Launched by Prime Minister David Cameron in a high-profile wave of publicity and optimism in 2010 as London/Britain’s answer to California’s Silicon Valley, the new media and technology hub between Old Street and the Olympic Park, Stratford is now established enough to be making a contribution to the wealth creation of digital UK.
At the time, many pundits were dismissive. ‘Tech hubs are rarely created by governments’ was one voice, reflecting a widespread view that it would all be hype and mirrors, rather than real entrepreneurs, really innovating and creating new real jobs.
It now houses activities by Cisco, Intel, Facebook, Google, Amazon and Vodafone among numerous start-ups and academic partners including Imperial College London, Loughborough University and University College London. Around 3000 firms operate in the zone. They are certainly hoping for more.
Two months ago, Tech City Investment Organisation (TCIO) secured new leadership in Joanna Shields from the executive layer (vice-president) of Facebook. In keeping with the exponential effect of growth and development in contemporary technology, the project has more or less come of age, at just a couple of years.
The Guardian/Observer ran a large feature on the concept in October 2012, and encouraged assessments from many leading players to put the project in perspective. Neil Rimer of Index Ventures was quoted as saying ‘I think lionising entrepreneurs is a good thing – having educators and officials who recognise the value and importance of entrepreneurs to society’.
For him, among others, ‘tech is the next industrial revolution and these people are the pioneers’. Many participants wanted the whole of London to be regarded as the hub rather than artificially trying to focus on one part. Joanna Shields is clear in giving the government credit ‘for policies that are spot on for incubating businesses, not just in the cluster, but all across the UK’.
The desire to bring the next Sergey Brin (Google) to London is tangible; but many have doubts about some of the basics. Hussein Kanji, Angel Investor described attempting to rival Silicon Valley as ‘boneheaded’. More bridge-building with the major markets was needed.
Speed Is the Essence
The speed of broadband in London is hardly world-class nor competitive. That’s a real issue. It sits alongside the dearth of seriously high-class computer science university education in east London, absence of truly high-speed rail links to Europe, City Airport and other clusters such as that at Cambridge as needing urgent and drastic attention.
That British aviation policy is suspended in indecision and a new third runway at Heathrow is as unlikely as a whole new ‘Boris Island’ in the Thames estuary, makes for discouraging analysis of the future of Tech City, when compared with centres in Brazil, Russia, India and China for starters.
General Manager of Hitachi Data Systems UK, Stephen Ball, was reported concerned about our failure to incubate skills. He said that school ICT classes are based around Windows rather than coding and social media. He foresaw a 10 year skills deficit.
Glenn Shoosmith, founder and Chief Executive of BookingBug wanted more government simplification on the rules governing business flotations and a more adventurous mindset on government procurement to allow companies to trade with the public sector.
The Skills We Need
In short, what the users of the facilities wanted was priority measures to encourage more of our youngsters to see careers as entrepreneurs, engineers and designers of all tech things as worth aspiring to, at least as much as a singer/actor/performer.
As Joanna Shields arrived, she assessed the situation in sweeping terms, praising Britain’s international outlook as an island nation.
She said, ‘London has access to government through Westminster, you have the creative industries, you have the financial sector. You almost have Washington with government, New York with financial and advertising and creative and Los Angeles with creative all in one city and within a few square miles’.
She concluded, ‘this is the gateway to the world. It should not be a stepchild to other cities. It should be in its rightful place as the centre for innovation, the digital industries. The time has come.’
Only a little more time will elapse before we know if she is right.
The Guardian, James Silver, Two years in, how well is east London’s ‘Silicon Valley‘ faring? 28 October 2012
Why not check out:
Ben Hammersley: Facing the Digital Future Without Fear, 28 August 2012
A Hard Day at the Office, 24 April 2012
Image: Joanna Shields