Well, it’s exactly a year on from the UK Prime Minister’s speech in Shoreditch which fired the starting gun on what the government decided to call “Tech City“, a cluster of tech companies it had recognised were growing organically in East London. This is an area local tech people had already dubbed Silicon Roundabout way back in 2008. That’s not to say London, and the UK doesn’t have plenty of tech companies all over – but clearly the government had decided to fan the flames by giving it some attention in the form of an appearance by the PM in Brick Lane.
Since then they’ve done more – created an arm of the UKTI, called the Tech City Investment Organisation which has been running around beating the PR drum amongst VCs in Silicon Valley, in the media and anyone who will listen.
It’s fair to say most tech entrepreneurs in the area have welcomed what amounts to millions of pounds of free PR for their companies and the cluster. Companies outside East London might smart at this, but plenty have got in on the slip-stream of the branding game, and these days you can’t move for the amount of press coverage about tech startups in London, wherever they are from.
The regular meetings, both at Number 10 Downing Street and in East London itself have kept up the momentum. However, Berlin, Paris and, lately Dublin, have been wooing entrepreneurs. Paris with EG8, Dublin with F.ounders, and Berlin by… just being far cheaper than London.
And while the “Tech City” project is designed to stretch to the Olympic Park, none of the large tech firms committed to the project so far – Google, Intel and Cisco – have decided to become “anchor tenant” after the Olympics. A £1bn proposal by the Wellcome Trust to make the park a life sciences hub was rejected as not offering sufficient value for money and talks for the BBC to move there have foundered. Though to be fair Number 10 officials working on Tech City say it is too early to expect much happening with the Olympic Park, with the OPLC only launching a tender for the broadcast centres last month.
But so far that’s not bothering the startups in the Shoreditch cluster, although Hackney Wick – packed full of artists studios – is the area closest to what one startup described to me as “probably our next location.” Meanwhile seems most companies are doubling down on Shoreditch as their version of Tech City.
And that trend is born out by the new TechCity Map.
The Prime Minister David Cameron launched the map today, specifically created to analyse the interactions between digital companies in East London. It was created by local developers at Trampoline Systems and designed by Playgen. The map itself identifies over 600 broadly “digital” companies. In November 2010, there were around 200. However, looking at the map this does lump digital consultancies, digital agencies and tech startups into a broad category. You also can’t add your company if it is not in an East London postcode – which admittedly might skew the results of tech trends across London. The other partners were Thomson Reuters, Mother London, Cisco, Atos and LinkedIn. The map includes analytics to highlight the community in East London, pulling in streams of social network data, initially Twitter but soon LinkedIn data.
The PM also announced plans to cut red tape for innovative startups by asking them for a contribution to a “radical deregulation process” for companies with “disruptive” business models. The vehicle for this is the Red Tape Challenge website, and is overseen by Beth Noveck, a former US chief technology officer under Barack Obama and now adviser to Downing Street on digital governance.
In related news Entrepreneur First, the Government-launched scheme created to help UK graduates start their own businesses, launched in East London. This is a not-for-profit scheme with corporate sponsors including McKinsey & Company and Microsoft. It is a two-year programme providing a new route into entrepreneurship for graduates, backed by leading UK entrepreneurs, student groups and major employers including Cisco, Shell, Qualcomm, BNP Paribas, Silicon Valley Bank, BT and Tesco. It was launched by Ed Vaizey, Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries and local startup founder David Langer, co-founder and CEO of GroupSpaces, and spoke as an Entrepreneur First mentor.
The Government today also announced the expansion of the Red Tape Challenge so that entrepreneurs and investors can tell the Government where rules and regulations get in the way of innovation.
Here’s a round up of other Tech City initiatives:
• Long time tech journalist, commentator and consultant Ben Hammersley has been appointed as the Prime Minister’s Ambassador to #TechCity, responsible for linking government, business and civil society.
• Cisco announced an agreement to partner with University College London and Imperial College London to create a “Future Cities Centre” in Shoreditch. Alongside this, Cisco announced its National Virtual Incubator (NVI) as part of its British Innovation Gateway (BIG) initiative. The Future Cities Centre is designed to conduct and commercialise research in the high potential area of smart infrastructure inside cities. They said amounts to a five-year investment of cash, technology and human resources.
• Qualcomm announced the first Wireless Electric Vehicle Charging (WEVC) trial for London. The pre-commercial trial will start in early 2012, involving up to 50 wirelessly charged electric vehicles (EV). Based partially in ‘Tech City’, Qualcomm wants to release data about the cars and the charging operations for third party apps developers to work on.
• Co-working and education space General Assembly, which started in New York, announced plans to set up in East London. General Assembly recently secured significant funding from Russian investor Yuri Milner of DST.
• Intel says it is will create a “High Performance Computing cluster” that can be used by companies located in Tech City, giving startups access to advanced technology.
• Research came out of co-working space TechHub and company data startup Duedil that suggested there were 200 ‘hard core’ / real tech startups in London. Tech startups were defined as companies less than 10 years old that
are “product focused” or data / development driven. The data excludes companies that are digital advertising or creative agencies.