The British Prime Minister is expected to announce today that the East of London, which in the last three years has seen a 700% growth in tech companies starting up there, is to become an officially sanctioned startup ‘hub’ for the UK.
Although he will make a speech saying that London will be transformed into a “world-leading technology city to rival Silicon Valley” – a worthy but rather over-optimistic claim – there is some meat here. The government appears to have secured several commitments from companies including Google, Facebook, Intel and McKinsey & Co to invest in the long-term future of the area.
As is the way with PMs’ speeches, the media has been circulated an advanced copy. So among other things he is expected to say:
“We are firmly on the side of the high-growth, highly innovative companies of the future. Don’t doubt our ambition. Right now, Silicon Valley is the leading place in the world for high-tech growth and innovation. But there’s no reason why it has to be so predominant. Our ambition is to bring together the creativity and energy of Shoreditch and the incredible possibilities of the Olympic Park to help make East London one of the world’s great technology centres. I want to show you how we can get there.”
For the past few weeks I know for a fact that they have been laying the groundwork for this, meeting companies in the area and VCs in London about what it takes to create a high tech cluster. I know because I’ve been in one of those meetings with the PM’s researchers when they visited the area, specifically TechHub, a co-working space for tech people which, in my spare time, I’ve cofounded with Elizabeth Varley, which happens to be just off the Old Street roundabout where a lot of tech companies already are.
So what has come to be known as the Silicon Roundabout area, the government is now calling “East London Tech City” – a tech cluster that they hope will stretch from Shoreditch and Old Street to the Olympic Park.
“This is what local businesses are saying they need. What part can you play in making it happen?” I have to say: the response has been overwhelming,” is what the PM is previewed as saying.
There is further meat to the announcement.
There will be £200 million of equity finance for businesses with high growth potential and £200 million for new Technology and Innovation Centres – one of which could be in the Olympic Park.
They will also be an opening up of government procurement budgets to small and medium-sized firms (already announced).
But most significantly the UK government says it plans to introduce a new Entrepreneur Visa. So entrepreneurs with “serious investment from a leading investor” could get a fastrack visa to the UK.
Secondly, and more significantly, the PM is expected to say the government will be “reviewing our IP laws, to see if we can make them fit for the internet age,” looking at introducing more ‘fair-use’ provisions to the laws governing intellectual property, the like of which allowed Google to develop in the US.
Furthermore he’s expected to say that:
• The Olympic Legacy Company has agreed to create an “accelerator” space in the Olympic Park, providing office space for companies that grow out of East London and beyond.
• Intel will establish a new research lab in East London, focusing on performance computing and new energy efficiency technologies.
• Google will create an Innovation Hub in East London, a creative space for their researchers to come together with developers and academics
• Facebook will create a permanent home in East London for their Developer Garage programme (currently the FDGL meets at TechHub, but interesting they are contemplating something ‘permanent’ whatever that means)
• Cisco will establish an Innovation Centre in the Olympic Park
• British Telecom will bring forward the roll-out of superfast broadband in Shoreditch and Old Street (woot)
• Silicon Valley Bank, a West Coast institution, will become a fully fledged bank in the UK, and provide financing for technology companies (this has actually already happened)
• Barclays will create a new facility in East London to provide specialist banking services to high growth technology companies in the area.
• McKinsey and Company, one of the world’s leading strategic consultancy firms, has agreed to share its expertise in helping start-up companies and establishing technology clusters.
• Qualcomm will provide expert advice to East London start-ups on intellectual property matters, helping them to protect and commercialise their technologies.
• Imperial Innovations, the venture capital arm of Imperial College London, will advise the Olympic Legacy Company to ensure that the accelerator space is attractive to spinout companies from academia and beyond.
• University College London will work with the Olympic Legacy Company to build a student presence in the Olympic Park, with a particular focus on student entrepreneurship and accommodation.
• Loughborough University will work with the Olympic Legacy Company to develop plans for an Institute of Sport for Health in the Olympic Park, which will bring together business and sports science, and help to create new spinout companies in this field.
Well, there you go.
From the stirrings of an organic hub, the whole tech world now appears to be poised to descend on East London. It never rains but it pours, it would seem.