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Dan Wagner: Serious about London innovation? Look beyond Tech City

3rd Nov 13 4:52 pm

The serial tech entrepreneur’s first column for us clarifies some media hype

When the new coalition government announced its Tech City initiative in 2010, it garnered much praise from entrepreneurs and technology leaders.

It seemed like the attention of everyone with an interest in innovation shifted to the East End of London when newly sworn-in Prime Minister David Cameron revealed the government’s intention that the area should become a “world-leading technology city to rival Silicon Valley”.

While this aspiration at first drew the cheeky epithet “Silicon Roundabout” and some facetious remarks from commentators, the area has gone from strength to strength in the last three years. The likes of Cisco, Facebook, Google, Intel, McKinsey & Company and Vodafone are among those that have located there.

All this attention on the up-and-coming East End has, however, obscured the fact that while Shoreditch might be getting government grants and newspaper column inches, there is far more to London as a technology hub than Tech City.

For instance, of the 14 London-based tech companies that were listed winners in the Deloitte 2012 Fast 50 (one of the UK’s foremost technology awards programmes) only one of them is based in the vicinity of Tech City. The others are located in a range of areas, from the traditional business districts of Bank and the West End, to more far-flung climes like Hammersmith, Putney and Camden.

And there are probably many other leading-edge firms out in the capital that are operating beneath the media radar because they have chosen to locate in less fashionable areas.

It is encouraging to know that there are pragmatic organisations and entrepreneurs in the city that don’t follow the pack and won’t be pigeon-holed to a specific location or by their business type.

Whether they specialise in e-commerce, social networks, payments systems or any other of the myriad technology-related fields, they can all offer something unique to businesses and consumer communities through their innovation from wherever they are based in London.

You need to read:

Silicon Roundabout is dying. Meet London’s new tech hotspots

Businesses shouldn’t be afraid to innovate

Innovative businesses should have the ambition to grow. As we are at the beginning of a new era of optimism, now is the time for them to stand up and be counted.

London is a city that has never shied away from risk.

It survived the Blitz and all the other turmoil of the 20th century to come through it as strong as ever, as one of the leading business and cultural centres of the world.

Modern London was built on innovation, trade and industry. Its achievements are countless.

Most recently the world’s first lab-grown burger was cooked and eaten in the capital, and we’re reliably informed that the intrepid diners are still in rude health.

Up-river to the west, Trevor Baylis invented his revolutionary wind-up radio on Eel Pie Island.

London’s innovators have given the world everything from the jigsaw puzzle to the nuclear chain reaction. Indeed, London itself pretty much invented the concept of what became the modern metropolis long before Tech City was ever dreamed of.

Just as it seems to be doing now, in the past investment has tended to cluster around specific locations.

Out to the west of London, the M4 corridor has long harboured a number of technology businesses. When this area was attracting investment in the 1980s and 1990s it was seen as close enough to the capital to benefit but without the logistical drawbacks of the city centre. Global technology brands like Citrix Systems, Dell, Huawei, Lexmark, LG, Novell, Nvidia, Panasonic, SAP and Symantec picked the M4 corridor for its proximity to London and its fantastic transport links.

Now investors need to recognise that in the information age, transport links are less of an issue, and start looking for London-based innovators that are plugged in to all the advantages offered by a true global first-division city.

The entrepreneurs that are really pushing the ideas envelope and starting to envisage the technologies that will drive economic expansion in the near future desperately need investment.

As a country, Britain has a history of sending its innovators out into the big wide world. We haven’t always been great at retaining our talent and we have been experiencing something of a brain drain lately.

Innovation needs encouragement and investment and it should start here in London.

Tech City talks of collaborating with the tech hot spots around the country: Manchester, Newcastle and Brighton, to name three.

Perhaps those in Tech City are overlooking what is right on their doorstep.

Dan Wagner is the founder and CEO of Powa, an e-commerce business made up of mPowa, a mobile payment provider, Powa, a SaaS platform, and PowaTag, a smartphone shopping product. He floated his first company, MAID, for £120m when he was 31.

You need to read:

Silicon Roundabout is dying. Meet London’s new tech hotspots

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