Tech City: Hype or Hope?

TechCity

I’ve always been very interested in Technology, and this interest was piqued when I was able to go on an ‘Entrepreneurial Thinking’ course at General Assembly in New York. What really impressed me was the community atmosphere that they had engendered in their ‘space’ in New York, and the stories from the entrepreneurs themselves who had made a success of themselves (due in part to the connections and support that they’d gained from that ‘incubator’ community of start-ups).

Of course, their success stories seemed to always make it sound easier than I’m sure it was to get started. Often, when you hear the elevator pitch of their ‘product/service’, your reaction is… “can that really be a product??” An example being an app that allowed young girls to ask advice about their boyfriends by uploading snapshots of their text messages for comment and debate. It seemed to me that the enterpreneur involved had made more money from her story of the startup in TV and magazines, than from the actual app itself!

Returning to London, I went along to the General Assembly here and – though their space was not as impressive, and the list of training/courses available not as extensive – there was the same atmosphere of creativity/optimism and opportunity that I’d seen in New York.

Of course since then I’ve done my research and caught up on the whole Silicon Roundabout/Tech City scene that is starting up in and around Old Street and Shoreditch – to get up to speed read this brief history by TechCrunch’s Mike Butcher. I even went along to a GigaOM-sponsored PubSummit and met a few of the London-based entrepreneurs that are trying to get their ideas off the ground. Again, I met a founder of an app called Inkly is like Moonpig e-cards but with the ability to upload hand-written text. I also heard about What3Words, an app that allows you to pinpoint exactly where you’d like to meet.

Many of the pundits raving about London describe it as embodying the ‘best of all cities’ – citing a well-established financial sector, arts sector, and media/advertising sector which I’m sure pleases the Tech City Investment Organisation to hear. However, scratch the surface and it seems that most of the startups based here are lacking available funds to really grow into something that might truly challenge the sort of companies originating from the more-developed Silicon Valley scene. I also wonder if these startups have really been able to engage with the more established sectors in this city, to mutual benefit.

Overall, I’m glad that there is this new focus on London as a technology hub for start-ups and entrepreneurs, and pleased that the government is taking an interest and investing for the future (though the funds to redevelop Old Street roundabout and create another Google Campus could perhaps be spent on helping fund the startups themselves). Let’s hope all this hype really pays off – I’m really interested to see what can be created by the emerging companies involved.

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