On any list measuring cities by economic, cultural or intellectual dynamism, London is frequently at the top. In many cases it vies for pole position with New York City demonstrating that no matter the measurement criteria both cities are recognisably thriving global centres.
The challenge for any capital city like London is in bringing together all the different resources, communities and investment opportunities that can spring up to serve the needs of a specific group and easing the navigation for interested parties.
London’s diversity for the start-up community
Anyone looking at the start-up scene in London cannot fail to miss the diverse range of government investments and the spread of organisations from across the industry and market landscape involved in delivering resources to promote, support and harness the entrepreneurial spirit flourishing in the city. Household names such as Barclays Bank, Telefonica and Tesco are such examples of the different types of businesses that have put money and other resources into London’s thriving start-up scene a. Just as important to the growth of any industry or market, is the support that can come from the collaboration between the government and the vendor community. Such ventures do much to foster an environment that can help progress growth, drive innovation and pave the way for the broadest set of engagements to happen.
However, navigating the significant number of services, workspaces and funding opportunities open to new start-ups and gaining access to those enterprise organisations that may serve as potential revenue channels and collaborators can be difficult.
Tech.London: Launching a handbook for London’s start-ups
London Tech Week, in its second year, opened on 15th June 2015 with the launch of Tech.London a dedicated online hub for the capital’s thriving digital industry and enviable entrepreneurial start-up community. Tech.London is, as it states on its website, a ground breaking collaboration between the Mayor of London, IBM, Gust and a wide number of other partners with a simple goal: A portal for advertising the diverse resources (e.g. jobs board, training, funding and community meet-ups, news and knowledge sharing) dedicated to supporting new businesses and ensuring London remains a leading centre for technology innovation. Since its launch an impressive 1195 start-ups are registered on the site. Visitors to the website will see the curation of events being held around the city for the start-up community – a noteworthy 448 when I last looked. The jobs board advertising 7758 jobs and the 55 investors registered on the site also point to a valuable source of the right kind of information to feed and nurture the start-up industry.
Through this lens, one can begin to evaluate the value that IBM’s sponsorship of the Tech.London community website brings to the London start-up scene.
Anyone attending the opening ceremony for London Tech Week at the Shard, itself an iconic building that highlights the capital’s appeal for international investment (The state of Qatar) certainly could not mistake the level of buzz, dynamism and opportunities open to start-ups based in London and the wider UK in general. That London is a recognised powerbase for the digital economy makes it an obvious choice for being the third city in IBM’s planned network of digital hubs or platforms aimed at supporting the developer and start-up community to ‘innovate locally’. The plan to deliver such platforms for 30 of the top cities across the globe sporting the most vibrant and successful software developer and development community started with the launch of Digital NYC in October 2014. The second city to benefit from a partnership with IBM and the delivery of a digital platform providing an ecosystem of resources promoting community and specialist interest groups, knowledge hubs, workspaces, jobs and investment funding opportunities was Berlin with the launch of TechBerlin in May 2015. CIC’s blog covering the launch can be viewed here.
Visitors to a website that brings together a variety of indices ranking the leading global cities (e.g. opportunity factor based on economy, business, innovation, intellectual capital, Technology, education etc.), will begin to understand why London is one of Europe’s fastest growing technology capital.
Realising the long term potential from IBM’s Digital City network initiative
I attended the event at the shard and welcomed the presentations and panel discussions that shone a spotlight on the talent and creativity centred within London that was creating the tech clusters emerging around the city. While financial tech companies (FinTech) form the largest sector in the new growth businesses, it is expected that within the next 12 to 24 months significant expansion will come from retail, cyber and health tech companies.
This news was backed with lots of other factors as to why London deserved the attention: strongest financial services (bigger than Germany), strongest ecommerce spend, 13% of the World’s post graduate students for 1% of the World’s population, 76% growth in tech/digitally incorporated companies and a start-up growth that outstrips Silicon Valley along with being the best place to launch a business. There were many more including the fact that it is home to approximately 540,000 developers and saw £1.4 billion in funding in 2014. However, despite these uplifting facts, it was the insights and words of advice from the panel discussions featuring a number of leading luminaries – from investor groups through to start-ups on their way to becoming $billion plus revenue generators – that really brought home the benefit that the Tech.London community portal offered and in particular, IBM’s global digital city strategy.
