The UK’s other tech start-up cities

We’re a Tech Nation argues Sheffield-born tech entrepreneur David Richards – get out of London and find the talent!

Britain’s tech industry is far greater than London. We are not a roundabout or a city, but a ‘Tech Nation’.

The UK is not just London. Fuelling the assumption that British tech only succeeds in Shoreditch harms our chances of competing on a global scale.

We need to recognise the UK for what it actually is – a hotbed for tech talent and ingenuity. If the UK is serious about galvanising its tech scene it needs to start celebrating its regional strengths. We should be actively promoting our richness and diversity rather than viewing our tech industry as limited to East London.

After all, the Californians don’t just champion Palo Alto – they recognise the creativity and accomplishments of Los Altos, San Jose and San Francisco. We need to start doing the same.

Silicons Glen, Fen and beyond

My company, WANdisco, has software used by clients including a who’s-who list of Fortune 1000 companies such as Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Nokia, Cisco and Walmart.

When we were looking to expand out of Silicon Valley we chose Sheffield, not London, as our UK operational hub. Whilst this has certainly raised some eyebrows, I see our success as a vindication of the talent that can be found across the country.

We are not the only ones to recognise this. ‘Silicon Fen’ is an important cluster of software and biotech companies in and around Cambridge closely connected to the University.

Home to AIM-listed big data firm 1Spatial, it is further proof high-tech firms with international ambitions are flourishing outside of London.

Similarly ‘Silicon Glen’, Scotland’s £1bn software and electronic publishing sector is home to Amazon’s software development centre and Rockstar North, the developers of the billion dollar Grand Theft Auto series.

In terms of facilitating growth, infrastructure is hugely important – Britain’s northern cities will be much better placed when linked by high-speed rail networks. This will help areas that were formerly reliant on heavy industry to become heavyweights in the tech sector.

A nation of techies

From a business perspective, costs are of course an important factor when it comes to making a decision on location.

With programmers expensive to hire in Silicon Valley, we wanted to see if we could make a programming resource work in the UK, and Sheffield delivered in spades. With operational costs much lower than the capital, we were able to invest in our staff and were amazed by the abundance of talent on our doorstep. We had an application for a support position from someone who had a PhD in distributed computing. He is now running our development team.

When it came to choosing a location for our second software development centre we chose Belfast for what has proven to be a very successful base. For me, in a very real sense, British talent – and talent found far outside the M25 – underpins my firm’s growth.

It’s time the UK stopped being so provincial and recognised the talent it has across the country. It’s time for people to start realising the potential of our nationwide technology ability.

David Richards is CEO and co-founder of AIM-listed Big Data firm WANdisco.


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