Booming silicon roundabout 'owes nothing to government'

By Stuart Sumner
18 Jul 2011 View Comments
Old Street roundabout in east London

The influx of tech startups in the silicon roundabout region of East London owes nothing to the government, despite Prime Minister David Cameron's attempts to associate himself with the trend.

This is according to the founder of a silicon roundabout startup, Chris Downs, co-founder of business information resource, who says the government has done little to help companies in the area.

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"I couldn't point to any one thing the government has done for business in the area," says Downs.

In David Cameron's 'big technology' speech at the end of last year, he described his government's vision for a Silicon Valley-style hub of innovative technology companies in East London – around Old Street and Shoreditch.

Cameron admitted the trend was already beginning without his government's involvement, but said he intended to facilitate its growth.

Downs says the trend had started due to a mixture of skills in the area and its relative affordability.

"It's a natural place for startups to gravitate to. It's right on the edge of a strong creative community, with a lot of digital agencies around. So there are people who have experience with data and the web, who happened to find cheap space in that area.

"It was happening without the government, and I can't see any material impact the government has made."

Cameron has spoken to both Google and Facebook about additional investment in the area, which he termed the East London Tech City. 

However, Downs feels that interference from corporate giants would kill the booming startup industry, and the situation would be even worse should one of them move into the area.

"When I hear conversations about bringing Facebook and Google innovation quarters to the area, I worry it would make [the area] something very different," says Downs.

"It would be the land of big corporates, not the startup corner. They'll force the prices up and we'll have to go somewhere else."

Recruiting staff with the right skills is another area of concern for Downs, and another reason to keep large corporations away from the area.

"It's really hard to recruit talent at the moment, especially in technology. We're already losing brilliant talent to Google and Facebook. We were working with a professor in data analytics and the project ended because he got snapped up by Google."

Downs explained that bringing those corporate giants to the doorsteps of young startups heavily reliant on their talent would increase the risks of staff poaching.


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