One of the most important messages was the need to ensure that London connected to other industry sectors and tech hubs both within the UK and internationally. Others included the ability to provide the right business and investment support to help scale those start-up businesses transitioning to growth and to ensure access to the most diverse group of people and skill set with the right educational backing and support. It is against this backdrop of needs that IBM’s involvement really begins to deliver.
In its initiative to deliver a digital platform and ecosystem support for 30 of the world’s top cities with the largest and most dynamic developer and development communities IBM offers the means to ensure that London can connect to other global hubs of entrepreneurial innovation (both from start-up and enterprise organisations). Moreover, the company has learnt to cross pollinate best practices from both Digital NYC and TechBerlin whilst also being made aware of the need to be sensitive to local demands. Such nuances and connectivity can only serve to ensure that London developers and entrepreneurs gain insights into the dynamism of other international hubs equipping them with the means to leverage global opportunities and markets. More importantly access to these hubs will enable them to seek out potential partners for collaboration.
A solid case for being the right sponsor
Few can doubt IBM’s impressive set of credentials it has built for itself over the last few years in support of and in its commitment to the developer community. It’s Bluemix Platform as a Service (PaaS) offering, built on the back of the open source Cloud Foundry technology (and the largest deployment of it) offers easy access to the broadest range of developers – from hobbyist, through to start-up development teams and those within enterprise organisations. As a result Bluemix is experiencing one of the fastest growths in developer adoption within the PaaS market and growing eight thousand users per week. In fact, Tech.London is built of top of Bluemix and Softlayer, IBM’s Cloud platform.
Sandy Carter, IBM’s head of developer ecosystem in her presentation outlining IBM’s support for London Tech through the Tech.London community website sponsorship and collaboration perhaps said it best when she showcased the variety of opportunities that IBM is bringing through its support of hackathons, its global entrepreneur program and academic initiatives for the Cloud. Specifically, this has seen hackathons in conjunction with the likes of AT&T, $120K in free cloud platform credits for one year and a 6 month access to Bluemix trial for students.
As a mother with an eleven year old daughter facing a more digitally pronounced future, IBM’s public support for girls and women coding groups and meet-ups points to an organisation that is aware of its responsibilities to both the future generation and to ensuring a more diverse and representative developer workforce.
The IBM page on Tech.London exposes well the other developer commitments the company has made and which we outlined in our blog on the TechBerlin launch:
In addition to entrepreneurs, there is also the developer community that IBM is working to engage more broadly than it has done for a while. Developers within the start-up ecosystem often fit a different profile to those in traditional enterprises and gravitate towards different architectural patterns and technologies. Recent changes to IBM’s developer portal developerWorks which provides technical resources in a number of different languages including Chinese and Brazilian Portuguese have gone a long way towards helping developers engage with its technology. developerWorks, which currently attracts 4 million developers across 195 countries per month, has undergone a major overhaul which includes a specific focus on key technology trends such as Cloud, Mobile, Web, Internet of Things, DevOps and Cognitive computing. Some areas that are especially of interest to many start-ups. Its 50k+ resources include a heavy focus on open technologies, a passion which both IBM and many new developers share.
In sponsoring Tech.London, IBM has shown not just its continued commitment to the developer community but also how well positioned it is to serve them. True, the company does not have this field to itself, and, indeed, has been playing catch-up to the likes of Microsoft, Google and Amazon when it comes to developer support, evangelism and start-up facilities. It’s equally true, however, that IBM does not always get full recognition for the efforts it has made in this area – though this will likely change over time as the investments the company has, and continues to make become more widely known and commonly accepted. The start-up community in London should be happy to have such an organisation on board and working in their favour.