Let’s do it our way

Nobody ever likes being told what to do, particularly when it comes from someone who doesn't really know what they're talking about.

That is what it must have felt like for the population of London’s Tech City when they were told this week that more experience and ‘grey hair’ was needed to make a success of the UK’s rival to California’s Silicon Valley.

As profiled here on GrowthBusiness, Tech City has achieved fantastic growth, inspried by the kind of creative minds that had long been locked away in the banking establishments of the square mile.

Starting off in the east of the city due to cheap rent and a desirable bo-ho community, the area now boasts a wide range of digital businesses.

However, at the launch of a joint piece of research by the Centre for London and the British Private Equity and Venture Capital Association (BVCA) at Google’s Tech City campus there was a rallying call for more mentoring and advice for fledgling technology companies.

The research report drew comparisons with Silicon Valley, which it said has a ‘superior network of seasoned entrepreneurs and angel and venture capital investors’.

There is no doubt that seasoned campaigners will be able to shed some light on the best ways to source new talent, secure funding and build a network of contacts, but what is to say that Tech City companies were not already aware of that and making their own go of it?

The contrast between the close-knit community of Tech City and UK Trade & Investment’s Tech City Investment Organisation’s perception of scale and development shows that the government has a much-inflated view of how big the cluster is.

Prime minister David Cameron has long been vocal in his support of the area, making frequent visits to show that the coalition government is putting its weight behind the development in the hope that it can continue to drive forward the UK tech market.

At the Google Campus this week it was the turn of Kit Malthouse, deputy mayor of London for business and enterprise, to provide some government presence.

It was surprising that he opened his address by declaring that the government can often be as much a hindrance as a help, and that there was, in the case of Tech City, ‘no need for heavy-handed gardening’.

This is perhaps the best way for the government to support the development of the area that Dopplr CTO Matt Biddulph dubbed ‘Silicon Roundabout’. Cameron and the coalition government are in a position to provide the kind of incentives that can make life much easier for early-stage technology companies, but must be careful not to turn it into a big PR exercise for the UK economy.

At the end of the day, the firms that populate the area surrounding the Old Street roundabout were around long before the government took an interest. What is needed is not Whitehall telling them how best to grow their businesses, but a more soft-handed presence aimed at providing the right framework to make it a real competitor to Silicon Valley.

Hunter Ruthven

Bernard Williamson

Hunter was the Editor for GrowthBusiness.co.uk from 2012 to 2014, before moving on to Caspian Media Ltd to be Editor of Real Business.

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