California may be able to boast Silicon Valley, but in a (not so) quiet corner of south-west England, is Bristol. A hub of digital prowess.

Dubbed “Silicon Gorge” by its residents, the city is home to a vast cohort of exciting tech and digital organisations.  Many of these progressive businesses began their life as startups, often within the nurturing and inspiring incubators that help support the growth of Silicon Gorge’s digital scene.

Tenacious and entrepreneurial, these young organisations have become scaling and thriving businesses.  These South West technology and digital scaleups are on an upward trajectory and heavily influencing the direction of their fields.

A history of innovation.

This zone of commercial enterprise has been a long time in the making.

Looking back to 2016, Rick Chapman, High Tech Sector Specialist from ‘Invest Bristol & Bath’ said, the city “is fast becoming known as a national and international digital hub”.  More recently, Ben Shorrock, of networking agency, techSPARK, remarked “Bristol continues to be a leading place for tech businesses and people.”

Looking at the numbers, “leading” is an understatement.

South West tech – the headlines.

Here are some stats around the South West digital scene.

  • Bristol and Bath are home to 4,894 of the 17,500 digital companies in the West of England.
  • The South West has the fifth largest tech sector of the 12 major regions in the UK.
  • Bristol has been named the fourth-most-popular UK city for start-ups outside London.
  • A business built in the South West is 17% more likely to survive after 5 years than if it were based in London.
  • The South-west tech sector is worth £11.0bn, generated through a workforce of around 170,000.
  • The South West’s digital sector could be worth over £19.2bn by 2026.
  • The number of ‘unicorn’ companies worth over $1bn in Bristol’s burgeoning tech sector was predicted to double to six over the coming years.

So why is the South West such a tech start-up dream?


Bristol is the focal point for equity investment into businesses in the South West. Neighbouring Bath is the second.

In 2020, Bristol was named to be the third largest UK city for tech investment with local businesses raising £308m.  Between January and July 2022, companies in the city raised a huge £220m in venture capital investment.  This contribution placed the city in the top 20 VC hotspots of Europe, behind only London and Oxford here in the UK.  These numbers prove that the region is vital to the country’s economy.

The most recent figures from 2023 are also healthy.

May saw 21 South West tech companies raise £44 million between them; more than half of what has been raised so far this year.

Incubator Support.

Bristol boasts some incredible academic and pastoral support for digital entrepreneurs.

Engine Shed.

Engine Shed is widely recognised as the heart of the city’s enterprise activities. Many entrepreneurs, business leaders, academics and corporates meet and collaborate here. Part of the University of Bristol, Engine Shed showcases the strengths and innovations of the region. It is the home of two further organisations that serve the digital and tech creatives of the region: SETsquared and techSPARK.

The Engine Shed in Bristol at night

SETsquared Bristol.

SETsquared is an acclaimed tech incubator. It provides modern, dynamic, and tailored support. Facilitating mentorship, it introduces start-ups to a network of companies and advisors. Its influence speaks to the success of the region.  In its lifetime, SETSquared has helped over 350 companies across 30 sectors raise over £660 million in investment.


techSPARK is the information hub for all things digital in the South West of England. It’s a not-for-profit community dedicated to connecting, educating, and strengthening these ecosystems. Its networking arm helps entrepreneurs acquire knowledge by fostering connections with mentors and peers in the cluster. It develops and discovers digital talent, while its focus on growth connects businesses with investors looking to support inspiring ventures.

Engine Shed in Bristol


Through an accelerator scheme to support start-ups within the city, Oracle provides selected entrepreneurs with a springboard to success.  The scheme commits to supporting qualified start-ups through access to Oracle Cloud technology, mentoring workshops, and business-enablement and support resources.  Oracle doesn’t demand any financial stake from the start-ups it supports.  Entrepreneurs will not have to relinquish any equity from their growing businesses.

Tech facilities and collaborations.

Bristol also offers some major facilities and collaborations.

Bristol & Bath Science Park.

This site is co-owned by the University of Bath and South Gloucestershire Council.  It offers world-class facilities, creating a space where innovative science and technology businesses can accelerate and grow.

Bristol Robotics Laboratory.

Bristol Robotics Laboratory is a collaboration between the University of the West of England (UWE) and the University of Bristol.  It is home to 450 academics, researchers, industry practitioners and start-up businesses seeking to understand the science, engineering and social role of Robotics and Embedded Intelligence.

Future Space Bristol.

Future Space Bristol is part of the UWE Enterprise Zone. It offers entrepreneurs and tech innovators opportunities to connect and collaborate with scientists, researchers, and graduate talent.

Quantum Technology Enterprise Centre (QTEC).

QTEC is a skills hub funded by Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. By educating and developing Quantum entrepreneurs, its work supports the growth of the Quantum sector in the UK.

