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Spotlight on … tech in the East of England

norwich

With so many tech clusters across the UK it’s difficult for startups to decide where to set up base. Kirsty Jarvis, CEO of Luminous PR, argues the case for the East.

According to the Tech Nation Report, published in February this year, there are 1.56 million digital tech jobs in the UK.

As well as highlighting the contribution our tech capital is making on the economy, the report did a sterling job of showcasing some of the other thriving UK tech clusters.

Among these are Cambridge, Ipswich and Norwich, representing the East of England’s burgeoning tech scene.

In recent years, East Anglia has carved itself a niche as a successful tech hotspot in close proximity to London.

Those who live and work in the region are all too aware of its credentials as the perfect environment for tech to flourish.

However, it seems the East has modestly hidden its light under a bushel. Techies from the rest of the country may be surprised to learn that the home of Delia Smith, Stephen Fry, and Colman’s Mustard, has any kind of tech scene outside the farming industry.

In fact, the report revealed there are over 152,136 digital tech jobs in the East of England, a figure that’s growing rapidly as more entrepreneurs and businesses realise the benefits of living and working in the region.

The launch of a new initiative is set to boost the East’s profile, putting it on the map as a successful tech hotspot.

TechEast’s manifesto to drive tech growth has set ambitious goals to form a united voice, and drive a further £650m into the economy – a figure that would place the East as one of the top five tech clusters in the UK.

One of its key aims is to attract more investment and partnership opportunities to the region, through the creation of a TechEast embassy in London, and to pique the interest of talent that’s looking to relocate.

Growing scene

The East has been quietly cultivating a growing tech scene for the last 15 years.

The region is a happy home to some significant global businesses in sectors such as IoT, cloud, FinTech, big data, digital advertising and marketing, app/software development, e-commerce, and even wine.

Larger players in the region include Naked Wines, ARM, mobile technology company Proxama Plc, KCOM (formally Smart421), Virgin Money, Brandbank and global experience-design and creative technology agency, Foolproof.

Adastral Park, near Ipswich, is not only home to BT’s research and development campus, employing over 3,000 people, but also the Innovation Martlesham cluster, containing teams from big digital businesses such as Nokia, O2, and Huawei.

East Anglia is also home to a number of interesting and award-winning smaller businesses. Rainbird (an artificial intelligence startup), Droplet Pay (a payments and loyalty app), Epos Now (a cloud-based retail tech business), Silicone Safe, Owlstone (puts gas sensors on microchips), and RealVNC (remote control of computing and smartphone devices) are all examples of innovation being incubated across Cambridge, Norwich and Ipswich.

Benefits

Perhaps what attracts many in the tech industry to the East of England is its relative commercial affordability when compared to London.

For example, a desk in an East Anglian co-working space such as Whitespace Norwich will cost you around £150 a month, whereas you could expect to pay at least three times that for a similar set up in London.

And why wouldn’t you want to work here? A study in January 2016 found Norwich is the happiest UK city to work in. The research, carried out by Deloitte for the Guardian, found that 77% of people in Norwich said they loved their job.

It’s no surprise, really. As well as its underrated business credentials, the East of England is a very safe place to live and work. Not only that, it’s also incredibly beautiful. As well as its picturesque historic towns and cities, the region also has three designated Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty along its coastline and rivers.

Another real benefit is that London is just a stone’s throw away for those who need to be in the capital. With trains running every 30 minutes, commuters from Norwich and Ipswich can be in Liverpool Street in under two hours, while those from Cambridge can make the journey in just an hour and a half. For those travelling further afield, Stansted airport lies just outside the region, in North Essex, plus Norwich also has its own international airport. Flights to Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport are just 35 minutes, connecting this fine tech city with the rest of the world.

While this all adds to the charm of East Anglia, it doesn’t necessarily have a direct impact on the tech business scene. Something that does is funding, and luckily, there are plenty of opportunities available for growing tech businesses in the region. This mostly comes from angel investors – a small community, but one which has been growing steadily in recent years.

Culture

In our opinion, one of the best things about working in tech in East Anglia is the culture, and sense of community that goes beyond regional borders and provides a nurturing environment in which to flourish. As a business with bases in both Norwich and London, this is something we’ve experienced firsthand.

This supportive spirit and the affordability of the area, means it is a great place for early stage startups and fledgling entrepreneurs to dip their toes in the water.

The region has a number of welcoming collaborative working spaces and communities that are all about encouraging business growth and providing support for tech businesses.

These include Whitespace in Norwich, Innovation Martlesham’s startup incubator, and Cambridge Wireless with its community hub.

Maybe it’s a case of self-sufficiency or something to do with the geography, but what’s been achieved in East Anglia is the result of a strong and supportive regional community that works well together. ‘Collaboration’ is a word that’s naturally grown into the hearts of the business community in the East.

Not just between entrepreneurs, but between educational establishments and all the thriving tech and digital meetup groups.

The collaborative spirit is further emphasised by the recent creation of TechEast, and is a proactive step towards cementing business growth, attracting talent and creating opportunities for the region.

We’re confident you’re going to hear a lot more about techies from the East in the future – they’re a determined bunch, so we expect to see rapid growth over the coming years that will quickly elevate the region to one of the UK’s top five tech clusters.

Watch this space!

This article first appeared on the 11th edition of Tech City News’ popular tech magazine, which focused on the topic of artificial intelligence. You can read the magazine online here. Subscribe to receive future editions delivered to your door for free.