Silicon Avon – startups doing it 'Bristol fashion'

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In the first of a series of guest posts about the startup scene in various parts of the UK (get in touch if you’re interested in writing one), John Bradford gives us the low-down on the scene in Bristol.

It’s not all stovepipe hats and clay dogs in Bristol. These days its more location aware gaming, mobile media and building businesses. Two Bristol startups you may have heard about are Glasses Direct (James Murray Wells, a UWE graduate) and MyBuilder (Ryan Notz, a Bristol Uni graduate). But what else is going on? As a relative newcomer to the city (5yrs and loving it) here is a quick peek around some local start-ups.

The Watershed, a digital media & arts complex in the heart of the city, has been mixing up creativity and technology for over 20 years.The place for start-ups is their new Pervasive Media Studio, headed by Clare in partnership with HP Labs & with heavy involvement from both Bristol University & UWE. The Studio launched with it’s Media Sandbox competition. Several of the projects came from larger established companies (including Aardman, HMC, BDH, Plot, etc) but the winning project brought together two startup companies, Thought Den (Dan) and Mobile Pie (Richard), to create Happy Packages. After some early PR from the Guardian, Mobile Pie have knuckled down to turn out a number of games and have picked up some awards along the way. They’ve also since been confirmed as one of the first 4,000 iPhone developers and are working with Futurelab to find funding for an exciting e-learning project.

Another Sandbox success is the Comfort of Strangers from the eponymous Simon + Simon. Using a heavily modified mscapes platform, two teams have to ‘discover’ matched players while avoiding opponents. A soft voice in your ear is all that alerts you to the fact that ‘a dancer is nearby, you have lost a life point…’ This ARG team game has been showcased at New York’s Come Out & Play. They now organise the monthly igLab to explore collaborative and social gaming developments. 19-21 Sept they’re turning Bristol into one giant playground… everyone is playing – running, hiding, seeking, finding, escaping, tagging…. igFest.

Just north of the M5, Chris & Craig at BexMedia have been developing a video platform for mobile devices, recently expanding into interactive video after developing a mobile map & video experience for freshers to quickly acquaint themselves with Anglia Ruskin University. On a slightly bigger scale is the Visualise project from 3C Research to bring unprecedented levels of personalised streaming data & video to mobile devices at live sports events. Currently with the World Rally Championships, Nigel’s actively spinning out new startups to commercialise the software & services.

Round the beck end, The Web People started up coding websites like everyone else but Tom quickly developed a web-services management system that made it simple for him to manage lots of websites, with lots of different services, for lots of clients all in parallel. Co-founder Mark saw the opportunity, they’ve just launched an open beta, and are on track for some stellar growth (clients are already beating a path to their door). Also working behind the scenes to spread and gather the word virally is Team Rubber with Andy at the helm. Though not strictly a startup, having survived the dot-com boom, Andy’s a staunch supporter and is actively helping the ‘new guys’ get off the ground.

Behind all these successes lies a growing entrepreneurial ecosystem mixing startups, future clients, partners and investors. This mixing covers everything from the fun & interesting (Dorkbot / igLab), learning & technical (Skillswap / BathCamp), business & sectoral (OpenCoffee / Media Tuesday) to University sponsored (BEN). Its not just the geeks & designers either, lawyers, accountants and exec recruiters are getting behind the start-up scene in Bristol like never before.

  • Matt Kane

    It’s worth mentioning the Underscore mailing list which plays an important role in the area:
    I could also mention our Bristol-based startup:

  • Tim Beadle

    +1 on mentioning Underscore – it’s really thriving, and has gone beyond its mailing list roots to encompass a planet web aggregator of some members’ blogs etc. on

    Oh, and Avon doesn’t exist any more (well, unless you mean the River). It would be nice if the term fell out of use…

  • Matt Jukes

    There is quite a tradition of a combination of education and the web in and around Bristol as well with the work of and in the region.

    Plus start-ups like (where I am based) and plus many more I’m sure.

    Also don’t forget the folks just down the road in Bath – particularly the crew at who bring alot of attention to this corner of the world.

  • Dan Course

    Bristol’s just a bit good and thanks for the mention (

    If you’d like to read more about what Thought Den have done so far check our portfolio (

    …or check our blog to see what we’re reading (

    Dan Course ::

  • Matt

    Hi John,

    Great blog.

    I think that also great support is provided by the Set Squared network – and Research, Enterprise and development (RED) at Bristol University is outstanding for a number of start ups such as Overlay Media who develop location based marketing software for mobile phones.

    There are a plethora of support options with South West screen, SWAIN, YFM Group, and Eden Ventures all backing high tech firms.

  • Mike

    Thanks for the BathCamp plug (har har).

    As of writing we still have 8 tickets remaining…so if you’re in the Bath area on 13th/14th September and want to meet some interesting people, please do come along. It’s a fiver – book online at



  • Matt Jukes

    There is quite a tradition of a combination of education and the web in and around Bristol as well with the work of Futurelab and JISC in the region.

    Plus start-ups like (where I am based) and plus many more I’m sure.

    Also don’t forget the folks just down the road in Bath – particularly the crew at Carsonified who bring alot of attention to this corner of the world.

  • John

    Thanks Matt for the link to Underscore, and to Matt x 3 for the additional start-up links.

    I dropped Ryan a note but there wasn’t enough time to get any of their stuff included as a start-up.

    So what other Bristol / West of England start-ups did I miss?

  • Aaron Trevena

    You managed to miss Bradford-on-Avon’s renowned Netcraft, home of the legendary web server survey, and now doing security, availability, etc surveys and services -although it’s now moved to Bath, so a little further from the river and the canal than the old offices in b-o-a.

  • Connecting Bristol » Start Up Successes in Bristol

    […] can read John’s full post here Listen to this […]

  • jbsh » Education shaped & Bristol Fashion

    […] This was originally published on TechCrunch UK, I’ve made some edits at the end in response to comment on TC, Underscore, Twitter etc. […]

  • Diego

    Online I found a Bristol startup that seems intreaging, does anyone have any information on this company? I am a little skeptical. Any info please respond.

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  • Jonathan Hirst

    great post thanks very much
    septic tank man

  • JonEllis

    Another Bristol based start-up to add to the list is a homework help and online tutoring web offer. @tutorhub comes from the fold of @jivatechnology

  • Max625

    great post i willcontiue to visit

  • Ruth
  • Jason
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