Is Silicon London a realistic possibility?

6th December 2011

There has been talk of as many as 200 high tech firms and perhaps 600 related ones basing themselves in the area, with even British Prime Minister David Cameron holding out hope for an East London technology revolution as BBC report shows.

But some are more cynical than others. For example, Gigaom's Bobby Johnson has a few issues with the figures used in a recent map encouraged by Tech City, the government body aiming to attract high tech investment to the area.

He writes: "I took a look through the list used for the Tech City Map and compared it against other publicly-available information and discovered that, contrary to the official line, only a tiny proportion of these hundreds of businesses were started in the area in the last year. In fact, most were several years old – and many stretched back to East London's emergence as dotcom hub back in the 1990s.

"Even more concerning was the fact that a significant number were not technology companies at all, including Fabric London, a world-renowned nightclub that opened its doors 12 years ago, and a number of fashion businesses based in and around the Brick Lane area. In addition there were a large number of architects, photo processing firms and film companies – few of which would be qualified as technology firms by any normal measure."

However even Johnson suggests that something is afoot, and suggests there may have been no need to exaggerate, Even he thinks something significant is going on in East London.

The sees one key difference is that London is now attracting talent from Silicon Valley itself.

Richard Florida writes: "London had one great limiting factor until recently. It was unable to hold onto its homegrown tech talent, never mind attract new talent. But this appears to be changing. Not only are expats like Crow returning, Americans are moving to London to join local start-ups, according to Crow. Six members of his 30-person team at Songkick are from the U.S. A survey of Shoreditch area start-ups identified "more than 50 entrepreneurs who have come to London from Silicon Valley. Part of the reason is that tech talent, like creative talent more broadly, actually prefer denser, urban living and all the amenities global cities have to offer."

Wired UK confirms the story here and it lists some of the highest profile defectors. One example from Wired is Michael Choupak. It writes that he "created the Microsoft Exchange provider Intermedia before moving to London in 2010 to found media software company Unison Technologies. He believes that there are more opportunities in the UK than the US because there is a larger pool of software developers to tap in Europe."

Indeed one of the Atlantic Cities arguments is that tech talent loves urban areas especially with the sort of cultural mix that London can provide.

However some of the Atlantic City website's commenters fiercely oppose the notion. For example, Dirk de Kok does not believe that London has the correct investment climate and this is despite the fact that Shoreditch is right beside the City of London supposedly the world's largest financial centre.

He writes: "How can you write a story like this and not mention the investment climate? How much seed money is available in London? How many angels are there to not only give money but also advise to startups? And by the way, San Francisco is also part of Silicon Valley, with not only small companies but also major companies like Twitter, Square and Zynga so I do not buy that urban argument."

But British politicians are proving more enthusiastic.

The Chancellor George Osborne announced £10m in new funding for an Open Data Institute in his Autumn statement which will be based in the area as Public reports here. It will contain information relating to healthcare, travel, weather forecasting and house prices and the website writes "will be among the first to be freed up in a move designed to create growth and jobs in UK industry".

Progress on Tech City – which was established in March, will be debated at Hackney Town Hall today at 10am as the Hackney Gazette reports here. 


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