All events have a life-cycle and when key people leave they wither. A physical, geographical cluster is not like that.

Update: Since this post was written, TechHub actually did launch in 2010.

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