London has always been a capital of innovation, growth and adaptation – and over the past five years it has forged itself into one of the largest tech startup cities in Europe, if not the world.
Tech City or Silicon Roundabout, depending on your penchant for monikers, is located in London’s East End, around the junctions of City Road and Old Street. In just three years, the number of technology startups has grown from 15 to over 300 – with large tech brands such as Amazon, Google, Intel, and Twitter all setting up shop there.
So, why now are we seeing this technological gold rush occurring in London – and what is the city doing to nurture and develop its newest industry?
Accelerators, incubators, investors, and coworking spaces
The presence of coworking community spaces is one of the driving forces behind the launch of so many early-stage startups in London. By collaborating in a shared environment, individuals are exposed to expertise and resources that would otherwise be missed if starting in a closed network, or worse still – on your own.
One of the best-known coworking spaces in London is TechHub. Occupying two locations, the shared space helps create an atmosphere of collaboration and innovation. The concept of shared working is a simple one – take a large open space, and rent individual desks to startups on a monthly basis. This shared work environment enables startups to have a central London office at a fraction of the cost of having their own space.
Accelerators and incubators take this up a notch, by offering more organized programs to grow a startup’s product and also their overall business model. A number of accelerators, such as Springboard, also offer early-stage funding and events to showcase their startups to other members or investors.
The London talent pool – unemployment leads to startup stars
Alongside the startups, a big advantage London has is that it is chock-full of talent. In a recent speech, Amazon UK Managing Director, Paula Byrne said, “The number one reason that we located the new Amazon Development Centre in London is because we believe that the capital is brimming with world-class tech talent.”
Traditionally, a large majority of London’s tech workforce has been involved in government and public sector projects. However, with the economic downturn and mass unemployment since 2008, there is now a plethora of talented developers and designers building their own products and services.
Twin these with a wealth of marketers and entrepreneurs, and you can see why now is the time for business to boom.
Cutting-edge cultural fit
Walking around London’s tech city, you will find two things. The first is great technology companies, but the second a world-renowned fashion and art scene.
A truly great product marries cutting-edge backend technology, with first class front-end design. In this way, the best tech products strike the perfect balance between form and function. Because of this crossover, Tech City attracts creative people. These individuals are at the cutting edge of what looks good and what works. When they expect this in their work, it is expected in their social life too.
A once grimy district of London is now host to some of the greatest shops, bars, galleries and restaurants in the country, and while the culture was birthed out of the people of the city, new people are being drawn into it in a self-perpetuating explosion of tech and style.
This combination of skills, style, and business, makes London a unique place to work.
Governmental support, but where are Silicon Valley style exits?
Something that is fairly unique to London is the support the UK government offers. UKTI, a government body set up to help grow UK business, has recently created a spinoff department called TCIO or Tech City Investment Organisation. The organization’s purpose is to bolster the work done in Tech City and to connect tech businesses with the resources needed to succeed. It also provides events and promotions to help raise awareness of the tech industry in the UK.
Despite this support, and although the city has attracted some big-name venture capital firms, including Index Ventures and Accel Partners, and a number of large tech corporations – Google, Amazon, and Intel to name a few, UK success stories are still few and far between.
The US has output scores of billion-dollar tech companies; Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc, but the UK is lagging behind substantially. UK investments such as Spotify and Skype have done incredibly well, and Wonga.com is well on track to be another, but compared to Silicon Valley, Tech City has some major catching up to do.
Attitudes are changing, however, and we are slowly beginning to see the “can-do” thinking prevalent in US tech market emerge in the UK too. Breaking down years of conservative practices takes time, but the future is bright.
With continued support and international investment – I have no doubt that the UK tech industry, and London in particular, will be remembered as a place of innovation that went a long way to bring the UK out of recession.