In 2008 one of the least appealing junctions in London transformed itself simply by dint of acquiring a new name. For those living in London 20 years ago crossing over Old Street roundabout meant (depending on your direction of travel) entering the City of London or leaving central London. One tweet changed this and an ugly duckling mutated through the use of technology into a slightly less ugly duckling.
In July 2008 Matt Biddulph was running a startup called Dopplr when he realised that a trend was emerging around Old Street. As a result he tweeted:
‘”Silicon Roundabout”: the ever-growing community of fun startups in London’s Old Street area’
This light-hearted tweet was picked up by the press and the name has stuck ever since. However, when the Government became aware of the growth of this area it decided that public recognition of this phenomenon might help the area develop and grow. Talk of competing with Silicon Valley may have been a tad optimistic, but in the years after the financial crash some positive news was always going to be relished.
In November 2010 David Cameron was at a networking lunch in the Truman Brewery in Brick Lane where he pledged to transform London’s East End into a world-beating technology hub. This pledge was backed up with £200 million of Government funding and the concept was to create a zone from Shoreditch to the Olympic Park. A new name also emerged – Tech City.
Ever since people in the tech start-up community have debated whether or not Government involvement of this kind can genuinely impact on a section of the economic community that is fundamentally led by entrepreneurs.
Nonetheless, it was always going to be critical that the Olympic Games of 2012 led to a lasting legacy and there has been continuous development in the Olympic Park for the last six years. In 2013 the Here East project was announced, and the plan was to turn the Olympic broadcast and press centres into spaces for tech companies, universities, creatives and startups. The innovation centre in this project is called Plexal and was developed by technology consultancy firm Entiq and British property developer Delancey, who bought the Olympic Village with the Qatari ruling family in 2011.
Plexal offers a range of business support services, including accelerator and innovation programmes, rapid prototyping, entrepreneur training, professional services and a suite of personal development programmes. This is without question an exciting co-working space that can offer real value for new and growing companies.
Tech City UK, set up by the Government in 2010 to foster the tech scene in East London, now covers the whole country. Hopefully this is good news but what is undeniable is that as rents soar in the Silicon roundabout area, startups will have to look for other areas that offer more affordable prices. Right now, that might mean locating at centres like Plexal which is a few miles east of Shoreditch. As for the Silicon roundabout area there is technology there but increasingly it is the bigger corporates setting up shop. For the risk-takers trying to build new companies they are more likely to look for other, cheaper zones of London but maybe one day Shoreditch will stretch out to the Olympic Park. Whether or not that can be influenced by Government policy is very much open to debate.
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