Old Street roundabout is being touted by the Government as the UK's answer to Silicon Valley, but it seems our best innovations are coming from all over the UK
An unremarkable looking patch of Shoreditch is being lauded as the Silicon Valley of the UK. While California has its valley, East London has Old Street roundabout.
Prime Minister David Cameron has expressed a desire to make Silicon Roundabout ‘one of the world’s great technology centres’. We asked some of the UK’s most promising technology start-ups for their thoughts on the current state of UK technology and innovation.
The British abroad
We recently went to Barcelona to cover Mobile World Congress – a show about mobile phones, tablets and apps. Among the 1,400 exhibitors were 150 British names making an impression.
UK Trade and Investment was there to highlight some of the most promising UK mobile start-ups, with an exhibition stand dedicated to the best of British. The Government agency works with UK businesses to help them develop overseas as well as encouraging investment back into the UK. And that’s exactly why it was in Barcelona.
Jessica Butcher, founding director of mobile marketing company Blippar is bullish about the industry.
“We’re British and proud, we’re a UK team of people – the technology is our own and it’s come from us. All the innovation in this space is coming out of the UK and Europe, it isn’t happening in Asia or on the US West Coast.”
Blippar, which launched last summer, specialises in augmented reality in advertising. The company already has an impressive client list, from Cadbury Kraft to Tesco, Heinz, Waitrose and Nike and more besides. Now the company is growing and taking on more staff, but this growth poses problems.
“The one thing the UK is letting us down a bit with is talent on the tech side. There are a lot of marketing brains, but less so developers in what is a very new space.
“It isn’t a career choice that has been promoted in education – a lot of the best programmers are self taught. While that initiative is great for start-ups, we need it to have been taught and advocated from authorities.”
Innovate and educate
Dr Stephen Coulson has had different experiences. The Durham University graduate invented his liquid-repellent technology while studying for a PhD. Originally developed as a project to create protective clothing for the Ministry of Defence, the technology is now at the centre of a company called P2i and is being used on the latest Motorola smartphones and tablet PCs.
“The second we set up P2i we started to look at where the technology can add value and in which markets the technology could become a sustainable business. We identified five areas and we’ve now got customers in all of them.”
Dr Coulson says innovation and business success should be strengths of the UK technology industry if we are to retain people in this country after they graduate.
“I think that links with the industry and knowing how you can apply your knowledge to something that will generate cash in the future is very important. I had that during university; companies would come and talk about chemistry in the context of an industry we knew nothing about.
For Dr Coulson, university was a place to create an idea and then take it into the real world where it has been very successful. Aside from Motorola, a number of companies are interested in P2i’s innovative, patented technology.
“As long as people are constantly relating course material to the real world, then it should become a success. There’s certainly a pool of talent out there.”
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