Silicon Roundabout—or Tech City as the UK government recently labeled it—is swarming with tech startups, but does it have the same global clout as the Valley?
For decades Silicon Roundabout was only known for its ugly façade and terrible traffic congestion, but in recent years the area, based in trendy Shoreditch, has seen a huge and fast-growing development of tech startups. The term ‘Silicon Roundabout’ was first coined by Matt Biddulph in July 2008 when he created a Google map which plotted the first 15 tech startups in the area. Since then the neighborhood has continued to grow and is now home to an estimated 1,191 tech companies, according to Tech City Maps, including Google, which opened up a support center for startups in 2011.
In 2010, the UK government started to take a real interest in Silicon Roundabout. In a speech to tech business leaders in East London, Prime Minister David Cameron said:
“Right now, Silicon Valley is the leading place in the world for high-tech growth and innovation. But there’s no reason why it has to be so predominant.”
Cameron announced plans for a new Enterprise Visa to encourage those with great business ideas and serious levels of investment to set up business in the UK. He also pledged to review UK IP laws to ensure that they encouraged the creative innovation that exists in the U.S. With his speech came a geographical expansion of Tech City from Silicon Roundabout all the way to the Olympic Park some five miles away.
It’s clear that Silicon Roundabout is expanding rapidly and the presence of companies like Google in the area can only signal a real boost for the tech community. But can Silicon Roundabout really be compared to Silicon Valley? For one, London doesn’t have access to the same scale of investment available to companies based in San Francisco. One company, City Meets Tech, heads an initiative dedicated to getting the City of London banking community to invest in tech startups. As they state on their website:
“Silicon Roundabout is only ½ a mile away from Finsbury Square, but they are worlds apart and we’re hoping to bridge the gap.”
But it’s important not to lose sight of what London does have. The expansion in Silicon Roundabout is generating hundreds of new jobs and with it a thriving, creative community. It’s all about helping “to create the right framework, so it’s easier for new companies to start up, for venture capital firms to invest, for innovations to flourish, for businesses to grow,” said the prime minister. Quite right. With organizations like Techhub, a project which offers affordable office space for tech startups, Silicon Roundabout is an ideal location for new and exciting companies. Silicon Roundabout may never ‘rival’ Silicon Valley, but maybe this is a good thing. Perhaps Tech City should be looking to complement rather than compete with its San Francisco counterpart. Either way, these are exciting times for the tech community in the UK and it will be interesting to watch how the development of Silicon Roundabout shapes the future of technology.