Since 2008 we’ve been covering the gradual emergence of a cluster of technology startups in East London. Hell, we’ve even made films about so-called Silicon Roundabout. But it wasn’t until the Prime Minister suddenly appeared in the area to declare it a focus for government policy that larger tech companies started to take notice of what some random policy advisor decided to brand “Tech City“. Since then there has been a litany of pledges pledged by corporates like Cisco, BT and Facebook to keep Number 10 Downing Street happy, but not a huge amount of, well, action. All that changes today with the news that Google is to rent, lock stock and barrel, for the next ten years, an entire seven-floor building in the area.
This is a pretty big deal. The site (4-5 Bonhill Street, London, EC2A 4BX) is (according to this advert) large: 25,392 square feet, at £19.50 per sq ft per annum. Expensive to rent, but that would in no way reflect the purchase price of the lease which runs until at least 2022. Plus, the building will have to undergo a full refurbishment before being ready to open in 2012.
Google says this is the “first step in its commitment to support the Tech City start-up community” – in fairness it announced it would do ‘something’ in the area at the time of the PM’s speech last year.
It also plans to “open up the space to other organisations that support technology entrepreneurs, working together to provide a launchpad for new London-based start-ups and developers.” That makes it the first initiative of its kind for Google anywhere in the world.
Meanwhile, Google’s building will host a range of activities, like events, hackathons, training workshops and product demonstrations for engineers. Obviously Google tech will feature heavily we guess.
So why this? Especially since Google UK’s existing operations will remain in their current offices way out across town in West London.
It looks like Google – rather than holing up in the expensive part of town – has realised that it effectively needs to be where the engineering talent is and the startups are.
For instance, MiniBar, currently the biggest tech meetup in London at 4,297 members, is always held in the East London area, which also plays host to hack spaces and co-working spaces like The Trampery, TechHub (disclosure, I’m a co-founder), London HackSpace, and others. Plus pan-European accelerator Seedcamp has moved from West London to the area just to be amongst its nearby investments. And pretty much every night of the week there is some kind of hacker style event in this part of town. It’s likely that Google is going to throw open the doors to a bunch of these kinds of organisations.
If Google is to tap into this startup and engineering talent it would appear to need a real base in the area – and this is it.
Indeed, David Singleton, Engineering Director, Google UK says: “East London is already home to hundreds of innovative British start-ups, and has huge potential for economic growth and new jobs over the coming years.”
The news is an obvious boost to the London tech scene, although it’s to be hoped some “acqu-hiring” of startups may also come out of it. Twitter recently opened an office in London which is basically an ad sales office with a tax-efficient Dublin HQ. The mainstream London/UKmedia interpreted Twitter’s Dublin move as a slight on their capitol, but it’s really just about operating smartly as a business.
Google’s move is fundamentally different – it’s about finding great tech talent.
UPDATE: It’s emerged UK startups Conversocial and Playfire and another startup put an offer in on one of the floors, only to hear nothing, later finding out Google had paid “over the odds” for the place.