Tim Robinson, COO of TechEast, takes a look back at some of the biggest tech news stories to emerge from the east of England in 2017.
Regular UKTN readers are no doubt well aware of East Anglia’s credentials as a thriving tech hotspot. Last year, UKTN published two supplements taking an in-depth look at the tech scenes in Norwich and Colchester.
If you missed them, you might have caught the glowing picture of the region painted by Tech City UK’s 2017 Tech Nation Report. According to the report, East Anglia contributed £1.2bn to the UK’s £170bn turnover in the digital tech sector.
However, that’s not all East Anglia has going for it. A study by Royal Mail named Ipswich and Norwich as two of the most desirable places to live in the UK, and an article in the Times even hailed Norwich as the ‘next Notting Hill’.
If you need more convincing, here’s our roundup of some of the biggest tech news stories to come out of the East of England in the last year.
Funding and finance
A lack of access to finance is often cited as one of the biggest challenges to tech businesses. However, the region doesn’t seem to have done too badly at attracting funding in 2017.
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Back in July, Cambridge-based games developer Frontier Games, received £17.7m in funding. Frontier Games received the investment from Chinese tech group Tencent in return for a 9% stake in the business. Founded in 1994, Frontier employs over 300 people at its HQ outside Cambridge.
Still in Cambridge, two AI firms received significant funding in September. Driverless car startup FiveAI raised a £14m Series A from a number of investors, including lead backer Lakestar Capital. Fellow AI startup, PROWLER.io also raised £10m in Series A funding.
It’s a great achievement that national and international investors and organisations are taking an interest in the region. However, East Anglia also benefits from its own investment community.
In 2017, Norwich-based Anglia Capital Group’s total investment in the region reached £2m. ACG made its first investment in 2015, and has since invested in 16 local businesses, including a number of medical, agri-tech, and green energy firms.
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For those not ready for investment, many East Anglian tech firms make the most of the region’s community spirit by turning to crowdfunding.
Sync the City, Norwich’s most popular tech startup event, returned for its fourth year. For the first time this year, the 54-hour hackathon was hosted at Norwich Cathedral.
As always, November’s event saw input from many leading businesses in the region. Judging this year’s competition was Ian Watson of Start-rite shoes, and Juliana Meyer of SupaPass, among others.
The region’s tech businesses also stepped up to provide mentorship for entrants, including support from Foolproof, Rainbird, Epos Now, and Aviva. Guest of honour at this year’s Sync the City was Gerard Grech, CEO of Tech City UK, who gave the keynote speech.
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September 2017 saw the second annual Venture Fest East: a technology conference organised by the Cambridge and Peterborough LEP and New Anglia LEP. Over 600 delegates headed to Newmarket Racecourse to celebrate and showcase the innovation taking place in our region.
Exhibitors at Venture Fest East included a number of innovative local tech businesses and organisations, such as Innovate UK, Hinton Bikes, Casade.bi, and Hethel Innovation.
One of the most exciting partnerships to emerge in 2017 is that between BT, Huawei, and the University of Cambridge. The trio will form a five-year research group at the University of Cambridge, backed by up to £35m from the telecoms giants.
The research group will focus on areas like photonics, digital infrastructure, media technologies, and the societal impacts of communications technology. It will also explore how these new technologies can unlock economic benefits for UK businesses.
This long-term partnership is doubly good news for East Anglia. Not only is the University of Cambridge one of the world’s leading universities, but the BT researchers on the project also hail from East Anglia. BT Labs has been based at Adastral Park in Ipswich since its launch in 1975.
Awards and accolades
East Anglian businesses performed well in the 2017 TechTrack 100: a league table of the UK’s fastest-growing tech companies, published each September. Seven businesses from East Anglia were named in the league table.
Cambridge cybersecurity firm Darktrace placed at number three in the table. In 2017, Darktrace raised over $180m and grew sales by 268% to £31m.
Norwich’s Epos Now placed at number 53 with an 81.21% sales rise. Also from Cambridge, CashFlows ranked 58th in the Tech Track 100, Geo Energy came 60th, and Grapeshot came in at 64. PrivateFly – an online private jet hire firm from St Albans – placed 87th in the league table, and Norwich-based financial comparison site Know Your Money ranked 97th, with a 43.94% rise in sales.
Workspaces and facilities
The right working environment with easy access to support can have a huge impact on growing businesses. As such, we were pleased to see the launch of two new facilities in 2017 that can benefit tech startups.
In August, the Bradfield Centre opened at Cambridge Science Park. The tech workspace community will provide accelerator programmes as well as co-working and hot-desking. Members of the centre can reap all the benefits of a vibrant community: the Bradfield Centre has a 600 person capacity, with a further 5000 STEM professionals working across the Science Park.
Not to be outdone, Norwich also launched its first accelerator programme at the close of 2017. Based at tech co-working hub Whitespace, accelerator Tech Velocity has just accepted its first cohort of startups. Current residents include Assemble, an app for remote workers, and personality recruitment firm Protu. More startups are expected to join the cohort in early 2018.
Education and accessibility
In November, the New Anglia LEP signed the region’s first Digital Tech Skills Plan. The strategy sets out a clear plan for how the region will meet its demand for talent. Anticipating the demand for tech services from both public and private sector organisations, the plan estimates that a further 10,000 tech roles are needed in the region by 2024.
Creating an interest in technology among young people is another way to ensure talent supply in the future. Norwich-based social enterprise, Step into Tech, is doing just that. The venture encourages children to learn about tech through play, while educating parents teachers on how to inspire and safeguard young people.
In order for the tech sector to be truly innovative, diversity is essential. To mark the first anniversary of its Ipswich Waterfront Innovation Centre, the University of Suffolk launched the Suffolk Centre for Female Entrepreneurship in October 2017. The centre will provide mentorship, funding support, networking, and events, to support female entrepreneurs and innovators.