As it happened: Tech Nation on Tour – Cambridge

Data & research, Tech Nation news

Kane FultonKane Fulton, May 23, 2018

Here’s what happened when the Tech Nation Tour came to Cambridge.

Following the launch of the Tech Nation Report 2018 in London in May, we headed to Cambridge for the second leg of our UK-wide tour. Here’s what happened.

The Bradfield Centre has a growing community

The event is being held at the Bradfield Centre, a new home for innovative businesses and entrepreneurs at the heart of Cambridge’s Science Park. It features coworking and other space, including an accelerator, for scaling companies. James Parton, MD of our host venue The Bradfield Centre, says that his company has 58 startups housed in its vibrant coworking space, and more than 100 events have been held in its auditorium.

Digital tech jobs and meetups are on the rise

Cambridge is one of eight cities in the UK with a higher than average digital density (or higher levels of tech employment). It’s no surprise to learn that the city has a high number of jobs in digital tech – 15,503 versus an average of 4,596 for the rest of the UK. Its meetup scene is a picture of health too – two of the city’s most popular tech meetups are on data science (including machine learning and AI), and the Internet of Things – both have more than 1,000 members. Cambridge has a digital tech sector turnover of £2.4bn. In comparison, the average digital tech sector turnover is £803mn.

Brexit is a top challenge

Challenges remain for entrepreneurs in the city. The top three identified in the report are: the cost of living, access to talent, and Brexit – indicating that Cambridge may rely more heavily than other locations on overseas talent. After Cambridge, the only other UK city to state Brexit as a top three challenge was London.

How to keep the UK in front

Tech Nation’s CEO Gerard Grech hails the UK tech sector and the success it has seen since Tech City UK started in 2010. The organisation was joined by Tech North in 2015 before merging with it in May 2018 to become Tech Nation. It was done with the intent of making the UK the number one destination for ambitious entrepreneurs.

Competition in the tech sector is “fierce and truly global”, says Grech, with the US and China racing ahead in areas such as AI. He adds that the UK must do everything to attract the best and brightest talent from abroad in the face of Brexit, and Tech Nation must make its Tier 1 Exceptional Talent Visa Scheme as successful as possible. Finally, Grech encourages entrepreneurs to get in touch with Tech Nation for support – no matter how busy they are.

Cambridge is no stranger to innovation

Robert Jenrick, Exchequer Secretary Treasury and the youngest minister in Theresa May’s government, says that Cambridge is no stranger to innovation having established its University and Science Park 30 years prior to him arriving in the city. Today, it’s home to some of the fastest growing tech companies in the country in addition to success stories such as GeoSpock,  Raspberry Pi and cyber security firm Darktrace, which at a valuation of $1.25bn recently became a “unicorn”.

Education must adapt and evolve

Jenrick says that Cambridge should build upon its 50 years of success and investment, connecting with areas such as Oxford and the cities in-between to reach the next level. He said that financial support – everything from Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) to venture capital trusts – must continue to be made available to entrepreneurs so that they can raise capital at the beginning and continue to secure investment as their companies grow.

Importantly, it would mean that founders wouldn’t sell out before they wanted to, he adds. Finally, a nod to digital skills – Jenrick says that the Government is investing in infrastructure, fibre and digital skills capabilities while making changes to the education system – the new “high-quality” T-Level vocation being a case in point.

The UK is made up of ‘digital suburbs’

Henri Egle-Sorotos, Tech Nation’s Senior Insights Manager, says that the 2018 Tech Nation report received 3,428 responses from people working in the UK’s tech sector. The report found that tech is the “bread and butter” of the economy, Egle-Sorotos said, with “digital suburbs” such as Burnley, Newbury and York driving it. Cambridge is home to both startups and especially scaling companies, and the city has twice the tech density (or level of digital tech employment) of London.

Open data means a more open report

This year’s report is Tech Nation’s first to be based on open data and is as granular as the law permits, says Egle-Sorotos. In Cambridge, it shows that conversations are taking place around big data and emerging tech. A member of the audience has asked if the sector should compare the “Golden Triangle” to Silicon Valley, rather than just London. “It’s a good idea,” Egle-Sorotos says, “I’ll take a look at it, and using open data you can too.”

Looking at the wider picture, the report highlights the sector’s diversity challenge: only 19 per cent of the digital tech workforce is female. And, despite the stereotype that digital tech jobs are for millennials, the average age of founders is 35. The report recommends that entrepreneurs recruit talent creatively.

Why global is a mindset

Founders4Schools founder Sherry Coutu says that Cambridge has the potential to become the UK’s number one destination for ambitious tech scale-ups. Dovetailed’s Kalnikaite says that her agency works in a global way, attending events in places such as Shanghai which has led to people from around the world applying to work for the company. Being based in Cambridge makes positions “very attractive” for people, she adds. Highland Europe’s Garrett says that it’s important for London and the UK to remain an international and diverse tech hub.

Cambridge is a city with skills

Speaking on how to address talent shortages, Bradfield Centre’s Parton cites his coworking space’s open and sharing culture while highlighting the “vibrant Cambridge meetups scene”. Parton says that the city isn’t lacking in people with technical skills, so instead his company focuses on up-skilling those in leadership, sales and investor relations positions. Being able to run events at Cambridge Science Park provides an “amazing advantage”, he says, but he stresses that convincing startups to leave their desks to attend them remains a challenge. “We must communicate the benefits of what we do.”

That’s it for now. We’ll next be liveblogging our third leg of the Tech Nation Tour in Edinburgh on June 22.