Europe has no real equivalent to the big hothouse that is Silicon Valley, but it does have lots of tech clusters and networks. As recent research from the startup Seedcamp startup programme has shown, clusters of innovation are spread far and wide across Europe.
One place everyone agrees is a key cluster is London. It now hosts offices belonging to all the top-tier pan-European VCs, several new Seed funds, has a very active Angel investor market and hosts many major tech events.
However, largely because of its cost – everything is still expensive here – London remains hard for European startups to access and get into, even in a recession. It’s incredibly cheap to rent an office in Berlin, for instance. In London it can be double the price. And although European and US entrepreneurs often need to take meetings and work in London, they don’t always need permanent office space, which can be extremely restrictive to startups. Who wants to sign a huge lease before you’ve raised any funding? The preference is for working out of anonymous clubs, cafes, and perhaps sub-letting a single desk here or there.
To some extent events and conferences are great for networking. But when you can actually rock up to a space and see people in your community — well, it’s unbeatable. That’s what the vibe is in the Valley, where you can literally walk into potential partners, investors and co-founders. That’s what’s lacking here in London, a key, lynch-pin city on the European scene.
So there’s clearly a problem that needs to be addressed if the startup eco system is to develop in Europe.
TechHub (@TechHub on Twitter) is new project put together by Elizabeth Varley and myself which will address just this issue. Elizabeth has been involved in the London digital media scene for a number of years, organised London Twestival and has recently been developing the concept of a physical space aimed specifically at small businesses and startups. Together, we’ve come up with a plan to create a space and services suited to the tech community and particularly at tech startups.
TechHub will be a new, physical space for tech entrepreneurs, tailored to tech people, and providing all the things we really like: Super-fast Wifi, power for our latops, coffee and flexible, plentiful desk space. There will be both permanent desks and a big co-working space.
It will be extremely affordable by average London standards. So affordable in fact that it will put some of these managed office which startups are forced to use to shame. That’s cool. Because startups rarely have cash to spare at the outset.
The location will also be pretty cool. It will be in the existing cluster around the Hoxton/ Shoreditch/ Old Street area which is already jammed packed with tech companies and has been named Silicon Roundabout and even has it’s own social network. So often, flexible office space is never where you want it. This will be at the heart of the London tech startup scene. It’ll be funded through membership, sponsorship and other partners. It won’t be an “incubator” or have it’s own venture fund or anything like that, it’ll just be a space, but with appropriate services. The first pre-launch partner is BookingBug.
Another reason I like the TechHub concept is that it can curate this membership space to create the that key tech entrepreneurial atmosphere.
Now, many people know that I’ve long championed a physical space in London able to access a key cluster of technology players in a defined area in London. I guess I might also have had a little something to do with the idea being propogated. But although I tried to help this idea along, I’m a blogger/journo, a critic. I don’t execute!
But now we have someone from the tech community who will. Elizabeth and I have put a working model together around the TechHub idea, and we’re going to make it happen.
I’ve decided to join as a cofounder/director to advise on TechHub’s strategy, in a purely personal capacity, to this project. So I’m declaring an interest, in as transparent manner as possible. This is a personal project for me and my involvement will have nothing formally to do with TechCrunch. This is not an “office space” for TechCrunch or anything remotely like that.
I’m also happy to make it clear that I won’t be involved in any day-to-day management or decisions about who becomes a member of the TechHub community. Only it’s overall strategic direction. My editorial integrity won’t be affected. Those day-to-day decisions will be up to Elizabeth and a membership group she plans to assemble (you’ll have to go to her for the details). All I can say is that I’m going to be a personal member, just as I’m already a member of other London clubs – all of which will be far less enjoyable as soon as TechHub gets going!
So, all I want to say is that I think this is going to work very well for the tech startup community, and that’s really all I want to see happen. I look forward to dropping in for coffee and meeting people there, when I’m in London. It should be a lot of fun.