Silicon Gorge – UK’s Most Productive Tech Cluster

California may be able to boast of Silicon Valley, but in a (not so) quiet corner of south-west England, lies Bristol and it’s very own hub of digital prowess – BS1, or as it’s fondly known amongst its residents, Silicon Gorge.  Home to a growing number of exciting Bristol Startups, this zone of commercial enterprise is fast becoming an aspirational hotspot for tech wizards and ambitious business leaders alike, with only one message for California…

“Watch out. We Byte”!

“Bristol is fast becoming known as a national and international digital hub… and this report cements our position as leading the UK in this sector” – Rick Chapman, High Tech Sector Specialist, ‘Invest Bristol & Bath’.

Bristol’s journey has been well documented.  We can quote Rick Chapman who speaks of the 2016 First Smart Cities Index.  This evaluation of 10 cities within the UK was based on the strategies, key projects and overall willingness of each to embrace progressive technological visions.  

As a result of Bristol’s pioneering attitudes, it was rewarded alongside London with the accolade of being one of only two “smart” cities in the UK.  Scoring 92/100, Bristol was judged to be particularly strong in the innovation category, which pinpointed its focus of evaluation upon strategies to develop and exploit digital and tech services.  It was of note that Bristol held strengths in open data access, energy innovation and community engagement. Furthermore, the Tech Nation Report identified Bristol as the most productive digital tech cluster in the UK.

Leading the way in this arena is Bristol’s Temple Quarter, also referred to as The Enterprise Zone.  Since its birth in 20 12, 3,000 people have come to work in the ‘zone’ which is engineered for tech and digital success.  Super fast broadband and its proximity to Temple Meads Train Station mean that its 360 connectivity is second to none. Plans to further improve Bristol’s rail links in 2019 will secure its status as a truly 21st-century facility.  Better connectivity and social integration with surrounding areas and beyond will make Bristol an attractive prospect and realistic commute for digital talent who have not yet made the leap from capital living.

Indeed, journey times to London are expected to be as little as 80 minutes.  

Silicon Gorge Growing Stronger

As evidence of Bristol’s aspirational vision, a mission statement published at the start of the project sees Mayor Marvin Rees, commit to expanding on this success by promising to secure 17,000 jobs within the Enterprise Zone throughout the lifespan of the project.  Due to conclude in 2037, the project will concentrate its energies on attracting business within the innovative hi-tech, creative and digital, low carbon and professional services.

Perhaps Silicon Gorge ’s promise lies in its unique position of being able to boast both of established prowess, along with its ability to nurture and educate young talent.  Historically, Bristol has had a strong tech presence, with many industry leaders in the fields of media, tech and aeronautical engineering enjoying success here. Meanwhile, two first-class universities are educating the tech talent of the future.  The University of Bristol, for example, graduates more than 5,000 software engineers and other computer science-related students, each year. It is unarguably a city with a wealth of digital and tech talent waiting to be unleashed.

Can Silicon Gorge Close The Digital Skill Gap?

The “Skills Gap” within tech is well-documented.  Figures from 2018 reveal that 10,000 students studied Computing at A-Level this year.  This is a warming statistic, as it marks a significant improvement on the number who did so in 2017.  Despite this though, over 70% of employers still anticipate a skills shortage within the sector. Mid-to-junior management level positions are expected to be the hardest roles to fill.  In a bid to address this alarming chasm, the University of Bristol have a plan.

In November 2017, they submitted a planning application for The Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus.  This exciting new facility will be a significant development for the tech entrepreneurs and employees of the future.  Seven buildings, providing a mix of teaching facilities and accommodation will be at the heart of what will undeniably become an enviable feature on the skyline of the Bristol Enterprise Zone.   Permissions were granted in July this year, meaning that the project is “Full Steam Ahead”!

The campus will extend its arms to its first student intake in 2021/2022.  Not only will it educate those at the beginning of their career journey, but will also allow the wider community to upskill and evolve their digital learning.  Something which is crucial if the established workforce is to remain employable and relevant in our evolving digital age.

The campus does not come without a cost.  However, the city’s investment will be well worth it.  The £300 million price tag will reap a reward much more than that.

Professor Guy Orpen, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bristol, said:

“We are committed to delivering a world-class centre for education, research, partnership and innovation that will be a success story not just for the University but for the city, its businesses, communities and citizens.

