Starting the campaign for The Tech Hub

Next Story

Overclock world record: Q6600 2.4GHz run at 5.1GHz

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.

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.

  • Benjamin Ellis

    I love the idea, especially with regard to the UK, and hubs outwards into Europe.

    Based on my learnings as a 90’s tech guy, I’d argue for proximity to Heathrow (with access down the M4 corridor and up the M40), but we are in a more virtual world these days, so perhaps it is more the concept than the geography.

    There is something about creating a critical mass of talent, experience and resources, to deliver fuel for the fire of innovation. It is much needed.

  • Jemima Kiss

    Where do I sign up?

    And wherever it is, please can it have more daylight than Adam Street? (Joke…)

  • Mike Butcher

    Benjamin Ellis – Geography is the whole idea.

    Jemima Kiss – Yes, light would be good (I’m at the Hosp these days btw)

  • Andrew J Scott

    Do you mean just a building (he says “just”!) or something which would branch out and become an entire cluster a la the bay area?

    For anyone who has been unfortunate enough to run into me after too many beers at a tech event, you’ll have heard my usual rant about the UK requiring somewhere that is the OBVIOUS choice for startup people – i.e. take a city, slap a massive tax rebate on it for virtually everything, including inward tech investment to that area, and then watch it florish.

    The rest of the UK would scream blue murder because its unfair – well, life is. The North of the UK gets lots of EU subsidy that the South doesnt, so thats life.

    So a tech centre is good – but we should look ahead. The problem with London is also its biggest asset. Everything and everything is in London (Ryan Carson will slice me into small peices for that remark ;-) but its true that London has the money and lots of startups.

    I’d argue thats because there is no where obviously better for them to go though. Otherwise, its like saying all the tech startups should be in NYC.

    I’d argue that if we are SERIOUS about first becoming the tech centre for Europe (before we’re over taken by Berlin or somewhere else) then we should do it somewhere affordable.

    Cambridge is the obvious choice – its nice, has a good worldwide name, is small enough to become a tech centre and not be drowned out by other things (London is famous for tons of things more obvious than tech startups!) but is also close to London and an airport.

    Other choices might be Oxford or Brighton.

    I’ve just moved Rummble to London because that is where everything happens. That is where the community is; but the question is whether prices and the dwarfing size of London will mean that other places -such as Berlin, which is fantastically cheap, full of young people, dynamic, and geographically better placed, will steal a march simply because London is SO god damn expensive.

    The VCs can afford to go where the startups are. Cambridge is up the road. Its like Menlo Park to San Francisco.

    As ever I have ideas and vision beyond my station – but I come to the bay area (where I write this from) which is literally dripping in tech startups and enthusiasm for the internet – and now for mobile. If the UK is serious about competing EVER with the west coast, then first it must become the number one choice for people in the UK, then people in Europe and THEN, when we’ve got a true cluster of talent, VC money and startups we can take on the USA.

    I fear that with so many startups already in London – and currently for very good reasons – that change of course will not now happen; long term I think that will be a problem, because London as one of the worlds capital cities (in all senses of the word), is too expensive, too big and not focused enough on tech, to become the first choice destination for European startups. If we cant rival the rest of Europe, Im struggling to see how we’ll ever take on the West Coast. And that would be a shame for the brave new world of the mobile internet, which in ten years will BE the internet.

  • http://www.g2i.or Ian Shields

    A great idea, and it would seem an obvious thing to do. However, in reality (or should that be practice), the business support environment in the UK is disjointed with a multiplicity of offerings, and then of course there is the regional issue.

    The LDA has programmes in place to support start-up and early stage companies that are located within the M25, and then the other 8 regional development agencies have their own support infrastructure and schemes. So companies coming to, or leaving, London to establish in “The Hub” could lose access to business support of some form or other.

    I guess the way around all of this is to get “The Hub” up and running, populated, and then go to the bureaucrats and say we’ve done it, if you are serious in supporting start-up and early stage businesses work out how you will support them.

    Smaller geographies have tried this concept, backed by the government, Malaysia and Dubai are good examples. The high tech corridor in Malaysia has not been particularly successful, in contrast the Dubai high tech park is fully populated, and is quite happy to attract overseas start ups to base there. Which raises the question of why can’t the UK do it?

    Apologies for waffling on.

  • Mike Butcher

    Ian – Thanks for this great contribution. Yes, I note the Malaysia tech corridor bombed. Maybe Dubai’s tax structure (or lack of it) helps. My BIG bug-bear with all of this is that is has to be about location. Andrew’s view that Cambridge might work is valid – then again Oxford is on the right side of London to hit Heathrow easily. Yet again there might be a disused warehouse in London’s East End waiting to be pumped with 50 GB broadband and pod-style offices. This is going to take a while I guess….!

