From the bizarre to the raucous – the two sides of London's tech scene

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Picture if you will a room full largely of men in dark blue suits, spread across 50 or more tables in a top London hotel, watching as “urban” dancers move amateurishly to the worst kind of arthouse music imaginable on a stage recently vacated by a Newsnight presenter. Actually, you don’t need to imagine, here’s an actual picture:

Fast forward a day on, to a basement bar off Trafalgar Square where about 150 technologists, entrepreneurs, social media addicts and curious onlookers rub shoulders to network and drink the night away in the name of charity in a virtual spontaneous celebration of Twitter. Here’s a picture for you:

Yes indeed, you couldn’t get a more different view of the London tech scene this week, where I attended on Wednesday the Investor Allstars awards, an annual event organised by GP Bullhound, the research-centric investment bank, and BusinessXL / Vitesse Media at The Hilton Hotel on Park Lane. On Thursday I went to Harvest Twestival, a raucous meetup for Twitter fans and techy early adopters.

Now I don’t want to be too unkind to Investor Allstars. Afterall, even Venture Capitalists deserve to celebrate their industry (I particularly liked the “Deal Envy” award). And congratulations to Index Ventures for being VC of the year two years in a row for their MySQL exit. But a ballroom event with a three course dinner, populated buy some of the wealthiest companies and individuals in the industry could have done with a few more elements – like a bit more fun for instance (there goes my invite to next year’s). Given the budget involved I daresay they could arrange the likes of, well, Stephen Fry or maybe Jerry Seinfeld. At least the setting last year was more interesting – Madame Tussauds. Even the normally jovial Loic Le Meur, who was at my table, seemed to have more fun (ironically enough) Twittering me jokes at the event before he left early to join his Seesmic fans at a pub in Soho. Unfortunatley he missed the dancers, who moved a lot slower than these blurry pictures seem to indicate, believe me.

And the whole “model” for Investor Allstars doesn’t seem to quite work. Usually at these big London events, the model is simple. A company wants to woo another for business, so they buy a table, get the potential client as drunk as possible and have so much fun they win the contract/whatever. With a VC awards dinner the model is in reverse: the startup is the one who needs the money but since they can’t afford to buy a table, they have to rely on the largesse of their investor. In the VC doesn’t win an award, they’ve shelled out for the whole thing and not even won any business out of it. Fail.

Yes, ok, the awards themselves might be important to some, but really any award ceremony is basically to do business in a celebratory atmosphere, no?

So I think the model needs to be changed, which is why I am putting serious thought to creating an event where startups can woo investors at an enjoyable evening dinner, where the costs are not so prohibitive and some actual business might be done at the end of it. what do you think?

Meanwhile, over at Twestival, the scene was completely different. For starters, the gender balance was suddenly more equal – rare at tech events – and, it has to be admitted, everyone was just there to meet other Twitter users. It wasn’t really a business/tech event at all as such. It was just a joyous celebration of the kind of flat-world social media can create. Where anyone can join in and turn up.

But there is an interesting comparison to be made here.

Investor Allstars had a charity element – over 50 tables of 8 people each were asked to donate £10 each to the Prince’s Trust charity. They raised £4,500 compared to £6,000 last year (credit crunch hitting VCs)? I don’t know if any of the profits from the event went to charity, but I daresay each table cost something for the company to buy, and there were plenty of sponsor logos adorning the stage (including those from some media web sites about VC which don’t even have RSS feeds. Doh).

In comparison, Twestival cost quite a lot less arrange – having been put on by volunteers and funded by donations. They received £2,750 in sponsorship from UnLtd World, Huddle, Diffusion PR, Tactile CRM, Winston & Strawn LLP and Just Giving – this paid for venue hire, drinks and food (until the tab ran out). Madhouse Collective volunteers provided staff, website design, camera crew, DJs etc. On the night they collected donations from the 200 “Tweeple” – mostly bloggers / tecchies – that attended the event. Donations were collectied on the door, and they sold raffle tickets to win prizes such as Wii’s, iPods and Flip Camera’s donated by companies including Twitter, Firebox.com, Wubud, Reuters, ITV and 6 Degrees PR. We even had a huge amount of people bringing food and other valuable items to give directly to the homeless charity they were supporting. The whole thing was organised by Amanda Rose (@amandita) and Renate Nyborg (@renatenyborg, Madhouse Collective) and these guys. It event featured a live performance by the guy who sings that dead catchy song about Twitter, reproduced below (I am still singing “You’re no-one if you’re not on Twitter”):

Well, there you have it, two very different events reflecting the diverse nature of the London tech scene. Let’s not be too hard on the VC event, but then one wonders where the real entrepreneurial spirit lies amid the awkward MC of Newsnight Emily Maitlis, versus the raw energy of Twestival…

Meanwhile here are the winners of the Investor Allstars event, for the record:

Venture Capital Fund of the Year: Index Ventures
Exit of the Year: MySQL
VCT/FCPI of the Year: AGF
Service Provider of the Year: Brown Rudnick
Private Investor Network of the Year: Hotbed
VC Personality of the Year: Simon Cook, DFJ Esprit
Equity Gap Fund of the Year: Hightech Gerunderfonds
Deal Envy of the Year: Adconion
Outstanding Contribution of the Year: George Coelho, Good Energies
Jon Moulton’s Triumph Over Adversity Award: Solar Integrated Technology

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