Article published in my column for the Huffington Post
Recently, the Chancellor George Osborne vowed that the UK would become the “technology centre of Europe” at the opening of the new Google Campus in the Silicon Roundabout area in London.
The Chancellor suggested that the new Google Campus, which offers desk space and mentoring for technology companies, will help to the “create the next generation of British technologies”. In doing so he rekindled the debate about the UK’s ability to create a global tech start-up hub to rival Silicon Valley.
Any move to foster a greater number of tech start-ups in the UK should be applauded. What we should be discouraging, however, is our continuing obsession with recreating Silicon Valley in London.
It’s my belief that the comparison between their Valley and our Roundabout is unproductive. The Valley’s unique combination of world-class universities, highly sophisticated investment infrastructure, established technology giants and start-up ecosystem is exactly that: unique.
Instead of creating a pale imitation, Britain should instead build on its own strengths – of which there are many.
The UK has a proven track record in creating brilliant technology businesses. ARM is powering the smartphone revolution and forcing Intel to play catch up, and Autonomy, that was recently sold to HP for £7bn, is another world leader to emerge from the Cambridge region.
And let’s not forget that it was a Brit who invented the World Wide Web in the early 1990s – the London-born Tim Berners-Lee.
So while we may not have produced consumer facing internet firms on the scale of Google and Facebook, we excel in building hi-tech firms that are the driving force behind many of the technologies that billions use every day.
Instead of gazing wistfully towards California, we should instead build on our distinctive assets.
I believe that we have a very hard-working and talented workforce, evidenced by the fact that the majority of my staff are based here. But we can train yet more local talent in the technical skills that are in demand by today’s technology companies, and provide them with a stimulating working environment that will reduce brain drain and migration to elsewhere in the world.
We should also start thinking bigger – I believe that the whole of the UK is small enough to transform into one huge technology cluster. As an example, WANdisco, the software firm that I co-founded, runs from dual headquarters in Silicon Valley and Sheffield. However, we are expanding out our development work from the ‘steel city’ to Belfast, and in US terms, the distance between these two cities is tiny.
With the announcement in this year’s budget of improved broadband infrastructure, connectivity in Britain will be better than ever.
There are lessons we can learn from Silicon Valley without trying to become a carbon copy of it, and still succeed in boosting innovation in this country.
This approach means we can produce more of the technology firms that rival those from all over the world, and lead the way with our own Silicon Britain.