The country of Wales in the UK isn’t the first place you might think of when you consider the technology industry, but there’s a lot going on there if you scratch beneath the surface.
Here we take a look at the startups and initiatives that could help build a strong tech future for Wales and secure it a place on the world stage.
A new era of tech events has begun
We’re back in New York this November for the 4th edition of our growth-focused technology event.
Wales benefits largely from the talented individuals from around the country who are coming up with promising inventions and products. Many then go on to set up their own startups, looking for success.
This movement is being supported by the Welsh government and state-funded agencies; it’s seen as a way of shaping Wales’s future. Also, it shows others that Wales is able to support talented entrepreneurs who have ideas that could potentially secure their futures.
Veeqo recently received backing from the founder of fashion retailer New Look, Tom Singh, bringing its total funding to £375,000 ($622,000).
It’s an e-commerce inventory system that allows retail businesses to easily manage new orders and the way they’re shipped out to their customers, via an online hub.
The idea came from serial entrepreneur Matt Warren, who already owns several successful businesses. This includes Jura Watches, which has generated a multi-million pound stream of revenue.
Blurrt, another successful Welsh startup, offers sentiment analysis to broadcasters.
Its software cleverly analyses uncensored Twitter content and shows how people are feeling about a certain topic. It counts Warner Bros as one of its headline clients.
The startup has also picked up a number of awards, as well as recently being shortlised by ESTnet as one of the best technology enterprises in Wales.
Fuzmo is a quirky social networking website that will allow you to post photos of your beloved pet and comment on others and share them at the same time.
It was founded by IT graduate Elliot Thomas, who’s managed to attract over two million Instagram followers and is now working on individual mobile apps for the business.
Monetary success doesn’t always mean you’re on the right track, but excellent mentoring often can help. Adlet, an advertising solution for bloggers, last year won mentoring and support from the executives of CocaCola.
The service allows you to sell industry-specific advertisements directly from your website. Adlet was founded in late 2013 by Emma Coles, who has been running another successful business alongside, selling a selection of vintage fashion created by independent designers.
In My School
In My School is another great business idea that’s received wide support. But instead of receiving mentoring and a large sum of cash, it recently won a place in the top 20 in the BT Infinity Challenge.
It’s a mobile-based planner that allows school teachers to update parents with news of their children’s progress and what’s been happening at school. They’re kept updated via push notifications.
The app has received support from a number of schools in Wales and was founded by Mike Leach, who is able to inject experience into the product, being a father himself.
DizzyJam, which is a startup based in Wales’s capital, Cardiff, allows those in the music industry to have merchandise created and sold directly to fans.
Designs can be uploaded onto the website, where they are turned into merchandise and put on sale. Once an order is received, the item is automatically sent out.
The service was founded by entrepreneur Neil Cocker, who’s behind a number of other projects in Cardiff. It’s a received a positive response so far and continues to grow.
TechHub Swansea, which is a workspace for technology startup businesses, arrived in Wales in late 2013 and supports a number of startups by providing them with a place to flourish and work together as a unit, in a friendly atmosphere.
TechHub Swansea Manager Kerry Evans says that startups benefit from a network of contacts and that they can take advantage of expert advice at the facility’s events.
A number of startups supported by TechHub and the Welsh Government have come up with viable business ideas that have led them on to gain mentorship, endorsement and investment from top organisations and professionals. Residents at the space include Veeqo and Fuzmo, mentioned above.
Educating the masses about business and technology
Responding to tough economic times, the Welsh Government is encouraging young people to learn about business and technology. Many courses are launching in Welsh schools, colleges and universities as a result.
One such example is the Young Business Dragons, a competition aimed at fuelling young entrepreneurship and creating a promising future for Wales. This year’s competition was launched in Swansea in June and tasks youngsters with researching smart home technology and coming up with their own innovative solutions. They must then turn their ideas into viable businesses.
Having been run for several years, it’s been praised by local businesses for supporting young talent. It’s even seen a number of new tech-savvy entrepreneurship courses set up for youngsters right across Wales.
Despite the government setting up a number of projects in schools to hone technological talent being, the Welsh Affairs Committee claims that 29 per cent of households in Wales are without modern broadband access.
