Tech Nation on Tour 2017: Cambridge as a Tech City

HatCambridge Network are proud supporters of work of Tech City UK. Most recently we have helped them gather data for the Tech Nation 2017 report which provides an overview of digital innovation across the UK. The findings have been shared through a series of roadshow events “Tech Nation on Tour” which came to Cambridge on Wednesday 29th March. It was a fantastic evening, with presentations, a panel discussion, networking and even tours of the construction site that will become the John Bradfield Centre for start-ups. I was there, complete with stylish hard hat.  

As you hear a lot from me, we invited Andy Rice of Cambridge Network members Form the Future who support STEM education across the region shares his perspective. 

ARThe Tech Nation 2017 event was attended by about 60 of the region’s tech players. The event was run by Tech City UK whose role it is to advise government on industry trends and strategies. It delivered the results of the third national survey on the industry and presented a positive picture of a burgeoning digital economy that is growing twice as fast as the wider economy. London continues to be the digital powerhouse, with cities like Sunderland, Bristol, Reading and Cambridge hot on its heels. And the ripples of growth are spreading to all points of the compass. The Tech Nation report provides the most comprehensive guide to the current health of the Tech industry. It was soon abundantly clear that if the Tech industry was a football team, it would be Barcelona! The industry currently turns over £170bn (£2.1bn of which comes from Cambridge) and is worth £97bn to the UK economy. It has shown a staggering 30% 5-year growth rate in terms of economic contribution and its employees enjoy an average salary of £51k (44% higher than the national average). The UK attracted almost 3 times as much digital investment as our nearest European rival, France.

tech cityAs Gerard Grech, CEO of Tech City, commented; “the momentum is with us”.

Grech opened the event by sharing data that paints a picture of a nationally buoyant industry. As Theresa May comments in her foreword to the report, this “puts the pioneers of our digital economy at the forefront of a great British success story”. David Cleevley, CBE, Chairman of Raspberry Pi, followed by viewing the data through a Cambridge lens. “The Cambridge economy is growing at 7% year on year” he told us “- one of the fastest in the country. It has 15 companies with a net worth of £1bn and more companies turning over £50m than Manchester!”. According to the report Cambridge is more than 3 times as large as Ipswich and Norwich in terms of tech jobs, and dominates the region. However, Cleevely was quick to point out that Tech was only a small part of the ‘Cambridge phenomena’.

“The largest sector in Cambridge is manufacturing, followed by construction- just look at the crane-dominated skyline. Then ICT and life sciences” he explained. Cambridge’s success it seems, built on the foundations of 800 years of attracting the brightest minds in the country, is now based on having a vibrant, innovative business eco-system that promotes collaboration and risk taking. He credited organisations such as Cambridge Network, Cambridge Wireless and Cambridge Angels for working hard to create an environment of “directed serendipity” in which blue sky thinking is nurtured and entrepreneurialism is actively encouraged.

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Cleevely’s point was echoed in the panel Q&A that followed by John Bradford, Director of the Bradfield Centre. “I’m an outsider” he explained, “and have only been here for 5 years. I would like to explode the myth that Cambridge is a closed clique. Cambridge is an intellectual melting pot and creates a fertile ground for the best and the brightest. Its key strength is that there seems to be no form of jealousy here; there is no tall poppy syndrome”. Steve Marsh, Founder of Geospock, summarised the general sentiments of the panel: “the community has a lot of time for the next generation of entrepreneur. There’s a real sense of ‘paying it back and bringing it forwards’”

Much of the discussion focused on the STEM skills gap; with 51% of businesses concerned about the supply of skilled labour. Although it remains one solution, it can be a challenge to attract international talent from around the world. The obvious solution is to develop our own talent pipeline.

This resonates strongly with us here at Form the Future, and our work with Marshall on the Cambridge LaunchPad initiative. This programme is designed to engage and inspire children in every year group (with a particular focus on girls) in STEM, with a missioLaunchpad triangle logov2n to influence apprenticeship and degree choices, and ultimately deliver more engineers, techies, coders and scientists. There are lots of excellent STEM engagement activities going on in the region.  If we can consolidate the best of them, and put them under one cohesive banner, how much more powerful would that be? We want to lead the country in best practice STEM engagement, at all age levels. If we are going to achieve that, we need the support of the most community-minded, innovative companies.

If we are going to make any real impact  in this area, any initiative needs to harness what Cambridge does so well; find common ground between committed stakeholders, agree upon an effective and innovative strategy, then implement it with energy and passion.

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