DVLA partners with Tech Hub to launch Swansea startup incubator

The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency partners with startup incubator Tech Hub to launch a new digital work space in Swansea

The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) is partnering with startup incubator Tech Hub to launch a new digital workspace in Swansea.

The Tech Hub building will allow startups to work alongside some of the DVLA digital and technology team who are digitising public services – for instance, so people can view their driving licence online or register a personlised number plate.

Iain Patterson, director of technology at the DVLA, told Computer Weekly he hopes the initiative will connect the ecosystem of suppliers, government, universities and the wider Tech Hub network.

“From then on it’s a real bridge to make that linkage work, by putting projects into the Tech Hub to incubate and start them up,” said Patterson.

Tech Hub Swansea will launch this afternoon with speeches from government digital director Mike Bracken, DVLA CEO Oliver Morley as well as Tech Hub and university representatives. The building will have DVLA branding and will provide the organisation with 50 desks over its two-year sponsorship.

Patterson said these desks will be used by 50 DVLA employees at a time who will work on the early stages of transforming different public services, before bringing them back into the DVLA environment to scale. Tech Hub will also allow DVLA to offer placements and projects to undergraduates.

“There are a number of things to gain from these partnerships. First, we will regain our connection to technology and digital economy, which is vital for the lifeblood of any organisation – public or private,” Bracken told Computer Weekly prior to his opening speech.

“There’s a wealth of local knowledge, and the hub will tap into the entrepreneurial culture and skills prevalent in South Wales and wider area,” he added.

He said having a base and a network in Swansea will encourage shared technology culture, common standards and open application programming interfaces (APIs) that will allow the public and private sector to work together, rather than in isolation.

Tech City

The initiative is linked to Tech City and will be open to local startups and small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), who will have the chance to be mentored by DVLA employees.

“I’m a big fan of the Tech City environment,” said Patterson, who has had startups in the past. “That’s the right kind of environment for those organisations to thrive. And the DVLA and other government agencies should put more support into those environments, because we benefit from it.”

As we’re a key employer in the Swansea area, we want to support and it has some real synergies with what we want to do,” explained Patterson. “We want to encourage other businesses start to come and create a vibrant hub.”

“We also want to access locally based talent and want to grow our talent base in house as well,” he added.

Patterson said he would like to see UK SMEs in the hub, to invest in the local economy, but he would also like to see more Welsh SMEs using the space to grow because at the moment there are only three Welsh SMEs on the digital marketplace framework.

Tech Hub has a presence in London, as well as internationally in Bangalore, Berlin, Boston, Bucharest and Riga. Recently, Tech City launched a TechNorth initiative to support startups in the north of England, and Patterson said Tech Hub Swansea would have potential to grow further in Wales.

“My goal is that we share the environment and our learnings across government. We don’t want to be doing the same thing over and over,” said Patterson. “The other aspect we could start to share is our user experience laboratories,” he suggested. “Our population is nationwide not just Swansea, so how could we share that to get good demographics?”

Bracken commended the work the DVLA has achieved in service transformation, calling it a testament to what is going on in government. “It is a model for public service and I encourage all my colleagues to come to Swansea to see what’s happening.”

Bracken added that the partnership between DVLA and Tech Hub was part of a change in government approach that is happening all over the country. He noted HMRC working with different companies in Newcastle for the first time in a long time, as well as a big push by the DWP to use hubs in the North West corridor and particularly around Leeds.

“It is part of a wider national move to get companies into the public sector supply chain,” he said. “It’s not just an economic view, but it stimulates skills too.”

“The deeply annoying thing for me is that, in the UK, we’re really good at this stuff, and it’s annoying that for a long time we made it hard for our better people and companies to not take part in the public sector.”

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