The 2013/07/12 at 07:45
Stéphanie Salti, in London
London is pulling out all the stops in the digital sector. At a time when the British capital’s position is weakening in the banking sphere, the government is setting out to make London a leader in the global technological sector. The Tech City adventure started in November 2010: this was when Prime Minister David Cameron and the Mayor of London Boris Johnson launched the Tech City initiative with the aim of supporting the growth of digital enterprises in East London. At the time of the launch, this young trendy London district gathered 200 digital companies. Today there are 2,300 of them (source: UK Trade & Investment).
In the meantime, the government has extended its unwavering support to the project: the government announced an investment of 50 million pounds last year to revamp this district known as Silicon Roundabout, a name alluding to its big American sister Silicon Valley. In all, over ten billion pounds are said to have been invested in this district. International companies such as Cisco, Amazon and Intel have opened their offices there. Joining them are investors (Accel, Passion Capital and Index Ventures), accelerators (such as Techstars and The Bakery London) and numerous start-ups in the domains of online finance, fashion or IT. Google has even set up a campus there, separate from its offices. “Google started in a garage and Campus is providing a much better garage,” jokes Eze Vidra, Head of Campus London.
Launched just one year ago on Bonhill Street, Campus London is a place where entrepreneurs from all horizons can meet and learn. A genuine start-up aggregator, this multi-storeyed building offers an exchange platform for young buds wishing to find out about the steps needed to set up their own business. “Entrepreneurs come here to follow through their projects and to make a name for themselves,” explains Eze Vidra. In the lobby stands a confessional booth where entrepreneurs wishing to be filmed have 60 seconds to introduce themselves. No need to think too hard: a list of onscreen questions will help inspire them. “Anyone can come and register at Campus London,” continues the Head. “It’s a space that is open to mentors as well as to journalists or capital risk-takers.”
Entrepreneurs can also meet at the basement café in the well-known Central Working, a hive of intellectual culture opening out onto greenery. “It’s here that you may have the chance and luck to meet your future partner,” explains Eze Vidra.
For two months now, the campus has also introduced a series of educational seminars in which Google managers or personalities from the business world are invited to give advice to young entrepreneurs on topics as varied as product management, press relations or recruitment. Another element of the campus’ attractiveness for young entrepreneurs lies in the fact that all the services are entirely free of charge: in all, over one thousand start-ups have received some form of aid from Campus London in the past year. So what’s in it for Google? “Google is not acquainted with the start-ups that evolve on the campus and the company’s recruiters are only authorised to come in the capacity of helping these start-ups to develop,” assures Eze Vidra. “For Google, the interest of this platform is really to promote a good network of start-ups. It’s positive both for these companies and for Google.”
A few young French expatriates have found it to be a sound launching pad.
One of them is Dan Cohen, on the brink of launching a wine sales web site in the next few weeks, www.bemywine.co.uk: “It’s an incredible accelerator,” emphasises the young entrepreneur, present on the campus for a little more than a month. “We have already started to find funds from capital-risk takers.” His enthusiasm is shared by Guillaume Santacruz, a former Parisian corporate banker who has changed direction to deal with the booking of workspaces via the platform Venue Scanner. Present for the last four months at Campus London, the entrepreneur crossed the English Channel because “English opens up significant markets such as the Commonwealth or the United States”.
Once their companies have been launched, these young entrepreneurs will be able to remain within TechCity by moving only a few hundred metres away to White Bear Yard, an incubator in the fashionable district of Clerkenwell. A common workspace for young start-ups with 3 to 10 employees, the site notably welcomes Mendeley, a company that edits a reference management software dedicated to managing and sharing of research. Founded in November 2007, the company was taken over in April this year by the scientific publishing giant Elsevier for an estimated sum of roughly 45 million dollars. According to Victor Henning, Co-founder and VP Strategy of Mendeley, the decision to settle in London in 2010 after he obtained his doctorate at the University of Weimar in Germany was an obvious next step.
“In a university research context, English remains absolutely indispensable and the White Bear Yard site is also close to the head offices of the big publishing houses.” Tech City can also boast of a number of specific advantages compared with Silicon Valley. “While London investors focus a great deal on a company’s balance sheets and business plan, our meetings with investors in San Francisco centred much more on the interface of our web site,” explains James Gill, Founder and CEO of GoSquared, a company specialised in real-time surveillance and analysis of Internet sites, also located at White Bear Yard. He goes on to say that “company valuations are twice or three times greater in Silicon Valley than in London, but product development is also much more expensive”.
The advantages of the London digital platform are gaining ground. Yet the developers of Tech City do not intend to rest on their laurels. The next step is to reproduce this technological hub model in other English cities.