Nine UK cities where tech is thriving

In their second report for TCi, Kosta Mavroulakis and Josh Neicho of StartUp Britain explore the work of technology startups in nine more UK cities, as the national enterprise campaign takes stock of its 2015 tour. First published in Tech City Insider.

This summer’s 28-city UK tour by StartUp Britain provided free advice to thousands of aspiring and early-stage entrepreneurs – but it also offered real insight into the technology startup scene in these cities.

In our first TCi report, we reported from seven of these key tech cities. Here we bring you our dispatches from the ground in nine more.

Cardiff is HQ for a digital business whose niche is the ingenious application of technology –Hello and…, set up by ex-barrister Jenny Yeo as the Interflora of baking, dispatching personalised cupcake orders to bakeries around the country. Yeo is now re-launching the company as an online sales platform for every variety of independent food shop.

Hello and… is one of a roster of tech and creative companies supported by Cardiff Start. Its co-founder, Ramp Commerce CEO Neil Cocker, hails Cardiff as Europe’s fastest-growing capital, projected to grow 42%over the next two decades, with low overheads, great quality of life and “buzzing co-working centres” such as Indycube and Welsh ICE.

Tech City UK’’s Tech Nation report picked out South Wales as a tech “force to be reckoned with”. But there are challenges – fewer opportunities to speak to relevant investors than in a larger city, meaning the Ramp team has to spend “huge amounts of time travelling,” says Cocker. Exciting startups in the city include Blurrt, Noddlepod, Nudjed, Schoop and

Bristol took our tour temporarily away from the high street for a visit to the brand new Filwood Green business park: 40,000 square foot of office space aimed particularly at green and digital enterprises in a building with a green roof and an array of photovoltaic panels.

People we met there included Justin Ricks of the Knowle West Media Centre, which helps communities engage with digital technologies. Filwood Green is consciously seeking to reproduce the success of collaborative innovation hub Engine Shed next to Bristol’s Temple Meads station, in which sits the SETsquared incubator.

Nick Sturge, Engine Shed and SETsquared centre director, says Bristol’s appeal to tech entrepreneurs lies in the mixture of companies in various fields and third-sector organisations headquartered there and a “really diverse” talent pool. “We’re one of the stickiest cities for graduates coming and staying,” he told us. “We’re the only cool city in the UK with a decreasing average age”.

Tech startups located at SETsquared include Fundsurfer, YellowDog, BOXARR, CameraForensics and Wriggle.

There’s been plenty of publicity for Bournemouth’s vibrant startup scene – the UK’s fastest-growing digital economy, according to Tech Nation, claiming more than 400 creative and digital businesses in south-east Dorset – that’s one for every 1,000 people.

Notable agencies include Redweb and Thinking Juice, there are developers such as Amuzo, 3 Sided Cube, Base and Nourish, and among initiatives supporting tech are Meetdraw and She Says Bournemouth. Silicon Beach, a two-day conference staged in Bournemouth for the last five years, brings together leading strategic thinkers, digital innovators and brand experts.

Organiser Matt Desmier headed a 21-strong delegation to the equivalent gathering in Santa Monica and there’s a mission to Australia later this year. George Beverley, who is launching an innovation consultancy with Desmier and Giles Vincent that will take over the reins of local jobs website Think Create Do, told us “we have two great universities, a relatively small but ambitious creative community, and good access to London – so the talent pool is transient. This almost forced the collaboration between academia, local government and industry which has been a critical factor in the area’s success.”

Olly Whittle of SWARM Marketing, who has just launched a new App called BudiPay, said “it is great to see the area being recognised as a centre to start a business”.

2014 StartUp Britain figures found Brighton punched far above its weight for business incorporations, trailing only cities with much larger populations. Some 84% of Brighton tech businesses polled for Tech Nation said they felt part of a cluster, a sense of community that Tech City UK suggests is reinforced by the number of tech conferences held in the area and the wealth of co-working spaces.

Ian Elwick and Martin Bouette, CEO and chief creative officer of one of the latter, The Werks Group, are building a basement suite of editing and sound studios. They have grown to five sites in Brighton & Hove, containing firms across the tech and creative spectrum.

The tech-oriented startups they house include a project to measure colour using mobile phone technology, and Buzz Tech, which has developed a next-generation 3D printer to include assembly after printing.

Sarah James, of design and brand agency 05creative Ltd, based at The Werks, said: “Brighton is a great place to live, and more and more people are finding it’s also an excellent place to run their business”.

