Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Interview with Andrew Humphries, UK's Tech City
Story by Travis Oberlander
(Editor's note: Los Angeles has always had strong ties to business in the UK, and the UK government has been very active in reaching out to Los Angeles technology firms in recent years. On the invitation of UK Trade and Investment, socalTECH Contributing Editor Travis Oberlander has traveled this week to London for us, to compare and contrast the efforts in the UK to establish their own technology center with our own efforts in Southern California.)
This week, entrepreneurs from all around the world have converged upon East London to attend the Tech City Entrepreneurs Festival. The festival is part of an ongoing initiative by the British government to encourage development and growth in the city's tech startup community. We caught up with Andrew Humphries, the Tech City Champion, to learn more about growth and ambitions of London's Tech City.
What is the Tech City Investment Organization?
Andrew Humphries: The Tech City Investment Organization or TCIO is the result of an initiative announced by David Cameron, the Prime Minister in November of 2010. He'd seen the development that was going on in Tech City, the organic growth of technology, digital and creative businesses that was happening in an area to the east of the City of London, stretching out to the Olympic Park. Basically realizing that, although there was an organic cluster growing, if the government could get involved and provide a level of support and encourage that growth, that we could actually develop that faster and encourage investment from overseas businesses and create more employment more quickly. So the TCIO was created to encourage that growth and publicize the opportunity.
What are some of the specific things that the TCIO has done to achieve its goals?
Andrew Humphries: There are four key things that we are doing. The first is the kind of thing that we're doing today at the Entrepreneurs Festival which is to encourage young, overseas and British businesses that Tech City is the place to live, work, start and grow their businesses. Second thing that we do is encourage large organizations, companies like Google, Intel and Facebook, to invest in Tech City. They may not put a development lab here or whatever it happens to be but, certainly, the kinds of nascent businesses that we're talking to need those kinds of businesses to partner with and to sell to and so we encourage those larger businesses to become involved. The third thing that we do is encourage finance. We're talking to angel investors, VCs and banks to make sure that there are finances available for the kinds of businesses that we're attracting so that they can scale and grow. Finally, the fourth thing that we're doing, is to encourage the skills that these kinds of businesses need in terms of development staff and young people learning the kinds of technologies that they need to learn. So we're working with the Universities, colleges and schools to make sure they're putting the right programs in place to develop the skills that will fuel the growth in the future.
What are some of the larger organizations that have invested in Tech City since the beginning of the initiative?
Andrew Humphries: There have been some really interesting successes. Google, for example, recently took over a seven-story building right in the heart of Tech City and they're turning that into an application developer space for partner operations to come in and actually work with Google to come up with the next generation of technologies that are going to fuel the development of the web. We're working with Intel to create developer garages around so that they can see the applications and technologies that are going to fuel their chip development. Additionally, Cisco and Facebook have made similar commitments in the area.
What would be some of the reasons and benefits that an American entrepreneur would get in locating in London?
Andrew Humphries: Firstly, let's just say that it's not right for everybody but, one of the really cool things about London and the UK, specifically, is that it gives you access to, not just Europe, but to the rest of the world. Britain has long been known as a multi-national trading nation. We have fantastic links to Asia, Australasia as well as the rest of Europe. Many companies set up here so that they can penetrate that massive market, actually left alone from the rest of the noise of Silicon Valley. You can grow your business here, especially if you've got a slightly disruptive technology. Trial it in a microcosm, tweak and change it to make sure there is product-market fit, roll it out into multiple languages and then hit the United States from a growth base so you don't need to worry about scalability. Actually, the UK is one of the best places in the world to support and international business because of the time zone capability. An office here, in the UK, can support the West Coast of the United States in the evening and Australasia in the morning. It actually makes it a very cool place to provide technical support for a company.
Where do you see Tech City going in the next five years?
Andrew Humphries: Everybody keeps talking about Tech City as a competitor to Silicon Valley and I've got to say that, although we're growing and it's very exciting, Silicon Valley will always be Silicon Valley. What I do definitely see is a correlation between the Tech City cluster and what's going on in New York City. So what I really do believe is that London's Tech City, especially over the coming years with the investment that we're putting in around the Olympics, will allow us to rival New York City as a place for startups to come develop their environment, get the investment that they need and scale internationally. That's where I see the future of Tech City.
Thanks for your time!