Quantum Technologies Innovation Centre (QTIC).

QTIC offers facilities to support early-stage entrepreneurs and start-up companies in Quantum and Deep Tech.  It recently received £35m investment from the local government. A full-scale facility will open in 2025.

Science Creates.

Combining specialist incubator facilities, strategic partnerships, and VC funds, Science Creates is a Deep Tech ecosystem. Partnering with the University of Bristol, it mainly focuses on HealthTech and CleanTech. It also has its own early-stage investment arm.

Access to world-class STEM talent.

Across the region, the South West houses 14 universities. These are attended by almost 170,000 students, 11% of which are studying Technology and Engineering related courses; a higher proportion compared to the rest of the UK’s 7%.  As such it has an impressive output of STEM talent (57% higher than the national average).

However, the tech sector mirrors the national trend; demand for skilled workers continues to outweigh supply.  This of course presents more of a challenge for start-ups who don’t have the financial prowess or reputational pull of renowned organisations.

There has also been evidence to suggest a demand for more senior-level tech expertise to support start-ups and scale-ups. This is especially true with regard to experienced non-executive and C-suite industry expertise.

However, the South West does have much to offer experienced workers.  The region has a great geographical location which attracts the senior talent it requires. It also enjoys impressive transport links offering unrivalled connectivity, social integration, and commutable options with surrounding areas.

Financial support.

The Silicon Gorge receives levels of government support that enable start-ups to reap the benefits of a BS1 postcode.  Local government schemes such as business rate relief for fledgling businesses give support to those within the Enterprise Zone. These buoyancy aids have allowed many young projects to call this opportunistic venue home. Trading from this hub of innovation becomes a realistic aspiration and not just an ambitious pipe dream.

The future.

The future for Bristol and the South West digital ecosystem looks no less exciting. Earlier in the spring, engineering innovators, Dyson revealed its plan to build a £100m research hub in Bristol city centre.

According to Dyson, the city was chosen thanks to it being an “international hub for software and digital skills”.

This centre will create many new jobs and will add to its already 100-strong workforce.  The new technology centre would house hundreds of software and artificial intelligence (AI) engineers who will work on developing groundbreaking appliances of the future.

Why choose Bristol?

Global organisations such as Dyson could have their pick of locations. So why has Dyson headed back to the Silicon Gorge?

Ben Shorrock, managing director of networking agency techSPARK believes it to be a combination of the wealth of skills in the region and its impressive legacy.

He says Bristol has a

“…unique mix of historic industries from the creative, showcased in organisations like Aardman Animations and the BBC, to engineering through businesses like Hewlett-Packard and Airbus, means we’re a melting pot of the skills needed in developing cutting-edge tech.”

The Silicon Gorge - Bristol Startups Never Had It So Good

Victoria Matthews, a director of Business West agrees. She says Dyson’s decision is rooted in the South West’s tech talent and its business community. In a time when businesses are struggling to recruit and retain talent, Bristol has built a strong tech ecosystem and is graduating some of the most progressive digital and creative minds.

The city also has future technologies at its core. Emerging in the Silicon Gorge are organisations disrupting the Robotics, sensors, and AI sectors, all of which need expertise in data, hardware, and design. It’s no surprise then that global businesses such as Dyson choose Bristol as its location for its research and development centres.

Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol

Beautiful Bristol.

At its heart, it is also a region that is community-driven.  And as we’ve seen, its creative community reflects that.

The city also boasts cultural and leisure attractions……museums, festivals, a strong cafe culture, independent retail, and inner-city regeneration to name only a few. It is a residential hot spot as well as a hub for industry and has become a magnet for employers and professionals alike.

Bristol is diverse and culturally interesting meaning that not only is it crammed with innovative, ideas-driven leaders, it’s also home to the digital talent that can realise them.

The South West tech ecosystem has a reputation for being nurturing and full of unrivalled commercial experience. These mentoring qualities are matched by its tenant’s creativity, tenacity, and entrepreneurial spirit, making the Silicon Gorge an ideal location for ambitious and creative pioneers to embark on their start-up journey.

Bristol combines legacy with progression. It is both progressive and aspirational; inclusive and exclusive. There aren’t many cities that can boast that.

Are you a tech startup or scaleup?

Are you looking for the digital people to help you take the next step on your journey?  We work in the heart of the digital quarter and some of our esteemed clients are South West tech alumni.

Reach out to me and find out how we can help you today.

or find me on LinkedIn

About the author: As a founder of Ignite Digital Talent, I lead our brilliant team to ensure we deliver time and time again for our clients. I also stay closely networked with industry influencers to ensure we are well placed to understand the issues and challenges our clients face.

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