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London Calling? What does Oxygen’s move signal for ‘Tech Britain’?


Is Birmingham’s loss London’s gain?

With the news that Oxygen are to re-locate their accelerator programme from Birmingham to London, some have asked where this leaves the development of startup hubs outside the capital.

Is the gravitational pull of London so great that inevitably programmes and startups will look to locate here, or are there still opportunities for regional centres to establish, grow and prosper?

London’s march forward

The continued growth of London is inevitable; my sense is that we’re at a major tipping point before we start truly competing with the US, primarily seeing some home-grown break-out successes that act as inspirations, benchmarks, affirmations and role models for other founders and investors.

Yet, I also believe that regional hubs across the UK CAN co-exist as long as the conditions are right, communities form, the champions come forward, and all those with a vested interest collaborate and move in a unified direction.

Coming soon to London…

How much of Oxygen’s decision was about the lure of London versus the conditions in Birmingham itself to support a startup accelerator?

Is there a strong-enough native tech community? Was there access to the right mix of talent? Did they receive support from local and national government? Did investors support their vision? Was the timing right?

Historically, the criticism has been that too much attention and focus, especially from central government, has been directed to East London to the detriment of the national picture.

Yet recent noises from the likes of Joanna Shields and TCIO have changed somewhat: share the learnings and share the love.

London is the epicentre but it still needs access to talent and innovation that can be gained from outside. Equally, it’s important for regional founders and institutions to tap into the London community for collaboration, business development, and access to investment and resources.

Big fish, small pond

There are clear benefits why it could appeal to startups to establish themselves elsewhere: the opportunity to be a bigger fish in a smaller pond, lower overheads, access to unique grants and resources, integrations with local education and research establishments.

As Paul Smith of Newcastle’s ignite100 accelerator programme explains:

“Whether you’re in London or further afield, finding and retaining talent is always a challenge; teams that choose to meet that challenge outside London benefit from lower overheads in terms of offices, living standards and wages, and therefore stretch their funding further. That certainly doesn’t stop founders travelling back and forth to London for business development and networking. In fact, several teams in the North East find that model massively beneficial; they keep overheads low but still work and play amongst the Shoreditch community.”

Oxygen will soon be based at Google Campus

It doesn’t have to be either/or. Birmingham will never be London, just like London will never be The Valley.

Each hub – internationally, nationally and regionally – needs to celebrate it’s own identity, establish its own strengths, and support it’s own ecosystem.

Look across the Atlantic; Silicon Valley may be the country’s startup Mecca, but New York, Boulder, Chicago and Seattle have all fostered diverse communities that contribute to the quality and quantity of technology companies in the US.

In this instance, Birmingham’s loss is London’s gain, but from what I’ve heard and seen, there’s plenty of potential being realised in Newcastle, Sheffield, Manchester, Cardiff, and Edinburgh, and that means everywhere – including London – will ultimately benefit.