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Tech in Wales: The March 2017 roundup

Nic Fearn, editor at Tech Dragons, rounds up the top tech Welsh news from the month of March. 

March proved to be another prosperous month for the Welsh technology sector.

From the announcement of a £35m project to turn Swansea Uni into an innovation centre through to the expansion plans unveiled by a Welsh comms firm, we take a look at the biggest stories in Welsh tech.

A £35m innovation centre

March was a big month for Swansea University, with it announcing plans to construct and operate a £35m innovation hub at Bay Campus.

The centre, due to open in 2018, will drive forward research in the advanced engineering sector and turn Swansea into a centre of innovation.

A staggering £17.4m of this funding is coming from the European Union. There’ll be laboratory facilities and office space for researchers working at the university, and the hub will bring together experts working on groundbreaking technology projects

It’ll also include a metals technology centre, where scientists will undertake research into metallurgy and materials science while forging partnerships with companies right around the world.

Professor Richard B. Davies, vice chancellor of Swansea University, said: “We welcome the EU funding for this major new resource at the Bay Campus.

“IMPACT will operate as a semi-independent research institute with objectives determined by a scientific board and advised on by external academic, governmental and industrial stakeholders,” he added.

Tech giant opens R&D centre in Cardiff

Backbase, one of the world’s leading digital banking companies, confirmed plans to launch a new research and development facility in Cardiff.

With the support of the Welsh Government, it’s moved into an office based in the Atlantic Wharf area of the city. It was officially opened at a ceremony held on March 23rd.

Now that the centre is up and running, Backbase is on a mission to double the number of people it employs and wants to put the Welsh tech industry on the map.

It creates omni-banking software for the likes of Metro Bank, Barclays, CheBanca!, Hiscox, ING, KeyBank, Societe Generale and Westpac.

Chris Whitcombe, VP of software design at Backbase, commented on the announcement: “We are delighted to be joining the flourishing tech community in Cardiff.

“The region is showing great potential and has experienced fast growth in the last two years. We look forward to discovering its local treasures as well as its local tech talents,”added the VP.

First Minister of Wales Carwyn Jones said: “Welcoming a business headquartered in Amsterdam to our capital city is a vote of confidence in the Welsh economy and shows that, despite the uncertainty caused by Brexit, Wales is a great place to invest and do business.

“I was pleased to hear Backbase, which serves to some of the largest financials across the globe, chose to invest in Cardiff because of the region’s strong technical skill set,” he concluded.

Welsh comms firm announces expansion plans

Nantgarw-based communications company The Voice Factory announced expansion plans after receiving £500,000 in repayable investment from Finance Wales.

The company plans to use this money to create six jobs in Wales and to move to bigger premises. It currently employs 24 members of staff.

Specialising in B2B markets such as hospitality, leisure, legal and automotive, it offers a range of integrated communications products and solutions.

Although the TVF is based in Wales, it has operations in 21 European countries and has just launched in the US. The firm has bases in Florida and California.

Paul Harrison, managing director of TheVoiceFactory, said his company has seen significant growth after receiving funding and support from Finance Wales.

“We have grown significantly over the last three years and with the investment from Finance Wales we are able to go for international growth in the US and Asia. Our international growth plan will lead to more jobs in both the US and here in Wales,” he said.

Welsh ICE appoints new chairman

Welsh ICE, a leading innovation centre co-working space provider based in the Welsh town of Caerphilly, appointed a new chairman, Will Record.

Before taking up this role, Record worked as a startup investor and founded a mineral water company that grew its workforce to more than 120 people.

Speaking about his appointment, Will said: “I feel privileged to have been appointed to chairman and am relishing the opportunity to play a larger role in our ten-year vision for Welsh ICE.”

Gareth Jones, CEO of the centre, said: “Since launching in 2012, the commitment of Anthony and Will has been crucial, and I’m not sure many people will ever realise just how much they have given to the cause.

“With Will taking the role of Chair at ICE, and as a co-founder, I have a mentor who I know will help us to continue to grow in a responsible and impactful way,” he concluded.

1000 techies gather for conference

There are a number of technology events that take place in Wales regularly, but the Oi Conference always attracts big numbers and the support of leading tech firms.

This year’s event took place in Cardiff’s Historic City Hall and saw more than 1000 social media and mobile specialists gather to get a glimpse into the latest technology trends.

Oi 2017 was supported by Google, Twitter, Microsoft, Airbnb, BuzzFeed, IBM, the BBC and Adobe, with the Welsh Government being the lead sponsor.

Paul Shepherd, founder and owner of the conference, said: “We saw 1000 people attend and sessions running concurrently throughout the day in 5 separate locations which was an amazing feat.”