Americans like to think Silicon Valley is the only place that matters when it comes to digital innovation. It’s certainly true that the iconic region stands as a model for economic development around the world. The challenge for government authorities is that it stubbornly refuses cloning.
Cheap office space in London’s Shoreditch neighborhood helped spawn a major technology cluster. (Reuters/Luke MacGregor)
But a new kind of tech innovation model may be emerging. A scrappy part of London turns out to have grown in four years from 15 digital businesses to more than 3,000, employing close to 50,000 people. Last.fm and Tweetdeck, two start-ups that were purchased by CBS and Twitter, respectively, have emerged from the area near Shoreditch in central London. That makes “Tech City,” also known as Silicon Roundabout, a huge success for London’s economy.
The UK government, enthralled by the idea of hosting a new rival to Silicon Valley, hopes that after the Olympics, the games’ facilities will be useful for expanding the Silicon Roundabout. But critics are attacking that plan: A report out Monday from Demos, a think tank, said that the government should skip its real estate dreams. Instead, British leaders should improve its telecommunications infrastructure, make it easier for skilled workers to obtain visas and streamline how the UK government awards contracts.
The Guardian quoted report co-author Emma Vandore as saying that while “there should be a focus on helping the existing cluster to grow….The Olympic Park and Tech City strategies should be decoupled.”
The Guardian article cited one person interviewed for the report as saying companies that moved to Olympic Park would find themselves in a “tumbleweeed-strewn cul-de-sac.”
The Independent focused on the report’s hammering on the UK’s lack of workers prepared to work in high tech.
For those thinking about how to recreate their own Silicon Valley: The American demographer Richard Florida says the success of Silicon Roundabout shows the continued shift away from “nerdistans” like Silicon Valley, with their suburban sprawl. Technology development has been taking on a distinctly urban aspect as of late, he says, even in San Francisco, which effectively has long been a suburb of Silicon Valley.