As first published in the October issue of Cardiff Life:
A few months ago I had a brief exchange of tweets with Roxanne Varza, a startup journalist for TechCrunch, who has spent a lot of time in Silicon Valley and London’s own startup district, Silicon Roundabout.
One of the first tweets I received on telling her what I, and Cardiff Start, were doing was: “WOW, there are startups in Cardiff ?! Consider me impressed”. I gave her a brief summary of what was happening, but couldn’t help but be a bit dumbfounded that someone thought there was effectively zero startup activity here.
When I contacted Brad Feld, one of the world’s leading experts on startup communities, and told him about what was happening here, he kindly wrote a blog post about it entitled “Startup Communities Are Everywhere – Even Cardiff”. Again, highlighting the fact that people are surprised to hear that the capital of Wales has any startups at all.
As I spoke about last month, Wales sometimes isn’t great at shouting about its achievements, and we clearly have some way to go to convince the rest of the world that this is an ideal city in which to create, or invest in, a startup. But for people to think that there is *zero* startup activity here means we have a mountain to climb.
Maybe it’s unfair to expect people who live in different countries to understand the extent of the startup activity here. So what’s the opinion of those who’ve had some, but not extensive, contact with the city?
A few months ago Shaun Gibson and Doug Ward, founders of TechBritain.com, came from Manchester to interview a few people here in an attempt to improve their understanding of the city, and to add to their mapping of Britain’s startups. I dropped them a line to ask what they thought.
“This was my first time to Cardiff and I must say that I was hit with the city’s surrounding beauty”, said Doug. “Beforehand, I was aware of the student population and that there was a very respectable University. But with regards to technology, it did not stand out as the place in the UK that came to mind as a thriving hub”.
Shaun added: “We tend to work from a bottom up perspective when looking at an ecosystem but Cardiff proved to be quite a challenge due to a low number of local meetups, proximity to Bristol which has a strong startup community, and what seemed to be a lack of physical gravitation for startups in Cardiff besides Indycube”.
I’ll publish Shaun and Doug’s full comments on CardiffStart.com (edit: I’ve added them to the bottom of this post, below the interview), but they both highlighted the low level of visible startup activity (e.g. meetups, physical hubs) and the proximity to Bristol, as potential barriers to Cardiff becoming recognised as a startup hub. But they also mentioned the huge promise the city shows. Regardless, we still have work to do!
Another 60-second interview with a Cardiff Startup
Hello. Please introduce yourself!
Hi, I’m Kevin Moss co-founder of make&see. I moved from London to Cardiff seven years ago after selling my digital marketing company to WPP.
So, what does your startup do?
We make and R&D digital experience, products and stories that fuse the digital and physical world. This is often utilising AR technologies.
What makes your startup special?
We’re craftsman. We really understand our art. We have a unique understanding of digital and the skills/experience to make cutting edge ideas tangible.
What was the genesis? The eureka moment that made you realise you had to build this company?
People. I found the people I wanted to collaborate with and realised we would create something very different – I didn’t know what that would be at the time!
And where are you at right now?
We have just finished a major Olympic installation; using an AR technology we’ve developed call ‘Shadow Runner’. We’re developing projects from major TV shows to Premiership Football Club experiences.
What’s the key to your growth? In other words, if someone could wave a magic wand, what would you want them to do for your business?
Balancing our R&D work with paid-for client work and staying focused! Concentrating on selling our licensable products is key to that balance. Though you’ve now tempted me to develop that magic wand! See, focus, focus!
Where would you like your company to be in 5 years time?
I mean this honestly, I never think that far ahead. Tech moves too fast, it seems pointless to us. I can say we will be making things, things that will make you go ‘WOW’.
Where can we find out more?
Makeandsee.com – eventually!
Unedited notes from Shaun and Doug of TechBritain
“Before starting the initial tour when attempting to work out what should be the first round of startup communities we should aim to cover, what stood out in relation to Cardiff was Startup Digest and in that regard you. It was Startup Digest that brought Cardiff to our attention and convinced us it was a community needing inclusion on the initial tour.
Prior to visiting Cardiff when attempting to get to grips with the size as shape of Cardiff’s startup ecosystem it was again yourself and your work to promote Cardiff that proved to be point of entry as we tend to work from a bottom up perspective when looking at an ecosystem but it Cardiff proved to be quite a challenge due to a low number of local meetups, proximity to Bristol which has a strong startup community and what seemed to be a lack of pHysical gravitation for Startups in Cardiff besides IndyCube.
Again it was through the work you’d done to build a list of local Startups on line via Google Docs and the terrific asset to Cardiff’s community that is the Cardiff Startup Group (please add name change) on Facebook that really helped give us our bearings.
Having visited Cardiff it was terrific to discover it has some great local startups such as DizzyJam, Graduly and Applingua flying The flag. Also hear from and meet with passionate local founders such as yourself Alex and Rob left me with a real sense of promise for where it could all go.
What I would say and this is Just an observation but the fact that in order to eligible for certain government support you needed to have your startup based well out on the outskirts sounds like it could be a double edged sword in terms of stimulating Cardiff’s startup community. It was good to hear however that they are speaking with you and have shown a real willingness to listen. Cardiff’s proximity to Bristol will also prove to be a challenge as well as an advantage. Cardiff could do with not only more developer meetups but general mixers such as TechMeetup or an equivalent of BathSpark.
On a final point a central hub to complement IndyCube would prove advantageous.
Hope this helps”.
This was my first time to Cardiff and I must say that I was hit with the cities surrounding beauty, beforehand, I was aware of the cities student population being of a very notable size and that there was a very respectable University but with regards to technology, it did not stand out as the place in the UK or somewhere that came to mind as what I’d describe as a thriving technology hub.
What stood out for me- Having first spoken with Neil who is familiar with the successes such as Boulder, Colorado in the U.S which has thrived from only a relatively small population and does have similar beauty. I found it to be refreshing to hear such global thinking from someone in the community who clearly understood the dynamics to tech communities growth.
Overall in looking at the components needed for a thriving tech community, my outsider perspective would be to currently label Cardiff a small tech hub/cluster and although I feel they have a potential lightning bolt in Neil which is very important to kickstart what is needed in order for Cardiff to grow, Cardiff will need more organic tech community events as is present such as meetups, hackathons and the like. Provided this activity has a spotlight on it, which the local council can be ensuring, from this foundation not only should there be less brain drain given more notable community activity which inspires but then as a community, Cardiff should then push itself to travel as an organic tech community to other tech clusters across the UK. This would only lead to great things such as talent considering to move to Cardiff and potentially more companies formed with Cardiff co-founders with there counterparts spread across the UK. Travelling to respective tech clusters is something we as Brits must push each other to travel the UK more.
My two cents!”