Last week, a few of us on the Box platform team had a chance to go visit London's equivalent of Silicon Valley, more commonly known as Tech City. Tech City sits in East London, just south of the Olympic park, and grew out of the Silicon Roundabout, where some of the first tech companies in East London took up residence.
It was only a few years ago that those first few companies represented Tech City in its entirety. Since then, there has been explosive growth in the area, fueled by a host of factors ranging from the arrival of Silicon Valley's biggest tech companies to direct government support. We had the privilege learning about what drives Tech City from the folks who sit at the center of this community, and I'd love to share some of my thoughts on that with you.
One of the most unique factors helping Tech City grow is government support. The United Kingdom Tech and Investment organization (UKTI) is a department that helps UK businesses grow by helping them make the connections and get the support they need to work with overseas companies and expand internationally. UKTI actually has an office in San Francisco, and they were immensely helpful in connecting us with companies in Tech City before our trip.
Recently, UKTI spun off a smaller organization, the Tech City Investment Organization (TCIO), which helps spur investment, collaboration and community in Tech City. TCIO connects local entrepreneurs with all the people and resources they need to succeed, and it also holds a number of local events to help build a sense of community. During the Olympics, TCIO opened up a temporary event space called Hackney House in the heart of Tech City. During our trip, it was the venue for an event they dubbed the Startup Games, where about 70 startups got on stage to pitch their products to judges and one was crowned Best Startup in Tech City.
The Arrival of Silicon Valley Giants
Another interesting factor helping Tech City grow is the arrival of Silicon Valley's tech giants. Amazon and Facebook, for example, have both recently opened offices in London, and as these companies begin to plant roots in London, they'll bring awareness of the community and, more importantly, resources.
The best example of resources comes from Google, who not only opened space for their own use, but also created the four-story Google Campus, which is not a traditional Google office, but rather a center for the community. It houses London's best-known accelerator, SeedCamp, two co-working spaces, Central Working and TechHub, along with an event space available for use by the community.
Accelerators, Incubators and Coworking Spaces
These are all excellent examples of another driving force behind Tech City’s growth – the presence of community spaces that bring expertise and resources to early-stage startups. Coworking spaces like The Trampery are the most straightforward of these – large, open buildings that rent desks to startups on a monthly basis. This not only helps to make office space affordable for small groups, it also brings together many startups in one place, fostering a sense of community.
Accelerators and incubators go one step further, offering more organized programs to help startups progress both with regard to their product development and business model. Many accelerators also offer seed-stage funding as well as demo days – chances for member startups to show their products off to local investors. While SeedCamp is the best known accelerator in the area, many others are also seeing success and making names for themselves – Springboard and Oxygen Accelerator are a couple of examples, but new ones are sprouting up all the time. In a relatively new community, organizations like these help pool knowledge and foster collaboration, which will certainly drive growth in the long run.
With factors like these driving it, Tech City feels much like a startup itself – relatively early in its lifecycle, but seeing explosive growth, fueled by passionate people willing to work day and night. Getting the chance to meet with local entrepreneurs and community members has only increased our excitement about what’s happening in London, and we’ll definitely be back soon.