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Five top UK tech startup clusters outside London

Caroline Baldwin

London’s Tech City and “Silicon Roundabout” has long been a contender in the global race for startups and technology innovation. But more recently, the government-backed organisation Tech City UK has moved towards promoting the entire UK, rather than just the Tech City in the capital.

But can tech startups exist outside of London? Tech City UK certainly seems to think so. CEO Gerard Grech told Computer Weekly: “London is obviously an international city, but I think there is so much else going on outside London.”

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Grech said it’s not just about London anymore. While some argue that startups cannot exist outside the capital, he believes the development of technology in the UK is dependent on connecting clusters of activity across the entire country.

He points to Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester and Newcastle as just a few of the clusters providing top tech talent and business in the UK. He also points to Cambridge as a cluster with a long standing history in technology, which has world class leading technology companies who employ thousands of people.

You can exist as a startup outside of London,” he said. “The evidence is right there.”

Last week Tech City UK hosted an event in London showcasing five of the top tech clusters around the UK. Each cluster represented their city in a five minute presentation, while two example startups then pitched for two minutes.

Here are five examples of UK tech startups from outside the UK:

1. Bristol and Bath

Recently highlighted by Mc Kinsey & Co as “globally significant” and “high growth”, Bristol and Bath’s high tech cluster is the only cluster to be included as such outside of London.

Only 12 miles apart, and boasting 1,100 tech companies, the two cities make a good partnership supporting technology startups in the area. The area is well connected and close to London.

Tech City UK Cluster Alliance

Tech City UK has created a network to align the nation’s digital hubs: The UK Cluster Alliance. The alliance aims to support and promote local digital hubs. Gerard Grech said the Tech City UK Cluster Alliance allows participants to share best practice and combine expertise.

Participating clusters:

  • Birmingham
  • Bristol/Bath
  • Cambridge
  • Cardiff
  • Liverpool
  • London
  • Manchester
  • Newcastle
  • Northern Ireland
  • Scotland
  • Sheffield/Leeds
  • Sunderland
  • Sussex

The area boasts Just Eat, Somo, Huawei and Kainos as companies that have set up offices in Bristol, or intend to in the near future. Meanwhile SETsqaured is the incubator in the area that has helped Bath raise £50m and Bristol £100m over the past five years. It also has its Bristol and Bath Science Park, which is the area’s latest addition to the networking ecosystem.

David Maher Roberts, creative and digital sector specialist at Invest Bristol & Bath, said: “The tech and creative sector in Bristol and Bath has an excellent reputation for being home to an innovative and experienced talent pool, as well as a startup-friendly environment.

“London is no longer the only place for tech and creative companies to grow and prosper; the Bristol and Bath region has established itself as a place where innovative ideas are constantly being turned into ground-breaking products and services.”

2. Cardiff

Cardiff Start launched early last year as a hub to help early stage start-up companies in Wales by connecting them with other like-minded individuals to "share knowledge", hopefully leading to investment opportunities.

The initiative was created from a small group of like-minded entrepreneurs who recognised a need for support in the region, one of which was co-founder Neil Cocker.

At the Tech City UK event, Cocker said Cardiff is joint-second with Nottingham for growth of GDP and is full of exciting companies.

As well as a good quality of life after being voted number one city in the UK, it is also a connected city. It takes only 90 minutes to get from Cardiff to Heathrow, while Google Maps told Cocker it would take him 1 hour 15 minutes to get from Heathrow to East London.

Second highest percentage of people employed in the creative industries thanks to Sherlock and Dr Who being filmed in the area, with Pinewood building a new studios nearby as well.

3. North East

David Dunn, CEO of Sunderland Software City said the North East is a great self-organising technology community that specialises in software, rather than hardware – with 1,400 software companies.

Dunn said the North East understands the skills issue, and has gone out of its way to create more coding clubs. There are now 3,000 coding club participants in the 55 code clubs in the area (up from three in the past six months).

Sunderland Software City is a publicly funded partnership organisation established to support the growth of the software industry in the North East of England. Dunn said: “We got involved with Tech City in order to provide a wider geographical scope to their offering. Equally, we want to leverage Tech City’s international reputation in order to bring opportunity to our area and for the companies we work with.”

One of the North East’s big success stories is Sage, which is still headquartered in Newcastle Upon Tyne. Meanwhile, HP, Accenture and most recently HMRC have expanded their digital and software functions in the region.

Dunn said the area, due to its specialties around software, has a huge opportunity to help grow the renewable energys market by providing software to figure out the vast amount of data that is currently being collected by internet of things (IoT) technologies.

Dunn said: “We need to perpetuate the story of the North East as fundamental part of the UK’s tech industry to local, national and international audiences. I would hope Tech City can continue to support us in the mission providing us all mutual benefit.”

4. Sheffield and Leeds

Sheffield and Leeds boasts a digital economy of £3.4bn per year.

Sheffield is marketed as the "maker city", while Leeds is the "data city", with a metropolitan population of 4.8 million people and 155,000 SMEs.

Additionally, while it is only two hours train away from London, the area’s cost of living is much lower, by 60%, and it also has 5,000,000 sq ft of grade B&C office stock available at around £10/sq ft.

The area has also seen 20 years’ worth of digital health development, with NHS England’s headquarters in Leeds, while the city is also home to the next up-and-coming financial services sector after London.

The area, like many of its neighbouring startup cities also boasts several accelerators and networking hubs for startups, with a dedicated internet of things (IoT) accelerator, as well as a social enterprise accelerator in Sheffield. Meanwhile, Leeds has an accelerator focused on medical technology, as well as financial services technology (FinTech).

5. Manchester

Technology has long been a part of Manchester’s history, with Baby, the first stored programme computer being created in the city.

With one of Europe’s largest city economies (£50bn), the newly formed Media City and its computing heritage, Manchester, is well placed in its ambitions to become one of the world’s top 20 digital cities by 2020.

Tim Newns, chief executive of MIDAS (Manchester’s Inward Investment Agency) said the city already has more than 100,000 people employed in its technology sector, as well as 6,000 technology-related businesses calling Manchester home. Meanwhile Manchester has access to 105,000 students that study in one of the four universities located in the city.

TechHub, Northern Quarter, MediaCityUK, South Manchester Corridor and The Corridor are all clusters within Manchester, while the city also has other support networks including the incubators The Landing, Sharp Project, Innospace and msp.


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