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Cooperation key to tech cluster growth

Ibrahim Maiga, CE of the Birkbeck Enterprise Hub organised an event as part of London Technology Week "What must tech clusters outside London do to thrive"?

Cooperation key to tech cluster growth

London-based institutions such as Birkbeck could play a part in the development of tech start-ups and clusters outside London, even if that role is not the first thing that comes to mind when considering such development.

Addressing this possibility, ‪Emma Swift, Entrepreneur Relations Manager at digital business promoter Tech City UK, ‬ focused on one word: partnership.

Swift was one of a four-member panel at an event entitled “What must tech clusters outside London do to thrive?”.

Part of London Technology Week, the event on 15 June was organised by CE of Birkbeck Enterprise Hub, Ibrahim Maiga, chaired by Sureyya Cansoy, Director of Tech for Business and Consumer at techUK, and hosted by law firm Goodman Derrick at its offices in St Bride Street, five minutes’ walk from the London Stock Exchange.

What form any inside-outside London partnerships might take remained open, though Swift did refer to SETsquared, an enterprise collaboration between Bath, Bristol, Exeter, Southampton and Surrey universities that, according to its website “is a focus for enterprise activity and new business creation”.

In addition, what emerged from the afternoon implied possible outlines for such partnerships while not necessarily explicitly stating them.

Panel members noted that tech clusters outside London should avoid trying to copy it, and should instead continue to recognise and focus on developing what they are already doing well; and many of these clusters are indeed taking this approach.

Paul Smith, Managing Director of Newcastle-based accelerator Ignite100 noted the lower costs, good quality of life, coaching and building professional relationships that Newcastle could offer budding entrepreneurs compared with London. He also drew attention to Newcastle-based anchor firms such as business software solutions company Sage, the founders of which have gone on to support other start-ups: Sage itself having begun as a start-up in 1981.

Smith added that access to London is still useful for non-London businesses, for example, for being seen by potential investors and customers. However, as firms in Newcastle and other clusters show, that need not mean being based in London.

Richard Young, Director of the British Venture Capital Association in Manchester, remarked on the ability of his city’s entrepreneurs to take what they wanted from London back to their home base.

And Julian Blake, 
Editor of, emphasised that universities are essential to the development of tech business.

From the audience, Helen Lawton Smith, Professor of Entrepreneurship and Director of the Centre for Innovation Management Research at Birkbeck’s Department of Management, emphasised that there are many very successful clusters outside London – such as Oxford and Cambridge – which have established large firms that recruit and supply labour and knowledge within their own localities.

Professor Lawton Smith added that, although there are many claims about the rapid increase in the number of tech firms in London, more evidence is needed on that number of firms and their performance, which will also inform policymakers about the demand for infrastructure, services and other requirements.

Perhaps then a wider focus is required. Could London universities offer platforms where non-London start-ups and clusters could showcase their activities, not in order to migrate to London or adopt a London way but to gain recognition and support for their own non-London ways in locations beyond London?

In turn, could such collaborations be another route for London institutions, among those in other parts of the UK, to help broaden perspectives, with knowledge transferring all ways – from and to different parts of the UK, including London?

For those who want to explore such topics further, on Wednesday 24 June, Birkbeck Clore Management Centre will host an event addressing the question: What is the role of universities in creating skills for the digital economy?

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Image Credit: NASA under CC from Flickr