Due to our perfect Temple Studios location right in the heart of the enterprise zone, here at Ignite HQ we will be able to monitor its progress very carefully!  After all, we anticipate many of our stellar candidates of the future will be Enterprise Campus alumni!

University of Bristol and Its Role in Silicon Gorge

The University of Bristol is clearly playing a huge role in the continuing evolution of Bristol as THE smart city of the future. Indeed, in 2018 our acclaimed institution has once again been at the forefront of work on Smart City and Smart Campus 5G deployment in the city.

March this year saw Bristol become a test bed for 5G connectivity, where the University was on hand to flex considerable muscle.  The university’s Smart Internet Lab collaborated with STEM and arts facilities, “We The Curious” and “The Watershed” respectively to host the Layered Realities Weekend 5G showcase.  This world-class partnership launched the world’s first public 5G testbed to explore the next generation of wireless and wired connectivity.  Through a series of free experimental public events, Bristol citizens were invited to experience the overwhelming potential of 5G.

The University’s Smart Internet Lab, led by Professor Dimitra Simeonidou is one of only three research institutions in the UK chosen to develop this cutting-edge technology.  They have also created a series of experimental demonstrations, showcasing an array of trailblazing 5G technologies. These presentations will range from new radio and wireless-fibre convergence to network automation, public safety and autonomous cars.

Of the event, Professor Dimitra Simeonidou, stated;

“The  Smart Internet Lab is a world leader in the field of 5G network technologies. In March 2018 we are taking the challenge to deliver an end-to-end 5G network in Bristol’s Millennium Square and to demonstrate for the first time 5G services to the general public. We have worked closely with our strategic technology partners BT, CCS, Nokia and Zeetta Networks  in order to deliver a truly unique 5G Test Network and we are very excited to create the world’s first public 5G experience.”

The UK Government’s Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sports (DCMS) are investing in a world-class 5G technology test network that aims to put Britain at the forefront of the next wave of mobile technology.  Perhaps in testament to its digital prowess, Bristol has been awarded a share of the £16 million budget set aside to develop the cutting-edge 5G UK Test Networks.

Aside from educating the growing workforce, The University of Bristol are playing a far wider role in the technological innovation of this great city and Silicon Gorge.  Situated within the Enterprise Zone is The Engine Shed, home to SETsquared , a startup incubator affiliated to this prestigious institution. It provides a modern, dynamic and supportive business space…everything you would need to grow your high tech enterprise.  

This is a unique environment which has played a substantial role in raising Bristol’s profile in the tech and digital space. It currently houses 65 of Bristol’s most innovative ventures, but to date has supported more than 184.  These have included those from the worlds of telecoms, biotech, clean tech and security to name but a few.

If further evidence were needed of SETsquared’s prowess, their trophy cabinet includes numerous awards, including Global Number 1 Business Incubator 2015 (UBI Global), and Best Designed Incubator award (UKBI).

The aforementioned campus is not the only development underway in the Silicon Gorge.  In fact, it could be argued that it is just the tip of the iceberg. Engine Shed 2 will build on the success of its older sibling, Engine Shed, the building of which is well underway.   It will scale up from the original incubators’ offering and providing follow-on space for rapidly growing companies.  It will feature over 4,000 square metres of accommodation; including workspace, meeting rooms, incubator space and business lounge-like space for interaction between business people, the public sector and academia.

In line with Engine Shed, this impressive new facility will focus on high tech and high growth businesses.  The additional space will allow the exploration of other sectors, such as internet security and social enterprise.  There will also be a renewed focus on inspiring young people and under-represented communities, especially from the local area.

In a further demonstration of Bristol’s supportive culture are Oracle, who have introduced an accelerator program to support startups within the city.  A partnership of cloud computer resources and mentoring by Oracle executives contribute to a scheme which provides selected startups with a springboard to success. The 6-month program consists of state of the art cloud tech, a co-working space and access to Oracle customers, partners and investors.  It also includes invaluable insight from Oracle experts.

The undeniable opportunistic benefits of being included in such a scheme cannot be underestimated.  Oracle do not demand any financial stake from the startups it supports, and these promising entrepreneurs will not have to relinquish any equity from their growing businesses.  

Oracle supported startups have many success stories. One of which is that of Bristol-based YellowDog ; a cloud supercomputing capacity provider.  Oracle’s support and resource provision has enabled such companies to upscale at a rapid rate.  For example, over the course of year one, YellowDog enjoyed a marked increase to their customer base.

