There are two sides to the story of Google’s move to create a massive, seven storey startup / developer hub slap bang in the middle of of Shoreditch, where so many London/UK/European startups seem to be congregating. Drawn by the cluster effect and the plethora of events in the area aimed at developers, Google’s move surely makes sense.
But behind the scenes I happen to know that Number 10 has been lobbying for this kind of move for some time. In fact, rarely have I seen a government quite so pro-tech / startups as this one, to be frank. After the announcement last year by David Cameron to brand East London “Tech City UK”, I expect a lot people thought the whole thing would be forgotten. I didn’t hold out much hope myself. But, incredibly, once every couple of months since then there has been a major meeting either at Number 10 or in Shoreditch itself involving senior government advisors, large and small tech companies. Where possible, I’ve also attended and listened in.
The convening power of these events to some extent is greater than the event itself. Generally you will hear from a telco like BT about broadband rollout or from an incubator. Where possible there is a little friendly debate, shall we say, about how all that is going (especially about BT’s broadband!). But afterwards the conversations and meetings arranged off the back of these are great for the network to develop.
But a couple of things are going to have to happen for this to just get a lot better.
First of all we need more startups at the table in front of the advisers. That’s why I’ll be recommending that any further Tech City events have at least 50% startups at the table.
Also, let’s look at the initiatives. Facebook s running events. Amazon is running events – startup masterclasses started this week. Virgin Business Media is ‘trialling’ super-fast broadband in various co-working spaces. It’s all OK. But an eco-system it does not make.
That leads me to my second point.
We need more than commitments about “innovation centres” being created in the East of London. We need an eco-system where startups are *acquired*. Where the founders go on to make investments in other startups, and the whole process is repeated.
To sound an unfashionable note in this age of austerity – we need more millionaires, and more Geek millionaires at that.
So, Google, and the rest, this is what we want: We want more M&A people in London.
From Google, we want a replacement for Anil Hansjee, who has left to start his own fund. We want a top dog M&A person for Europe, with a support team, who can acquire start-ups. And we want exactly the same from all the other large tech companies committed to Tech City. We want boots on the ground.
Thirdly, we want the craziness around the Olympic park to be sorted out. To my mind this is a great place for large corporate tech companies to locate, not startups as such. Plus, it is perfect for Cleantech and Greentech companies. It’s large and has plenty of space for wet labs etc. Unfortunately the Welcome Trust proposal has gone nowhere – although pitching it via the media probably didn’t help their case.
And it’s getting worse.
I have heard the famed Broadcast Centre – where thousands of media people will be during the games – has had proposals for… a ski slope and a super large freezer unit. Hardly an auspicious ending for a three times redundant building which can stream 20,000 HD channels simultaneously.
What an astounding waste of sophisticated infrastructure this would be.
Meanwhile, it’s a waste of human resources that are here right now. We have 300 or so highly skilled engineers working on the technical infrastructure of the Olympics who will still be in London when the games end. No wonder their tech communications manager is trying to get them jobs, post games.
So here’s my fourth idea and proposal for the Olympic park: Housing for engineers!
You know what the problem with London is? It’s expensive. When you want to hire five rockstar coders (some prefer “gentleman coders” bizarrely. cc. Tariq Krim / Emi Gal) from Estonia or Budapest or wherever, you can do so – but they can’t even afford to move to London.
So let’s requisition – nay, let’s storm “The Bastille” of those athlete villages after the games and claim a few blocks for the tech people.
Can you imagine block upon block of innovative people housed so close together?
That is your next Facebook or Google right there.
And that is what Tech City should do next. I hope they are listening.
And the fifth proposal? Hey, that’s going to be in your comments below…