The internet economy currently accounts for around 8.3 per cent of British GDP according to Boston Consulting Group’s latest study.
'The Connected World' survey suggests that not only is this a larger percentage than any other G20 nation, but this figure is expected to hit 12.4 per cent by 2016.We certainly can’t underestimate the significant role that London - and Tech City - is playing in these developments, but we have to recognise it’s the UK as a whole that will be key to hitting these 2016 projections.
London certainly is a heavyweight player. Last year, in Tech City alone, more than 15,000 startups launched, which is more than any other area in the country.
But it’s important to highlight that the tech industry has exploded all across the UK, and not just in London. In fact, the National Institute of Economic and Social Research's recent report told us that there are at least 270,000 digital companies across the country. Tech clusters can be found in cities all over the UK, including Bath, Brighton, Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, and Sheffield where startups are thriving and major companies are growing and investing.
Newcastle, for example, is building an ecosystem that’s very appealing to tech startups and investors. Sage, a software supplier to more than five million businesses across the world, was founded in Newcastle in the 80s, and still continues to call the city its home.
Exciting developments are also taking place in Sheffield. Emma Cheshire, programme director at dotforge, an initiative created to attract and nurture startups from around the world by providing them with pre-seed capital and mentorship, told me about Sheffield’s budding startup scene. She said this is supported not only by organisations such as dotforge, but the combined efforts of the startup clubs and University of Sheffield who have been delivering startup weekends which are now really gaining momentum.
Of the dotforge alumni from 2013, Delver has just finalised its first seed round from Kima Ventures and is currently working on Delve into CrunchBase, a natural language interface to CrunchBase data which will be launched very soon. Twile has also just recently relaunched its product - a platform to record and share family memories - after a small seed round.
A couple of later stage own-grown companies Emma was keen to highlight include Order Harmony - a SaaS wholesale management system - and Split the Bills, a company that has bootstrapped over the last two years growing through paying customers. We also have companies such as WANDisco who have chosen to have their UK base in Sheffield rather than London.
Brighton’s another shining example. The city’s tech scene really made people sit up and take notice around 2007 when search marketing agency, Spannerworks, was acquired by US digital agency iCrossing for more than £10m. There’s also the strong presence of companies such as Brandwatch and Dyn - DNS, email delivery and traffic management service provider - who set up shop in the city a not so long ago. Much like Twilio, Dyn has made the leap from the US, but instead of London, chose to make Brighton its UK home. This is a step that highlights a thriving tech industry across the nation. This buzz is also likely to pose an attractive option for startups who will recognise the opportunity of setting up home in a amongst a growing ecosystem - whilst perhaps also saving on the London costs of rent, staff, living; the list goes on.
Scotland has also been nurturing an evolving tech scene over the past few years - following SkyScanner’s move to Edinburgh in 2003. Since then, more and more startups have been cropping up across the country, contributing to a fast growing tech cluster. We’re now seeing a number of startup companies that are flourishing in Scotland, including FreeAgent, Miicard and the Float app.
London is a thriving tech hub which everyday sees some of the world’s best thinkers and do’ers come together and build incredible things that change the world. But we shouldn’t just give all the credit - or investment - to one area. Startups are popping up in tech hubs across the UK and and working together to grow and ensure the UK’s tech scene continues to thrive. What do you think; are the predictions for 2016 realistic? Is London the tech mecca or should we view the UK as one big tech hub?
James Parton is European director of Twilio.