At the Le Web conference in Paris last week, there was a debate about whether a bright moment for tech startups in London had passed. The Bebo and Last.fm acquisitions happened almost two years ago, and several of the startups from the “Silicon Roundabout,” an area around Old Street in the East, have moved on. Travel social network Dopplr relocated to Berlin after the Nokia acquisition, for one.
But London, as always, is reinventing itself — a new 7,000 square-foot hub is taking root in Farringdon with the help of angel investors Stefan Glaenzer, who was Last.fm’s first investor and chairman, and Eileen Burbidge. White Bear Yard is home to six startups and freelancers with a very diverse body of work. There’s a gambling startup Smarkets and RjDj, which is pioneering the new field of “reactive” music. The space has come together over the last few months and Glaenzer and Burbidge haven’t formally announced it yet.
Burbidge, who was an early Skype employee, says White Bear Yard is a space where startups can learn from each other and use collective knowledge to overcome shared hurdles like recruiting, search engine optimization, financing and marketing. In fact, the entire building has good startup mojo: Mendeley, the startup dubbed the Last.fm of research papers, has the bottom floor of the building, while design consultancy Ideo (which helped create Apple’s first mouse, the first laptop, the Palm V and the Treo) has the second.
When I first dropped by late on a Friday night, engineers were still plugging away and holding scrums to track product development. Mendeley was moving boxes and tables into its new offices on the ground floor.
The teams are also just as international as they are in Silicon Valley. Location-based services startup Rummble has engineers from Italy, India, the U.K. and Russia. Burbidge says she and Glaenzer charge rent for the space, although they give preference to startups they hold equity in.
London has a few things going for it. The city is cheaper for startups now that the pound has hovered around $1.60 to the dollar for a good year. Always a city of immigrants, London also attracts inexpensive engineering talent from Eastern Europe. And acquisitions definitely aren’t dead: London-based Playfish was bought by Electronic Arts a month ago for up to $400 million in cash and earnouts. Wired UK recently reconstructed the original “Silicon Roundabout” list to include new players like the ones in White Bear Yard and BERG London, the buzzed-about agency made from Schulze and Webb and Dopplr designer Matt Jones. (They, by the way, released a pretty slick concept video for a multimedia tablet today.) Seedcamp, of course, continues to connect founders and investors together and held a special private summit last week.
I interviewed some of the founders and Burbidge at White Bear Yard. You can watch the videos below:
RjDj is a London and New York-based startup that is pioneering the nascent field of reactive music. Generative or reactive music is different every single time you play it, depending on your environment. RjDj creates iPhone apps that use the phone’s mic and accelerometer and incorporate the feedback into songs. RjDj’s founder Michael Breidenbruecker was the fourth co-founder of Last.fm.
Smarkets is actually run by an American, Jason Trost, but is based in London because the U.S.’s online gambling laws are prohibitive. Trost says Smarkets has a much more intuitive user interface and lets users bet against each other anonymously instead of against the “house” like in more conventional betting. Right now, Smarkets handles English football but Trost plans to expand into other sports and perhaps even into political futures.
Rummble is a location-based service that gives you hyper-personalized recommendations on where to go. Alex Housley, who is the company’s vice president of business, says what differentiates Rummble from other competitors like Gowalla and Loopt is that the service studies your behavior and preferences and gives you recommendations for places to check out that are tailored to your tastes.
Timetric is a startup from a handful of Cambridge University Ph.D students that develops dead-simple software to keep track of and manipulate large data sets online. Warning: their site contains massive amounts of data porn. (I’ve also embedded one of their graphs below.)
Mendeley, which has been called the Last.fm of research papers, is an online database for academics to store and share their work in the cloud. Like the real world, where researchers often cite each other, Mendeley allows people to find, connect and follow each other. Mendeley is free but plans to move toward a “freemium” model where you can pay for extra space to store files. The company took $2 million in early stage funding at the beginning of the year from Glaenzer and ASI.
There is also a sixth startup called Technovate from Gareth Knight, who co-founded social networking site Kindo and sold it to MyHeritage. Technovate doesn’t have a product out yet although the team is focusing on search engine optimization.
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