London TechHub – It might actually be happening

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Back in July I got a little tired of the perennial problem that hampers the development of startup eco-systems in the UK and Europe: The lack of definable geographic clusters where startups can congregate. This is not just a “nice to have”. Silicon Valley became a big deal – admittedly after decades – because people there were largely in tech. They met eachother and started things together. In the UK there have been lots of regional initiatives. But few centre on London because it’s usually considered big enough to take care of itself. However, without re-running all the arguments in that post, this view ignores the fact that London is now a huge trading hub for US investors and tech companies to meet UK and European companies. That’s something a ‘tech hub’ (however defined) in London could take advantage of.

So I wondered out loud about starting a debate on exactly where the “TechHub” was, or should be, in London. We had lots of comments on the post (69) and clearly it turned out to be an issue worth discussing.

A day later, unknown to me without any fore-warning, the meme about Silicon Roundabout broke in the press and talk of a “TechHub” now seemed rather a “top down”, imposed concept. Clearly there was a large organic hub (check out the map of startups there) forming in the Old Street / Kings Cross / Shoreditch / Farringdon borders areas. This makes a lot of sense. The office property is cheaper, many engineers/developers live in these areas, plus it has great transport links to Heathrow and the Eurostar.

Frankly, I forgot about it after that. Who needs someone banging on about socially engineering a cluster when one is actually forming? Just sit back and watch it grow.

However, clearly a few more people were interested in the idea. We’ve now had the emergence (or should I say branding?) of Digital Riverside (just South of the Thames) here’s a full map of startups in the area. Huddle is doing it’s part in London Bridge, with some hotdesks supported by Sun Startup Essentials, now housing Veedow, Rummble, TheCareerMole, Seedcamp winners’ Basekit and UberVU plus a Sun Startup Essential hotdesk recently used by BookingBug. The rest of the area has Xero.com, Reevoo, Truphone, SmithBayes, Masabi, Wigadoo, Globant, Parkatmyhouse, Headshift, Admoda and Periscopix. Moo is building an little eco-system of its own in its voluminous offices right on the Old St roundabout, and is surrounded by even more companies than that.

And there are a few more slightly engineered meetups/areas forming: Silicon West, “Soho Valley/OpenSoho” and perhaps a few more attempts will appear.

King’s Cross also recently got a new an interesting venue in the form of The Hub which looks like a it might be a nice venue for co-working as it is a kind of mashup of a “member’s club, an innovation agency, a serviced office and a think-tank” (a tad reminiscent of Place perhaps…).

But the most interesting development was that I started getting contacted by people interested in the property angle.

Perhaps this is to be expected, but unlike most property entreprenuers they actually seemed to genuinely be into the like the idea of a TechHub.

Paul “Fletch” Christian, a genuine tech entrepreneur and founder of the Liveaps startup, has thus sought out an actual 5 storey building which could house around 175 people – including meeting rooms/cafe, roof garden etc. He blogs about it here (btw the building in question is not the one in the video on that post). He is looking for feedback about whether to go ahead with the idea or not so I encourage you to email him if this sounds interesting to you.

Meanwhile a chap called Peter Storey who runs a serviced office business down in Bow in an old garment factory enthusiastically threw up a blog called Techlondon.org and has even suggested surrounding the project with “a network of mentors, angels, etc who understand very early stage tech”. He too is looking for interested parties and companies to join up and make presentations to the LDA , NESTA, etc. Here’s his email.

So there you have it – a run-down of just some of the activity surrounding the idea of clustering tech companies in London. Let’s hope these efforts blossom. Bloom, even.

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