Tech in Wales: A £500,000 round, a broadband boost and more

Nic Fearn, editor of Tech Dragons, rounds up the latest technology news to emerge from Wales throughout the month of February 2018.

Wales may be a small country, but it continues to punch its weight when it comes to technology and February was yet another month marked by exciting milestones and announcements for its innovators, entrepreneurs and businesses.

From the announcement of more government-backed funding for the country’s superfast broadband scheme to the opening of a new science centre in North Wales, here’s our roundup of the best Welsh tech stories for February.

Retail startup raises £500,000

Last month, online marketplace Paperclip mounted a successful £500,000 investment campaign supported by the Development Bank of Wales and CoCompare founder Hayley Parsons.

This is the third round of funding the company has raised from the development bank, and it follows the launch of a new shopping service for students.

Founded by former Imperial College London students Rich Woolley and Alan Small, the company allows consumers to buy, sell and swap unwanted items. The entrepreneurs are also currently working on an enterprise offering.

Woolley, who is the firm’s CEO, said: “This latest round of funding involved strengthening our board with experienced founders, investors, and veteran C-levels. We’re all excited to make 2018 another record breaking year at Paperclip.”

“2017 was a big year for Paperclip; we grew from three of us working in a flat to a team of 16. We moved to a fantastic office in Cardiff city centre and opened up an office in the Czech Republic.”

Superfast broadband boost

The Welsh Government confirmed that it’s to plough more money into expanding “fast and reliable” broadband infrastructure across Wales.

Technology minister Julie James explained the company will provide the Superfast Cymru scheme with additional support. It’s responsible for bringing next-generation internet connectivity to Welsh premises.

Over the next few years, the government will inject £80m of financial support into the scheme. The minister said this “encourages rural delivery, business prioritisation and ultrafast 100Mbps services”.

The organisation will use the money to support “areas suffering the lowest download speeds along with lower 4G mobile data coverage” and create “safeguards to ensure communities are kept up to date as far as possible on whether they will be included”.

Minister James said: “Through Superfast Cymru we have fundamentally altered the broadband landscape in Wales, bringing superfast broadband to areas of Wales that simply would not have been connected.

“We must not lose sight of the significant achievement that this large scale engineering project represents.  Homes and businesses the length and breadth of Wales are now enjoying the benefits of this investment and accessing digital services.

Science centre planned for North wales

In February, educational charity Glyndwr Techniquest unveiled plans to open a new science centre in North Wales. It’ll support STEM learning programmes in the region.

The organisation already has one centre based at Glyndwr University in Wrexham. It’ll open its second facility in an old store on Henblas Square, which is also located in the Welsh town.

Having secured a 12-month rental agreement, TQG said it “hopes to give the building a new lease of life”. The charity will run STEM learning days, exhibitions and fundraising events here.

Iwan Thomas, chairman of the board of trustees at the organisation, said: “Techniquest Glyndŵr has a fantastic offer and this opportunity to have a presence in the town centre will really help to put us on the map and attract even more visitors to the town.

“This development will also add significantly to the cultural offer being developed by Wrexham Council, including the Ty Pawb arts hub, which will help to create additional footfall to all of the town centre businesses.

“With this presence in a prominent location in the town, in addition to our current centre, we will significantly increase our ability to engage people of all ages with science and technology.”

New startup incubator opens

Barclays launched a new, 6,500ft startup incubator in Brunel House, Cardiff. Supported by Legal and General, the centre forms part of the bank’s plans to invest in the Welsh tech sector.

It’s the thirteenth Eagle Labs facility that the bank has opened in the UK. In the past, it’s launched centres in cities such as Salford, London and Edinburgh.

The facility offers tech entrepreneurs and businesses access to more than 120 seats and desks. There are also maker space facilities to support rapid prototyping and product development.

Ashok Vaswani, CEO of Barclays UK, said: “The Barclays Eagle Lab business incubator has been successfully launched in 13 other major cities across the UK.

“Our investment will bring benefits far beyond a shared workspace and much further afield than Cardiff. This new Barclays Eagle Lab in the heart of Cardiff will help Welsh entrepreneurial companies to scale up and accelerate their growth locally and into international markets.

“We recognise the importance of supporting entrepreneurs, start-ups and accelerating high growth companies, and the vital role they play in creating a sustainable, prosperous Welsh economy.”

Student launches app

21-year-old Aberystwyth University student Jack Thompson showed off an app that allows friends to divide petrol costs between themselves fairly.

Tapping into the sharing economy, the app lets designated drivers and passengers calculate petrol costs. Thompson, who is currently studying software engineering, came up with the idea after going on a road trip with his friends.

Speaking about the app, Jack said: “I hope Friendfare will be a handy solution to the common conundrum of when friends are trying to work out how much they owe each other in petrol costs.

“It’s gone through several prototype stages and been heavily influenced by user feedback to ensure it’s easy and functional to use. It’s been a labour of love and I can’t wait for it to go live now.”

Tony Orme, careers consultant at Aberystwyth University, said: “Jack is a fantastic example of a student applying entrepreneurial thinking to their studies to start their own business.

“At Aberystwyth we encourage all our students to act upon their entrepreneurial flair to enhance their own experience at university and increase their employability when they graduate. We’re looking forward to seeing Jack’s app launch soon and wish him every success in the future.”