  • Reshma

    Great thoughts/initiative Mike. We’ve been campaigning hard to show you can be completely Pan European and still drive a lot of the ecosystem out of London. The 2 are not mutually exclusive (if you find detractors, which undoubtedly you will). We say, let’s accept and celebrate that a huge amount of activity – mentors, start-up culture, fin svcs, law firms, media, entertainment, politics – is driven out of London and rather than complain it’s expensive, leverage what’s already there and work w/the powers that be to improve the rest. Hence Seedcamp is driven out of London but our teams retain much of the presence in their home geography and have a few people both in London and the Valley. Even for a start-up this is very possible. Watch this space as Seedcamp and OpenCoffee do our part with you to make London a thriving TechHub!

  • Mike Butcher

    Reshma – Thanks for the comment. I am already getting people telling me it should be in Manchester or Bristol etc, but as worthy as those places are the harsh reality is that you have to deal with what you have. The great strength of London right now is that a third of people in London *are not from London*, so it’s not so much London, as the planet on your doorstep. I am starting to think this could actually be done pretty cheaply. Real startups really don’t care if they have $1000 Aeron chairs or not – they need space, broadband, (a toilet) and a cafe. And good transport connections.

  • thomas

    I think the main issue with London or not London is the fact that a lot of people who want to work for a startup want to live in London. London is full of talented people working in this sector already. Why not work on bringing them together rather than asking them to all leave the greatest city in the world and move to Cambridge??

    To get a ‘DigitalHub’ to work, you need to be able to attract the talent…and that talent is in London…imagine asking a skilled Parisian to move to Cambridge, or a designer living in Rome to move to near Heathrow Airport. Tell them they’re moving into central London (he doesn’t need to know that the East End isn’t central) and you’ve got a chance. London attracts the talent anyway for all sorts of reasons, use that to your advantage.

  • Saul Klein

    Mike – thanks for the activism :) Much needed. As Reshma said, we’re really actively looking at how Seedcamp can play a role in this – given the network and access to capital it can bring to the table – and also how OpenCoffee can dovetail and make the community stronger. As much as other locations have great attributes, I think London does make a fantastic hub, both for the UK and Europe — we should learn from Silicon Valley and build where we have a concentration of all the right ingredients, not just create something new. Looking forward to helping out. Nice work. Saul

  • Chris Godwin

    The idea sounds right to have ‘somewhere that is the OBVIOUS choice for startup people ‘ … but is it optimal that the ‘somewhere’ be physical, eg in London?
    How about a virtual, i.e. Web-based ‘exchange’ – for entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, relevant government agencies (eg inward investment, RDAs…) to meet, post questions/offers etc. Also this could be an immediate link to potential global partners and suppliers/markets…something like a portal plus social networking where the world of entrepreneurs can go and look as first place to ask.

  • Shafqat

    Great initative…we’d be happy to help, participate and evangelize the idea from a pan-european startup perspective. even though I’m based out of Geneva, I love the idea of London as the focal point (and by London I mean really London, not Cambridge or Brighton).

    Saul/Reshma bring up a good point about dovetailing with OpenCoffee. No need for everyone to build the wheel when we can just put four together and have a car.

  • Fletch

    Mike – there are five of us need desks now :-) Getting a bit sick of the ‘Google’ office….also I know being a Kiwi probably means I think about London differently to most – but this place is just great :-)

  • Jake Stride

    I think this is a great idea, networks (people) and communications are so important to our sorts of businesses and making them easy to find and access is key.

    I’m based in Coventry, it’s an hour to London but I still find it difficult and time consuming to get to events such as TCUK Pitch, Minibar, DrinkTank etc. as transport can be variable. Being in London is key to our success and I am spending more and more time there (even though I was born there). Having extra facilities so you can hot desk and get work done where you are there would make a great deal of sense.

    These informal networks do help with business. We are in one of the University of Warwick Science Park buildings and we have made a great number of connections, leads and new business just by being in this location.

    It’ll take a lot of work but be worth it.

  • Mat

    My view would be Cambridge as well, (living and starting a company here, sort of makes my view biased though!!). The problem with Cambridge, is that the fresh raw talent is around, the university doesnt have a name for nothing, but the communication channels arn’t flowing yet, and something like this is exactly what it needs to get things moving.

    Look into Cue, the science parks/innovation centre’s cambridge is starting to evolve into a mini SV, it is just more Hardware related than SV and these things take more time/investment than the web world, and as such things dont move so quickly in general! They just need the wheels of communication greesing.

    Also it is a far nicer atmosphere, relaxed and chilled to the busy street of london, this is exactly the atmosphere which inspires creativity and new ideas. After all where else in the world can you go for lunch and bump into nobel prize winners at the local cafe.


  • Simon Grice

    Mike – good work. London is the right place for obvious reasons in my opinion.

    However perhaps it would be worth bringing regional centers into the concept from the very early stage ? That would help broaden the concept from day one and not alienate those who don’t have easy access to London.

    I think a venue very close to Kings Cross would work well – great connections into London, Euston, Kings Cross, Liverpool Street and St-Pancras etc.
    For European travel – EuroStar is close too.

    mashup* Event is upgrading over the summer to mashup* Digital and will be offering a wider suite of services, support to startups and growing digital businesses in the UK.

    Looking forward to working with the community to make this happen – I assume you are taking the lead – let me know if you need anything specific at this stage.

