The battle for Britain’s next Tech City

Warren Buffett didn’t start his career on Wall Street. Unlike other financial magnates, he made his name in the unlikely city of Omaha.

With that in mind, there’s no reason that tech’s brightest entrepreneurs should flock to London’s tech bubble. Though it is still home to the biggest tech cluster in the nation, London is no longer the country’s only ‘tech city.’

Other cities have a lot to offer startups: lower rents, better scenery and simply not being in London are among the many reasons to set up shop elsewhere.

Late last year, Joanna Shields, then CEO of Tech City UK observed:

Tech is sweeping across Britain

Now, as the march of tech businesses continues across the country, bets are on for which city will produce the next big names in tech.


Newcastle Map

Newcastle’s narrow alleys and medieval architecture are a far cry from the skyscrapers of London. Its population is a humble 300,000 and a long way from London.

But therein lies its charm for young entrepreneurs. Creative types find themselves surrounded by opportunities in this former shipping town.

Home to the annual Thinking Digital conference – which draws some of the greatest innovators in the industry – Newcastle has a bold claim to the title of ‘next tech city.’

With a tightly-knit tech community, the city offers a friendly, well-connected community for tech businesses.

Graham Miller, from Made in Newcastle, a website at the centre of the Newcastle tech community writes that Newcastle’s strengths are in innovation.

If Newcastle is to thrive in the 21st century, Newcastle needs to get back to what it does best – making stuff.

Its thriving gaming scene has already produced big names like Reflections Ubisoft and Eutechnyx. Newcastle is also home to Sage, Europe’s only FTSE100 software company.

Startup culture is thriving here. With Ignite100, Europe’s first £1million accelerator and various VC funds for early-stage software projects, the city has a lot to offer fledgling businesses.

The Universities of Newcastle and Northumbria, both based in the city offer some of the best courses in video game design and computing.

Rents are a fraction of those in London, and with a large and digitally-talented postgraduate community, the city has no shortage of young talent and fresh ideas.

Plus, with its famous Geordie nightlife, as well as its festivals, fairs and music Newcastle always promises a good night out after a hard day’s work.

Companies to look out for

MatchChat: A student-made social network for football fans worldwide.

Money Saving Voucher Codes: Lists active voucher codes to help save on online shopping

65 hours: A timebank to pay for services with time rather than money.

Beatsuite: provides a wide selection of copyright-free production music.


Manchester MapManchester is home to the second-largest tech cluster in the UK after London, according to TechBritain.

Famous for being the birthplace of the industrial revolution, Manchester was also the cradle of technology in the UK.

Its heritage includes being the hometown of Alan Turing, father of modern technology and home to ‘The Baby,’ the world’s first programmable computer.

Manchester is still setting trends outside London. One of the first co-working spaces outside London was TechHub Manchester. Its co-founder, Doug Ward explains:

This place has an incredible entrepreneurial DNA.

Doug Ward

“We’re not London,” he says. “Humans aren’t made to live in dense locations. Here in Manchester, we have greenery; we have the countryside.”

Apart from friendly greetings instead of awkward silences on the bus, Manchester also offers lower set-up costs, competition for talent, a top 40 computer science department at Manchester University, and an international airport.

Ward also revealed that Manchester will soon be home to Platform. With four times the capacity of Google Campus, Platform will bring together startups, accelerators, a creative school, a huge event space and sleeping accommodation for entrepreneurs only.

He predicts that Manchester will produce the next big things in consumer and enterprise tech. With a growing scene and spaces such as TechHub, startups here are reaching new heights every day.

Its also home to world-class media at MediaCity UK, housing the BBC and ITV.

Companies to look out for

Wakelet: curation-tool for content from across the web

CapsuleCRM: business-friendly CRM

Fatsoma: the UK’s answer to Eventbrite

Moment.us: a brand-focused music platform and campaign tool


Birmingham Map

Birmingham is the UK’s second biggest city and currently home to over 6,000 tech firms.

Centred around Silicon Canal (Birmingham apparently has more canals than Venice), its tech industry delivers a whopping £768m to the local economy.

Simon Jenner, CEO & Co-Founder of Oxygen Accelerator, believes that Birmingham is just as successful a tech hub as cities like Berlin, but simply isn’t good at shouting about it.

Its proximity to London is a significant asset. A mere hour and twenty minute train ride separates Birmingham from London, allowing for easy access to the capital and all of its glorious offerings.

It is also cheap. Despite the relative proximity to London, the cost of living and the cost of running a company are a fraction of those companies and employees would find if they chose Silicon Roundabout instead of Birmingham’s canals.

Simon JennerJenner believes that is the lower cost of running a startup in Birmingham that is conducive to the success of so many of its companies:

What kills startups is running out of time. If you can give yourself an extra six months because you are running at lower costs, that can be the difference.

Jenner also thinks that the low costs that Birmingham’s startups incur are incredibly attractive to potential investors.

Testaments to its attraction to organisations, larger companies including ASOS and Virgin Media have adopted Birmingham as a base.

Companies to look out for

Hobzy: a content network built around hobbies and interests.

Droplet: a mobile money app that lets you load money onto your phone and send payments to anyone for free.

Whisk: platform that brings together online recipes with online grocery shopping.

Meducation: an educational network for medical professionals.


Bristol Map

It would be unjust to say that Bristol is emerging as a center for tech.

The city has a long standing tech community that has flourished organically from its long history of innovative companies across multiple sectors, such as engineering, publishing and the creative arts.

For years it has been host to well-established companies like HP, Toshiba, IBM, STMicroelectronics, and BAe.

More recently, incubators and techspaces have been opened up in Bristol, particularly around Temple Meads.

The city is home to a list of successful startups, many of whom feel that starting outside London was beneficial to their success.

Dan Madden, VP Marketing at Coull, believes that Bristol has given the company “a platform to flourish”. He puts this down “great access to talent, communal working spaces, angel investment”.

What many highlight above all else as an attraction to Bristol is the standard of living. Bristol is recognised as one of the best places to live in the UK. It’s an incredibly appealing place for entrepreneurs looking to bring their ideas to life.

Similarly to Birmingham, Bristol has relatively quick and easy rail links to London and has a huge student population, giving potential employers a large pool of raw talent to recruit from.

The University of Bristol, a cog in the production line of raw talent, also plays its own role in the tech scene.

The SETsquared incubator – of which the University of Bristol is a member – has been ranked by the University Business Incubator Index as joint best in Europe.

In 2013 alone SETsquared has helped companies within its incubator raise £34m in investment and saw the sale of one of its alumni businesses, Ubiquisys, to  Cisco for $310m. And more recently SetSquared has become a tenant at Engine Shed a major new space minutes away from a direct train link back to London

Companies to look out for

Brightpearl: cloud-based business management application that incorporates inventory, accounting, CRM, POS and ecommerce.

Triggertrap: develop apps and hardware to remotely trigger cameras using a smart phone

Hubbub: an education crowdfunding platform

Maplebird: develop very small flapping-wing UAVs

Blu Wireless: designs and licenses silicon IP for 60GHz and other mm wave applications

Additional reporting by Vidhi Doshi