Editor’s note: Craig Le Grice is a member of BIMA‘s Executive Committee, and Chair of the organisation’s Silicon Roundabout group, he is an industry advocate for entrepreneurship and next generation talent. Follow him on Twitter: @craiglegrice.
Silicon Roundabout, Tech City, Old Street Roundabout – whatever you call it, the still-gritty area of East London has been getting a lot of attention recently. Cited as the UK’s answer to Silicon Valley in California, it’s bustling with technology startups and attracting a lot of focus from both in and out of the UK. Indeed, the Government invested £50m earlier this year to continue developing the area’s prominence as David Cameron attempts to make the area globally renowned for digital innovation.
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But the area has its critics too. Despite there being more than 600 companies based there (according to Government funded TCIO), most of the products, tools and services that make it to consumer, critic and investor acclaim still come from the San Francisco Bay Area – Silicon Valley.
For me, Silicon Roundabout has five major areas of development to continue trying to crack in order to match its West Coast USA rival:
It takes much more than just money to build a centre of excellence, but it’s a vital place to start. Silicon Roundabout has attracted many great venture capital firms, private equity experts and dedicated banks (with the likes of Silicon Valley Bank arriving in 2012). But it needs more. Major funders have to properly understand the sector, and start investing. The UK, as a whole, still lags behind its US friends when it comes to funding startups.
Our government has injected millions of dollars into the technology sector but the majority has reached the large, established firms – often structured as tax breaks rather than the physical cash required for growth.
Private investment is there. But much of it is spectrumised – designed to support very small companies at seed stage (with deals at the sub £250k level) or large established businesses exiting the startup stage, if not yet fully mature. The mid-level space – where companies raise the money that catalyses real ‘growth’ – A rounds and B rounds – is still vastly under catered for when we compare Silicon Roundabout to Silicon Valley.
It’s this acceleration stage that creates the early success stories associated with the startups emerging from California that we read about.
Every company needs infrastructure, but startups especially so. One element of Silicon Valley that delivers a specific and unique DNA is its migratory effect. It’s exceptionally easy to bring people to the area – with hundreds of companies moving from other parts of the US to call it home each year.
Silicon Roundabout is still a cool part of East London. It now needs to connect in a deeper and broader way to the rest of London and other technology pockets of the UK such as Manchester, Croydon, Newcastle, Edinburgh etc.
Logistically, compare getting from Palo Alto to SFO international airport to the journey from Old Street to LHR. Much has to be done in this space – including better linkage to London City airport – to connect non-UK people and companies to the area efficiently.
Tech startups are unlike most other companies, in most ways. As such, people working in technology need to be surrounded by peers and a real community of equals, experts and comparative disciplines.
It is imperative that we continue to support the communities and sub-communities (like Silicon Drinkabout, TechMeetups, TechHub, Google Campus etc.) around Silicon Roundabout that foster and nurture relationships, building a united ecosystem. Support for these must come from individuals, corporates and government bodies equally.
One of the most frequent grumbles from within the technology community is the scarcity of great talent. And, while the UK is catching up with the US, it’s still a real issue. Great events like Silicon Milkroundabout have made headway in attracting talent to the industry but collaborative efforts from education, government and industry alike is now needed to find, shape and embrace future talent.
We have more than just the movie ‘The Social Network’ to remind us that platforms of tomorrow are potentially being created in student dorms today.
I started this piece by using several terms for the same area. To replicate the ‘brand’ value of Silicon Valley, we will have to adopt one and stick with it. Whether we call it Silicon Roundabout, Tech City or Old Street Roundabout, creating a consistent destination brand is crucial. Silicon Valley, Hollywood, Canary Wharf, Brooklyn DUMBO etc… They’re all renowned spaces for their specialist skill sets.
We have the opportunity to build a world-class centre for digital technology. Showcasing the best of British, developing global products of tomorrow and introducing ‘new news’ to the world.
Let’s put London (and the UK) firmly on the map.
Let’s build a sustainable startup scene.
Let’s forget about trying to be ‘as good’ as Silicon Valley – and just do it.
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