Seedcamp, Tech City, and why Cardiff isn’t so far behind

I’m sat on a train, steaming through the dark, wet English countryside back to Cardiff. We’ve just left the outskirts of London, where I’ve spent the day mentoring at the accelerator, Seedcamp. About 20 startup teams had been subjected to a week of intense development, criticism, coding, praise, and very little sleep. The 4th day of mentoring from entrepreneurs, experts, and innovators was the penultimate session before they were presented with their final challenge: a day of pitching to potential investors.

After listening to a speed pitch from each startup, us mentors were split into small teams, and circulated around as many startups as we could fit into a frenetic five hour period. We spent time with new companies doing everything from the super technical (bitcoin payment systems and video compression software), to more recognisable problems (web checkout form analytics and cashless payment in nightclubs).

The organisation by Seedcamp was fantastic, and they’d brought together some amazing startups. The critical mass of great people (both startup founders and mentors) with fantastic ideas all in one room was incredibly energising, and made me think about our own scene in Cardiff. And I ended up dwelling upon a few key differences that stood out between London and our own small capital.

First and foremost, all the startup founders I met believed they should be there. Even the very small number that arguably shouldn’t have been. I think too many of us, myself included, have fallen into the trap of believing that what we’re doing isn’t as good as the stuff being churned out in the bright lights of London. We assume that they’re more technically literate, have better ideas, and come up with ideas before we could. And that’s just not true in the vast majority of cases.

While it’s true that the general level of startup building skill (in business development terms) is higher in London, most of the basic theories and concepts they’re applying are things that can be taught in a day or so. With a mixture of these skills, the confidence to go for it, and the belief that they are the right person/team to bring that product to market, we’d very soon be seeing a lot more high growth tech startups coming out of South Wales. In conjunction with Cardiff Start, I’m personally making it a priority for the next 12 months to help startups in Cardiff gain these skills.

There are plenty of things other than skills and confidence that separate us, of course. Access to finance, and the opportunity and network effects that come with being in a huge cluster, for a start. But the upshot of this blog post is that there was nobody there with more talent, skill, ideas or heart than we have in Cardiff. In fact, there were one or two startups there that had great ideas, but weak execution and route to market. I can think of at least five Cardiff startups off the top of my head that would have more than held their own amongst the Seedcamp cohort and would be in with a great shout of attracting investment via such an accelerator, and therefore scaling quickly and helping put Cardiff on the map.

The previous day I’d had my quarterly meeting with the Tech City team, along with representatives of 10 or so other regional clusters, discussing how we can all contribute to the future of the UK as a global centre of excellence and economic strength in the world of tech. Most of the other regions are suffering the same pains as us, and we’re all going to have to find ways to compete in this hugely dynamic global market. And in so doing, we may have to accept that we’ll have to send some startups off to accelerators like Seedcamp and investment opportunities in other cities, where they will gain confidence and be exposed to greater opportunity. And then hopefully bring those skills and confidence back, and reinvest their time and money into the next generation of Cardiffian startups.

But the encouraging fact is that despite being much, much smaller than a super-cluster like London, Cardiff is really not that far behind at all.

p.s. My personal favourite startups on the day. Formisimo and Wodd. Both run by lovely guys with a clear vision, and great energy. Definitely ones to watch.

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