Last week Her Majesty’s Ambassador to the United States of America Sir Peter Westmacott visited Tech City to see for himself the developments taking place in East London, and some of the companies flourishing in the area. Below, you can find his thoughts on Tech City and how it stacks up against other European clusters…
As Britain’s Ambassador to the United States, a big part of my job is to make sure that American businesses know what I know: that the UK is a great place to innovate and invest. Tech City helps me to make that case. As I saw for myself when I visited last Wednesday, it’s a fantastic British success story that is attracting all kinds of creative, high tech companies.
They are clustering here for a number of reasons. The area is well-connected to the world, in terms of both transportation and technology. It boasts ready access to the biggest concentration of venture capital firms in Europe, a highly educated workforce and one of the world’s most vibrant creative communities. And, as I saw on my trip, its mix of trendy warehouse and loft spaces, bars, coffee shops, restaurants, street markets and art galleries make for a hip and stimulating urban environment.
Take the case of San Francisco-based Yammer, founded in 2008. The enterprise social networking firm opened up in Shoreditch just last year with three employees. Today, over eighty people work in the trendy, Pop Art-inspired surroundings of Yammer’s gleaming new European headquarters on City Road. By the end of next year, they will have 150 working at the new office, which will also house a research and development centre which the company chose to place in London despite stiff competition from New York City amongst other potential sites. I loved touring Yammer’s premises, not least the popular ping pong room, which inspires creative ideas (and shots).
Plenty of other young and innovative companies from around the globe are choosing Tech City as a European hub. Like Yammer, many use mobile technology in creative ways. Last.fm, founded in Britain but now owned by CBS, blends internet radio and social networking. Eventbrite offers online event management software that was used by some UK government agencies to organise events around the Olympics. And Airbnb, an accommodation sharing app, allowed Londoners to rent out their digs temporarily to some of the 400,000 sports fans who descended on the city at Games time.
The Olympics themselves have been a huge boost to this previously neglected part of east London. As well as world-class sporting facilities, the Olympic Park and Village will provide some 11,000 homes, up to 8,000 jobs, and Europe’s largest creation of urban parkland in over 150 years. Investment in transportation and infrastructure has transformed what used to be one of the most poorly served parts of London into one of the best connected, with nine separate railway lines, including the new Javelin high-speed link to Europe. Many of the larger Tech City offices will be housed in re-purposed facilities on the Olympic Park site; and the media centre there will become a cutting edge, globally connected space, perfect for innovative businesses. Tech City is therefore itself one of the most valuable legacies of London 2012.
It’s not just smart individuals and nimble start-ups that are setting up shop here. Major US-based multinationals such as the chip-maker Intel and the networking company Cisco Systems, as well as household names like Google, Facebook and Twitter, are also moving in. All have correctly recognised the immense potential for growth Tech City represents.
Whether you are a global corporation or just one person with a laptop and a dream, the message is clear: Tech City is now the place to succeed in technology in Europe.