Since the mid 1990s, I’ve worked on countless digital programmes and projects around the world and I have never seen the UK so alive with energy and innovation as it is right now. I left the UK for Germany in 2011 as an economic migrant attracted by their booming economy (outshining the gloom of the UK’s depression).
I returned about a year ago as it was evident things were switching around and remember being stunned at the turnaround and regrowth acheived in just three years. This currently shows no real signs of slowing down any time soon.
Earlier this year I joined Tech City UK* and feel privileged to be witnessing much of this transformation at very close quarters, both here in the Capital as well as across the whole of the UK
London’s niche hubs
When it comes to hubs of activity, in London we’re seeing Clerkenwell carve out a niche in advertising tech, Canary Wharf and the City for fintech, Notting Hill for fashion and e-commerce, Bermondsey for e-commerce and artificial intelligence, the makers movement in Haggerston, and an explosion of digital marketing and creative design expertise in Kentish Town.
Digital companies instinctively form tech hubs because they know it’s vital to realising growth potential. There can be a range of motivations but just being able to tap into a talent pool or big companies that might want to buy in to your services helps.
The same is true for the rest of the UK, as demonstrated when we launched Tech Nation earlier this year.
Regional cluster growth
Outside the Capital, we’re seeing rapid growth in Liverpool, Belfast, Greater Manchester, Bournemouth, Brighton & Hove, South Wales and Bristol & Bath. The rate at which these clusters are developing is staggering – take Bournemouth, where the number of new digital companies formed between 2010 and 2013 rose by 212%.
What’s clear is the extent to which digital excellence is dispersed across the country. We can no longer view it as the preserve of an East London postcode. It’s spreading to towns and cities the length and breadth of the country.
There’s no doubt that we are seeing a major attitudinal change in the UK. In the past entrepreneurship was viewed as a taboo. Today, it’s social standing has improved immeasurably. As this seismic shift in cultural attitudes takes place, it is the responsibility of educators at all levels to harness the zeitgeist and push the needle forward. We’ve developed a programme, the Digital Business Academy, which I’m the programme director for, to tackle this issue head on. Since November 2014, we’ve had thousands of people from across the UK – with diverse experiences and socioeconomic backgrounds – come through our free online courses. We also connect them to rewards from over forty partners.
Insatiable hunger for alternative learning
There is a insatiable hunger for alternative learning in this country. People are crying out for the practical skills they need to take their idea from inception to realisation. Many universities are taking great strides: UCL, Cambridge and Sheffield universities are embracing the culture of digital disruption to make their pedagogical approach as responsive to the needs and wants of the public as possible. But it must go further to ensure we stay competitive and our young people are given the platform to realise the potential of their entrepreneurial visions. We must democratise access and give people the tools, confidence and practical know-how in order to cultivate the next generation of digital disrupters.
Tech City UK
*At Tech City UK we believe the UK is the best place to start and grow a digital business and we aim to make life better for the digital entrepreneur. Through dedicated programmes, we support the digital technology sector’s need for skills, infrastructure, and investment. We gather and share vital information which informs policymakers. We give digital entrepreneurs a national and local voice. Our work accelerates the growth of digital businesses, in London and across the UK, at all stages of their development. You can see our work in action with Future Fifty, Digital Business Academy, Tech Nation, the Tech City UK Cluster Alliance and HQUK.