Among those we met on our visit were two ex-colleagues from American Express’s European HQ in Brighton selected to join the city’s new Entrepreneurial Spark hatchery – Charlie Newman of collaborative organisational change platform Pinipa, and Ryk Waters of TeamPro, which makes professional-looking online team-sheets for amateur football teams.

Along with an explosion of high-growth companies such as Red Gate Software and Raspberry Pi, 14 $1 billion+ tech businesses and two $10 billion+ ones, and the accolade of “Britain’s most successful city” from The Economist, Cambridge has a strong investment community, including Cambridge Angels and Cambridge Capital Group, and many experienced, highly connected individuals in and around its universities who mentor entrepreneurs.

These include Stewart McTavish at ideaSpace, Tim Minshall, senior lecturer at Cambridge University’s Institute for Manufacturing, David Gill at St John’s Innovation Centre and Lester-Lloyd Reason at Anglia Ruskin.

Further support for Cambridge tech entrepreneurship comes from the likes of Future Business Centre, Cambridge Network, Cambridge Enterprise, student enterprise societies (CUE, CUTEC, Beyond Profit & VCPEC) and Silicon Valley Comes to Cambridge.

“The Cambridge area makes it very easy to take your idea and start to explore it,” said Steve Hales, founder and MD of Sapien Innovations, which helps startups build up from initial concept to commercialisation. “There’s some great entities around like ideaSpace and great networking groups: if you are part of the university there’s Enterprise Tuesdays, if you’re part of the wider scene there’s Cambridge Pitch & Mix on Thursday mornings”.

Notable Cambridge tech startups include Voyage Manager, Fonleap, Synbiota and Mosaic3DX.

Reading is the site of the UK HQs of Oracle, Microsoft, Huawei and more than 54,500 jobs in digital industries – but the environment for disruptive tech startups is relatively undeveloped. Connect TVT’s co-founders Louize Clarke and Adam Clark have set up GROW@GreenPark as a co-working and collaborative space, “building a mini-eco system” and meeting the challenge that the area is so close to London it can be overlooked as a distinct cluster.

Reading startups include Workabode, PollPic, Gooseberry Planet and Around Then. Startups from across the Thames Valley who visited us included Wokingham-registered Enswarm and Windsor-based creative marketing agency Salamandra.

Piers Rudgard-Redsell of Airbyte, a Reading University graduate, has developed trvlRDG app providing public transport data for the city. “The Reading tech sector needs more centralised, “cool” places to work” he told us. “Reading definitely isn’t seen as cool yet, but if London gets any more expensive then with time and the right investment in keeping entrepreneurial grads around, Reading will be just as strong as Oxford”.

Earlier this year, The Scotsman revealed research that found Scotland was not far behind London for tech startup growth since 2009. Edinburgh tech firms are strengthened by incubators such as TechCube and CodeBase; angel syndicates including Archangel, Par Equity, Equity Gap, TRI Cap and Kelvin Capital; Edinburgh University’s success with commercialisation and spin-outs; the EIE annual investor showcase; collaborative business spaces such as The Creative Exchange; accelerator UP; and the Entrepreneurial Spark hatchery.

Jim Duffy, ESpark’s founder and CEO, heralds the £2.5m funding secured by fashion app Mallzee and the hatchery’s move to a “truly world-class, purpose-built facility” in RBS’s HQ at Gogarburn next year.

Oliver Littlejohn from CodeBase which incubated billion-dollar startup FanDuel and has 60 companies under its roof, suggests we “keep eyes out for Administrate, RelayMed, TVSquared” for the next great Edinburgh success stories.

In Glasgow this year, RookieOven meet-up opened a co-working space in Fairfield Shipyard Offices, Govan and the city has just hosted the first CodeCraft software craftsmanship conference. Tracey Eker is seeking to transform the online jobs listings sector with the next stage of development of flexible working site Flexiworkforce. On starting up a business in the city, she told us: “It’s the first place to try anything new. It’s not like London or Edinburgh – there’s no talking people down”.

It’s a similar story in Dundee, according to James Buchan of web designers Zudu – “a lot of businesses even in the same sector have offered us advice on strategy”.

In the city we met Louise Hood and Ashley Blake from web design company Delle Digital, who double up as digital educators, and Alistair Neil, whose Scottish product ecommerce site accepts bitcoin.

Important Dundee tech players include accelerator IDEAScotland – a collaboration between two universities, publishers DC Thomson and data centre/cloud hosting provider brightsolid – and local app developers Waracle who have generated their own spin-off, Kumulos.