Last week TechCity UK, the organisation set up by UK government to promote the tech and digital economy, released TechNation, a report about how the tech clusters around the country are performing and how they relate to each other. This detailed analysis, produced in conjunction with the company data startup DueDil, was intended to inspire our next generation of tech entrepreneurs and demonstrate how the UK is not just about London alone. I must admit to being surprised at the figure that we employed over 28,000 in the digital industries in our beautiful, brilliant part of the world.
I’d encourage you to download the report, and check out the South Wales pages. It makes for fascinating reading. The key stats about the South Wales cluster (inc. Cardiff and Swansea) have some very positive things to say, so I’ve highlighted them below.
FACT: Firstly, from 2010 to 2013 the growth of digital companies in South Wales was 87%. This high growth, albeit from a low base, puts us in the top five fastest growing clusters in the UK.
WHAT’S NEXT: While much of this growth can probably be linked to the strong population growth of the region, and the country-wide movement towards digital, we have no doubt seen benefits from a much-improved community supported by several organisations and hubs (of which more shortly).
FACT: The three areas highlighted as strengths of our area are health tech, data management, and eCommerce.
WHAT’S NEXT: While data management and and eCommerce offer great opportunities for our region (and no doubt the presence of the DVLA and their open working practices, and Companies House etc have had an impact on us being a “data hub”), there is a great opportunity in health tech, and associated sports tech. How many other UK cities can you mention that have a Premiership standard football ground, World Cup rugby stadium, Ashes cricket ground, a Ryder Cup golf course 10 minutes out of the city, and very easy access to seas and mountains. Surely there can’t be many better places in the world to build the next Hawkeye or RunKeeper. The PR benefits of positioning Cardiff as the sports and health tech capital of the UK would be incredible, and with Sport Wales trying to create a “sportopia” in our country, and Cardiff being the second biggest spender on health and fitness apps. On top of that, we have the multi-million pound Life Sciences Hub, and the brilliant startup Nudjed.
FACT: Access to private finance is an issue. South Wales performs relatively poorly in the Tech Nation report on this front.
WHAT’S NEXT: Depending on who you speak to, you’ll get a different answer about how much of an issue it is, and what type of level or amount of funding is the problem. The message that I seem to hear most is that getting angel or seed funding isn’t that much of an issue. If you’re good enough, you’ll find ways to find the cash, or the cash will find you. It’s the very early stage, but not risk-averse, that seems to be the real problem. How do we get young or first-time entrepreneurs onto “the ladder” so they can validate their idea and learn the ropes? The Digital Development Fund is a great initiative from Welsh Government, and there are a few other small funds. But broadly speaking they require a disproportionate amount of time and effort if we’re talking about validating ideas. The point of startups is that sometimes we don’t know what the business model is yet. We identify a means of solving a problem, and then identify revenue streams as we go along. Neither Google or Facebook, as two huge examples, had a “business” when they started. They had an idea, and they built their parachute on the way down. We need to find ways of funding our brightest and best with small amounts (under £50,000?) without them having to jump through huge hoops of red tape, and proving things they can’t possibly know just yet. It needs to be administrated by people who have a deep understanding of the needs of tech startups, and what makes them most likely to succeed or fail.
FACT: South Wales is good for social networks. Not Twitter and Facebook, but actual physical networks of real-life human beings.
WHAT’S NEXT: We should be proud that South Wales is a friendly place, where people know each other and don’t feel excluded. I think the works of Swansea Start, Welsh ICE, Tech Hub Swansea, FoundersHub, Indycube and Cardiff Start all deserve a pat on the back for the work they’ve done in bringing these communities together. We should throw our support behind them, whether that’s attending their events, or recommending them to friends. Swansea, Newport and Cardiff shouldn’t be thinking about how they can outstrip each other, but how we can compete with the likes of Glasgow, Frankfurt and Boulder.
It’s clear we have a lot to be proud of, but also a lot of work to do. It seems like a long time ago that I wrote this post about what we could do to improve the Cardiff startup scene. It seems to have grown and matured significantly in the three years since I wrote it. Some of the growth has been organic, because the sector is growing anyway. And some of it is because Cardiff is growing phenomenally rapidly. But a lot of it is because of these great communities that are driving a sense of pride and community in the startups we’re building.
Long may this fantastic growth continue.
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Thanks to Gareth Jones for proof-reading this and his useful thoughts before I clicked “Publish”.