Last night I gave this short talk at the official launch of Cardiff Start at City Hall. Just putting it for posterity/reference/whatever.
The UK has the strongest internet economy in the world. As a percentage we spend more on ecommerce, internet infrastructure, and associated technology than anywhere else.
This internet economy contributes nearly 10% of the UK’s GDP, and as a percentage it has eclipsed construction, education and health. It is only 2 percentage points behind financial services.
It will grow to over 12% of GDP within the next 3 years, when it will account for 225 billion pounds of the overall UK economy. No other country on the planet can match this percentage.
Not America. Not South Korea. Not Japan.
And on top of all this it is changing lives. It is changing countries. It is changing political landscapes. Whether it’s finding a rare record from a dealer in Tokyo, or facilitating the Arab Spring, the internet has changed all of our lives. Can you imagine your day without Facebook or Youtube? How about Google?
And against a backdrop of this, digital and tech companies – those very companies that make it possible for this hugely important sector to grow at such a rate – still find it painfully difficult to get the unique support and advice they need, and often feel overlooked by government, banks, and investors.
I personally think it’s probably a bit unfair to expect the public sector to provide totally relevant business support for such a cutting edge industry. Things change so quickly, and public sector organisations are inherently burdened with red tape. They shouldn’t be expected to be up to date on whether the most important programming language is Ruby On Rails, Java or PHP. But they can help us lay a strong foundation for an economic growth powered by entrepreneurs. And this has been shown in hugely successful startup clusters around the world.
Boulder in Colorado is America’s unsung startup town, where a population much smaller than Cardiff has developed a startup scene so thriving, so throbbing with activity, that its tech startups have attracted over 100 million dollars of investment in the last few years alone. And one key to this has been TechStars, a startup accelerator co-founded by Brad Feld, a hugely successful venture capitalist. I’ve spoken to Brad, and he’s even written really positively about the work we’re doing here in South Wales, but that blog post was titled “Startup Communities are everywhere. Even Cardiff”. Sadly this just reflects the common external viewpoint that we are not at the cutting edge of entrepreneurship in Wales.
And whether we are or not could be argued either way, but what is clear is that we have an incredible opportunity to build a world-beating tech cluster here, that punches way above its weight. The fact is, we’re small, but potentially very powerful.
So, what are the common traits of these successful clusters?
Like Boulder, a city of under 100,000 people, we’re small and friendly. We have several world-class Higher Education institutions in our city churning out thousands of brilliant graduates each year. We’ve already had lots of talks with the University’s innovation and enterprise departments, who’ve been very helpful in helping us secure some funding, and we hope to do some exciting things with them in the future.
Also in Cardiff our quality of life is superb. The commute is never too long, and you can be on a beach or at the foot of a mountain by the time most people have commuted from Hackney to Shepherd’s Bush.
Our cost of living is relatively small. I’ve even been helping a Silicon Valley startup find offices and staff here because it just makes economic sense for them.
The successful clusters also have a community culture with a full calendar of events, something we and many others are contributing to already. We’ve got the WordPress Users Group, the Startup Social, and countless other opportunities in the city to meet, learn, exchange ideas and, of course, have a beer.
These clusters also have an open door policy. And I’ll say it now – if you want to roll up your sleeves and help Cardiff Start, then you’re welcome. To this end tonight we’re launching “Collective” a great new part of our website conceived and built by Gareth Rees that’s going to help everyone from seasoned entrepreneurs to students communicate and share knowledge more efficiently, and in a friendly, open way. You’ll find out more about it shortly.
However, there are challenges ahead.
1 in 5 under 25 year olds in UK is unemployed. But our sector, probably above any other, attracts young people. We must do more to create startups, which are the primary driver of job creation.
Also, we’ve found it difficult to find investors locally that are willing to take risks on business models that have only existed for a few years, and as a result have been forced to spend more time seeking investment in London.
Our community must do more to attract this investment. Money will always flow towards innovation, so it is our responsibility to be innovative, and shout loud about it when we do, if that’s what it takes to drag people down this end of the M4. And we must work harder to show local investors that there are millions to be made from code, in the same way there used to be from coal.
Across the world we have seen in these most successful places that the governments, councils, Universities provide a supportive environment, but fundamentally they let the entrepreneurs lead. And I’m proud to say that so far Cardiff Council have been nothing but a shining example of that kind of support. Amanda Morgan, Gareth Newell – thank you!
Two days ago I was in 10 Downing Street, where a group of people from all over the UK, all passionate about what technology can do for people and the economy, met to discuss the future. It was incredibly exciting to see the force of will coming from both the UK government, and clusters around the UK, to grow our country into an economic powerhouse built on digital success.
This is a movement that is going to happen, with or without us.
The council is currently drawing it’s ambitious 30 year plan, and the tech startup scene must be an integral part of that. I guarantee that there is right now a young man or woman in Cardiff, possibly in a student bedroom in Cathays, creating websites or apps, who could go on to create a piece of technology that could change the way everyone in this room lives, works or plays. But unless there is a culture in this city that makes them think that this is the place to build it, we will lose them to London, or Berlin, or San Francisco.
Let’s not let that happen. Let’s all stick our hands up and say “how can I help?”. Every person in this room can contribute to Cardiff’s exciting future.
We already have a tech startup community in Cardiff that is contributing millions of pounds to the local economy. Now is the time to harness it, support it, and make Cardiff a city that is recognised worldwide as a city of innovation, and one that is worth investing in.