This is deeply concerning in the educational environment, where youngsters can be negatively affected by not having the latest technologies to get on with their work or to keep themselves entertained outside of school.
English teacher Julie Griffiths reckons youngsters are not the only ones being affected by tech: “Obviously, technology is an amazing resource for teaching youngsters, and it is perfect for engaging with them while in a lesson. But what I find a problem is a lack of training when advances are made.”
Helping young people grow tech businesses
There are a number of mechanisms in place that allow young people to turn their business ideas into realities.
Business Wales is the Welsh Government’s arm for setting up and managing these mechanisms. The Young Entrepreneur’s Bursary is just one example. It’s set up for youngsters aged 16 – 21 who have come up with business ideas and need a non-risky form of finance.
The agency also offers advice for those interested in setting up a business, which is useful if they are not too sure on what sort of support is available to them and their businesses. In May 2014, it teamed up with several high-performing technology businesses to launch a £7.5 million ($12.4 million) seed fund that will see equity investments of between £50,000 and £150,000 ($83,000 – $249,000) offered to viable tech ideas.
“Working in Wales as a startup is great thanks to the support the Welsh Government offers up. You only have to look at the funding schemes available. Plus, there’s some great support on offer for getting people back into work, with Jobs Growth giving youngsters the ability to take in on-the-job training schemes, ” says Fuzmo founder Elliot Thomas
A major problem, however, is that there are a lot of people who are unaware of Wales’s technological potential. Adlet founder Emma Coles explains how this impacts the Welsh economy: “Because of a lack of coverage and the wider public learning about Wales’s emerging tech scene – such as how many tech startups are set up in Wales – we’re losing out on talent, with local graduates upping sticks and moving to cities such as London.”
Technology manufacturing in Wales
During the industrial revolution, Wales was at the peak of manufacturing and agricultural success. It possessed a mining industry that saw coal transported throughout the country and the British Empire, which kick-started an era of tough business and true craftsmanship.
While mining may be on its way out in Wales, manufacturing is still at the heart of Welsh culture and business. You only have to look at the fact that Airbus has a major manufacturing facility based in Flintshire, Wales.
The facility is responsible for assembling wings used on all Airbus civil aircraft and has seen classics such as De Havilland’s Comet and Mosquito produced. It contributes to the Welsh economy with 6,000 people employed and continues to lead Airbus’s presence in the UK.
Technology’s impact on the economy
The whole of the United Kingdom has struggled with unemployment since the major financial meltdown of 2008. Wales has especially been hit hard by the changing times but has been able to stay strong despite what is happening elsewhere. You only have to look at recent governmental stats that cite a recent 12K drop in unemployment.
Technology, you could argue, is Wales’s coping mechanism. Over 3,000 high-growth IT operations contribute around £1 billion to the Welsh economy annually. This includes major contributions from the likes of BT, Mitel, General Dynamics UK, Sony and IBM.
And as a result, around 135,000 people across Wales now work in the field of technology. This includes 1,400 graduates going straight from university and into IT-specific studies.
This statistic really demonstrates how far Wales’s tech industry has come over the years. But that doesn’t mean everything is fine, because the industry certainly isn’t perfect and has its challenges – just look at the lack of superfast internet connections in rural parts of Wales, for example. To tackle this, the Welsh Government runs a project called Superfast Cymru, which plans to bring faster connections to 96 percent of Welsh premises by 2016.
There’s also the lack of modern transport links throughout Wales, where an average train journey from a built-up Welsh city like Swansea to London takes around three hours.
However, there aren’t any major plans to improve the links at the moment, which could spell danger for the flourishing industry in the foreseeable future.
You could look at in a different light, though. If the government did introduce a redevelopment plan like HS2, large sums of investment would be brought to larger areas in Wales that are already better connected.
“Technology-based businesses are having a huge effect on the Welsh economy, producing plenty of jobs for new graduates and showing Wales has a lot of potential,” says Plaid Cymru politician Bethan Jenkins. “What the government needs to do, however, is to ensure these businesses have the correct mechanisms to succeed, which includes improved internet technology and transport links,”