London’s Silicon Roundabout is No Longer a Joke

by francine Hardaway on June 12, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-06-12 at 4.58.34 PMShoreditch High Street looks nothing like it did two and a half years ago when I first visited TechHub, the London accelerator and collaborative workspace co-founded by Mike Butcher, European editor of Tech Crunch. At the time, the entire Old Street/Shoreditch area was pretty unpopular, but in an incredibly short time all that seems to have turned around and Tech Hub itself now has  locations throughout Europe, in Bucharest, Riga, Manchester, Berlin and Swansea, as well as in Bangalore.

I had lunch at a trendy restaurant on Boundary Street yesterday and my host, Mark Perera of Old Street Labs, showed me what has happened to the  East End area (besides Olympic Stadiums.) It’s been more than gentrified, with rooftop bars and members-only clubs, and of course  Google’s Campus London. Campus London opened right after I left in late 2011,  I checked it out last summer, but it has now become the place every geek entrepreneur wants to be according to my sources.

Campus London is a seven-storey building at the heart of East London’s Tech City, dedicated to helping entrepreneurs to grow and realise their ambitions. Powered by Google, Campus works with partners Seedcamp, TechHub, Central Working, Startup Weekend and others to offer mentoring, educational programming, events and the support young businesses need to grow. Since opening in March 2012, Campus has already become host to Europe’s largest tech startup community.

 There’s a “mall” near the Shoreditch Underground Station, full of boutique container shops. There are coffee shops, restaurants and bars. And an atmosphere of something happening.

I write about it because it all happened so fast. Only three years ago,I had drinks at a club in Trafalgar Square with an entrepreneur  who told me no one would ever go to the East Side. I guess he was wrong. The East Side is now known as London’s Tech City. The partnerships necessary to pull this off have been private, public, and everything in between..

OK, Phoenix. We’ve had more than enough time to do this. Like London, Phoenix is made up of a bunch of suburbs. To get from Hammersmith, in the West, to Shoreditch, takes an hour by Tube, like ti does to get from GoodYear to Chandler. But people do it. London has manufactured a place for innovation out of a not-very-desirable-or-central location. We’ve got lots of those. What we lack is the spirit of partnership that appears to govern London’s effort.. Chandler has done its damnedest with Gangplank to create an environment for technology, as has Mesa, but they haven’t really taken off. Phoenix’s tech companies are still afterthoughts.

Perhaps I’m envious because I see how all the events in London have centralized, which allows one place — probably Google’s Campus —  to act as a  known destination to build the brand. London Tech City has its own blog, too, like our AzTechBeat. Perhaps what we’re missing is the one company that will put some money into the community to foster the next generation of innovators. We’ve never had that, because we’ve never had a significant corporate headquarters, nor have our branch offices been companies like Google.Intel has never been focused on Arizona, except for tax incentives.

Now that GoDaddy has filed for an IPO, perhaps it will be able to grow enough to  create a central hub for innovation in the greater Phoenix area. Or maybe that will be Infusionsoft, which has always been more community-minded.  I swear, with a little help we could be London.

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