    Simon Grice

  • alan p

    was going to write a comment but wrote a blog post instead:

    Good idea, key is to crunch through the economics early on. Government or other subsidy is essential in my view.

  • Dominic Sparks

    Hi Mike,
    Great idea. As you might know I worked for a tech startup, and we were based in Twickenham, South West London. Location-wise, London, and SW London in particular would get my vote. Why? The answer is the nearby universities. In particular, have Imperial College, UCL, Surrey Uni – all with great reputations for Computing subjects, and of course Imperial has global reputation in many disciplines (and historically a better rowing team then either Oxford or Cambridge :) ). My point, though, is that tech start ups need great people – whether they are innovators or engineers, and these people tend to go to the best universities, and tend to congregate in the regions around them.

  • Rob Nicholson

    I think this is needed for UK tech industry – and cambridge is a great candidate – microsoft and such already have campuses there – bright minds all over, a lovely city to help creativity, the only thing it lacks is the business networking of london – but with london 45 min away if this hub started up I’d see it as a great success.

  • Mike Butcher

    “…only thing it lacks is the business networking of london…”. Nuff said. No cluster will work without mind-bending amounts of real-world networking.

  • Dan Field

    Sounds good, Mike.

    Realistically it has to be London though. I’m not based in London, but for most people London is the most accessible and where most of the value would be, from meetings and networking.

  • Ian Betteridge

    I’m a bit baffled by what you’d be trying to achieve with this. What has the Dublin hub done? What has it actually achieved? How many profitable (or sellable) companies have come out of it?

    In London, new media companies already do congregate in specific areas – spit in any direction from Old Street roundabout and you’ll hit a web company’s offices, for example.

    If the idea is basically just “cheap, small offices for web-focused microbusinesses”, then that’s not exactly uncommon. Brighton Media Centre, for example, has been around for donkey’s years, doing exactly this (and has some very nice places to drink/eat/socialise close by).

    But if the idea is basically just a government-subsidised social/networking space for geeks… well, good luck with selling it to Boris :)

  • Laurie

    I find it astonishing that posters have said that Cambridge lacks networking. There are a huge range of entrepreneurial networking and training forums in Cambridge. In fact, I think more than the number of actual practising startups could support – busy startup people are not in talks and pubmeets that often, they are working evenings instead.

    It’s true that the focus is on biotech and chip design, but there are consumer and web companies here too. And they go to London if they really want strong creative networking…

  • Paul Joyce

    Great idea. How about Ebbsfleet in Kent?
    It’s about 30mins from Canary Wharf by car (with 2500 parking spots).
    Next year the Channel Tunnel high speed link will be servicing it taking you to St. Pancras in 17mins, Stratford in half that.
    BT are laying fibre to ensure the network infrastructure is ready for the six million sq. ft of commercial space.

    Close to London, easy access to the continent, ample space, good network infrastructure and good value for money. Seems like a reasonable spot for a group of burgeoning UK startups.

  • Evan Rudowski


    This kind of thing always sounds like a good idea and it is great that people such as yourself, or Saul Klein, or others are acting as catalysts — because it is those catalysts who will make good things happen whatever form they ultimately take.

    I always shrug a bit when people talk about replicating the conditions of Silicon Valley. Having lived and worked there I can say it is not a cluster so much as a state-of-mind. Geographically it is spread down a long peninsula from San Francisco to San Jose and I am quite sure that the people at a start-up in the Mission District are not hanging out at the pub much with their friends at a start-up down the 101 in Mountain View.

    In fact people are not hanging out at the pub much at all; they are working all day and into the night and then going for some sleep back at their apartment somewhere else in San Francisco or if they have already enjoyed a “liquidity event” their nice home in Palo Alto or Atherton.

    Silicon Valley is not a centre of much except for technological innovation, entrepreneurship and money. Unlike London it is not a centre for culture, art, food, ethnic diversity, music, theatre, international banking, politics and government, history — the list goes on. San Francisco has some of this, and is a fantastic city, but compared to London on these points it is decidedly second-tier, and most Silicon Valley denizens are not heading up there regularly for any of these things anyway, because they have no time.

    Silicon Valley is geographically not a cluster as much as it is a sprawl, where there happen to be lots of like-minded people across this sprawl, all striving for similar things in a somewhat self-sacrificing manner — foregoing in monk-like single-mindedness many of the kind of things that attract people to London, in favor of their one goal of building a company or a product.

    If you choose to live in London it is usually to partake of all it has to offer rather than forgo it. And this is a good thing. London-based start-ups are going to thrive by drawing upon everything London has to offer. So I am not sure what is gained by clustering except maybe greater efficiency, lower collective costs, greater purchasing power, etc.?

    I guess my main point is that Silicon Valley and London are both entirely unique places. If you choose one over the other you are buying into the local state-of-mind. The ideal of Silicon Valley as a centre of massive wealth creation is something to strive for, I suppose, but on what terms? Wealth gets created in London too, all the time. And I would suggest people in London generally have more balanced lives.

    It is all well and good to admire Silicon Valley but why do they not admire London just as much? They could use a bit of a more rounded lifestyle there.


blog comments powered by Disqus