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Birmingham’s tech scene – Q&A with Oxygen’s Simon Jenner

There has been a lot of talk about tech clusters outside London recently.

Last week, a report commissioned by Lord Sainsbury highlighted the growth of tech clusters all over the UK, including Silicon Glen in Scotland and the tech hub in Bristol and Bath.

Birmingham’s tech scene has started making waves as well with a full scale advertising takeover of Old Street station in the last few weeks.

Simon JennerBack in February, we examined the “Battle for Britain’s next Tech City” and Simon Jenner, CEO of the Oxygen Accelerator in Birmingham, explained he thought the city was just as successful a tech hub as cities like Berlin, but simply isn’t good at shouting about it.

Oxygen moved to Google Campus for their most recent cohort and are now back in Birmingham setting up for the next one.

We caught up with Simon to find out what makes Birmingham tick.

You are currently dealing with your fourth intake at Oxygen. How is it going?

Yes, we are. This one was a Sirius (UKTI) intake. We have just finished our 13-weeks programme and demo day is scheduled after the summer on Sept 18th.

The intake has been good – we have some great wearable startups who I am sure are going to do great things.

You moved to London for the last round, what was that like?

We were kindly hosted in Google campus for our 13-weeks. It wasn’t a huge change for us because many of our investors & mentors were always London based and we had held mentoring sessions and investor days in London anyway.

The big pro of being in London was serendipity where we just had a mentor or investor say ‘Can I pop in because I am around?’ or we bumped into someone in a coffee shop around Old Street.

The cons were the cost of living for the startups. Our money doesn’t go far when you live in London and secondly I felt that the teams didn’t bond as well because there was less reliance on each other as they had a bigger ecosystem around them that they wanted to access. That’s probably a pro & a con.

Why did you move back?

We always planned to move back, our plan was to start two programmes a year from 2014 so we will be back in London for our next programme (Oct – Dec, applications open now) then flip flop between the Greater Birmingham & London ecosystems. That’s a great way of getting the best out of two different but equally as good ecosystems.

How do you think Birmingham wants to set itself apart from London?

London is the clear leader in Europe as startup ecosystems go but Birmingham is often overlooked. It has a strong tech startup eco-system called Silicon Canal (Birmingham has more canals than Venice) which is producing some world beating startups.

The unsexy fact is that if you base yourself in Birmingham your burn rate will be less and your runway will be longer. Your ability to hire talent will be greater you are therefore at a competitive advantage over your London counterparts.

We have had many mature startups like ASOS re-locate to the city for exactly these reasons.

What companies from the area should everyone be on the lookout for?

Ones to watch are

Cambridge has a big tech history but doesn’t get as much attention as both Birmingham and London. Why do you think that is?

Cambridge has lots of large established tech companies but appears to have produced little in the way of spinouts or new startups.

I think it lacks that early stage startup ecosystem that supports and encourages individuals to do their own thing. Old-style universities have been very slow to catch on to enterprise and entrepreneurship training for students.

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