The Community of Silicon Gorge

The Engine Shed commit to supporting young businesses at every stage of their journey.  They also partner with The UK Business Angels Association, and have established The Bristol Angel Hub.  This exciting hub is a place where investors, entrepreneurs, business leaders, academics and corporates can collaborate, inspire and be inspired.  It showcases the strengths and innovations of the Bristol and Bath city region, facilitating the sharing of good practice and massaging the growth of the local investment ecosystem.  Among other things, members can enjoy the company of a select community; somewhere where they can take advantage of access to co-working facilities, training and development opportunities for angel investors.  They will have the opportunities to attend pitch presentations and an automatic invitation to the quarterly Investment Briefing events. Applicants to the Bristol Angel Hub come from a host of sources, including new and potential angels, investment funds and crowdfunding and online investment platforms.  Applications would also be welcome from private equity funders and non-investment professionals that could add demonstrable value.

In addition to this, local government schemes such as business rate relief for fledgeling businesses give support to those within the Enterprise Zone.

Buoyancy aids such as these, have allowed many young projects to call this opportunistic venue home, and have made trading from this hub of innovation a realistic aspiration and not just an ambitious pipe dream.

Perhaps one of the most successful enterprises to come out of The Enterprise Zone to date are food ordering service “Just Eat” .  They have embraced tech and startup innovation to completely re-model how we think about ordering take out.  In evidence of their ambitious business model, they have announced their intention to further disrupt the space.  Speaking at the Mobile World Congress, “Just Eat”’s CTO announced their plans to use voice interfaces so that customers would no longer have to use menus  or even speak to anybody when ordering food.  They plan to sync their services to home devices, such as Amazon Echo, and Google Home, whilst embracing other areas of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR).

In a seeming act of “paying it forward”, Just Eat also announced the introduction of the brand’s second startup accelerator program. 

The tech power of Silicon Gorge is also noticed and appreciated by outsiders – Channel 4, for instance, just announced that they will open a new Creative Hub in Bristol.

Beyond Tech

Not only is it Bristol’s tech scene which is enjoying such growth.  Bristol is well known for its diverse cultural influences and its strong sense of community.  All over the city, innovative and interesting projects are emerging only underlining these positive attributes.  One overwhelming example of this is the introduction of The Bristol Pound, the only citywide local currency in the UK.  This unique method of payment was introduced to build community connections and to support the local economy.  Used within the city limits in place of other more familiar payment methods, it ensures that Bristol money is kept within Bristol.  

The coming years look to be no less exciting.  In fact, quite the opposite. Alongside incentives for business growth and job creation, the enterprise zone will benefit from significant investment in infrastructure. £21 million has been set aside to improve the vehicle, cycling and pedestrian access in the area. £11 million will provide superfast broadband for companies, and of course, we can’t not to mention the £200 million citywide MetroBus scheme which launched earlier this year.  

Silicon Gorge – Conclusion

The city of Bristol has succeeded where many others before them have not.  The Enterprise Zone, and in particular The Engine Shed, have created a space where individuals and exciting fledgeling business can be nurtured and supported on their journeys toward prosperity.  

Bristol is vibrant, dynamic and culturally interesting.  It has embraced innovation and has been handsomely recognised with overwhelming industry support.  Its efforts to create a name for itself as leaders in the emerging tech and digital space have indeed proven fruitful.  

As we have seen, community is at the heart of such projects, something which Silicon Gorge can strongly demonstrate throughout its rich and diverse culture as well as its business practice.  Cultural and leisure attractions……museums, festivals, a strong cafe culture, independent retail and inner city regeneration to name only a few have made it a residential hot spot as well as a hub for industry. It has become a magnet for employers and tech and digital professionals alike.

Both progressive and aspirational.  Both Inclusive and exclusive. Bristol is somewhere that adds value. The whole package.   

It can combine history with legacy and there are not many cities that can boast that.

Do you want to relocate to Silicon Gorge and need help finding the right job? Contact us – we are always happy to help.

This is the sixth part of our Silicon Gorge series.: 

Part 1: Bristol Tech Scene on The Rise

Part 2: Silicon Gorge: a Great Place for Digital Employers

Part 3: Bristol Start Ups Never Had It So Good

Part 4: Bristol Tech Companies Recruiting Now

Part 5: Bristol Start Up List

About the author: I manage the recruitment for a range of digital roles for my clients on both a retained and contingency basis. I specialise in senior and confidential appointments, always giving a first class representation of a client’s employer brand.

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