London still leading the way in tech startup culture

There are lots of reasons why London remains the beating heart of Europe’s tech startup universe, despite the UK’s current political turmoil.

Because of its shared language, the city is the first port of call for US companies looking to expand into the EU, while its long-standing reputation as a centre for finance makes it a shoo-in for fin-tech startups who want to leverage its considerable know-how. Add to the equation dozens of universities, ready access to investments and the inevitable cross-pollination of entrepreneurial ideas, and you have a recipe for startup success.

The number of new technology companies launched in the UK last year rose by almost 60 percent, with London’s tech businesses accounting for more than 80 percent of all venture capital (VC) funding invested in the country over the last two years – a total of £5bn, according to figures from London & Partners. That’s significantly more than the UK’s closest European rivals France (£1.55bn) and Germany (£2.15bn).

East London remains London’s tech hotspot

With Shoreditch and Hoxton at the epicentre of tech-driven growth, this area of East London has changed hugely in recent years. The once run-down neighbourhood has undergone a process of tech-fuelled gentrification that’s created plenty of employment opportunities for techies and non-techies alike.

Naturally, it’s a transformation that’s come with a price: rents in both residential and commerce sectors have skyrocketed, making it more difficult for new businesses to be part of the area’s thriving creative community. Thankfully, the emergence of tech-focused co-working spaces, like TechHub, has enabled even the smallest startups to benefit from the Shoreditch buzz.

The co-working formula not only means that means startups have an affordable way of basing their businesses in London but can also tap into the talent, networks and growth opportunities that proliferate in the capital. It also mitigates the risk to businesses of trying to succeed without ready access to tech-focused resources. Tech companies do succeed outside London – but, they’re likely to have to work far harder.

London is a fertile environment for tech unicorns

Tech unicorns are thriving in London – in fact, there are more billion-dollar private companies in the UK than in any other European state, boasting a combined valuation of $23bn, with London alone producing 36 unicorns.

From its London base, ecommerce start-up Farfetch has turned online luxury fashion retail on its head. Fashionistas can buy from its designer collection in over 190 countries and the word on the grapevine is that the company will soon be going public in New York, with a valuation of $5 billion. Fintech challenger bank Revolut is now valued at £1.2 billion, while Farringdon-based virtual world creator Improbable hit the headlines last year when it received more than half-a-billion dollars in funding – the largest investment made in a European tech firm.

London startups also have access to accelerator programs that provide education, mentoring and financing opportunities to promote rapid growth via immersive partnerships: accelerators like Seedcamp support hundreds of businesses a year.

The diverse London social and cultural scene is unrivalled

Away from the boardroom, London has much to offer its visitors. The capital’s many museums have free permanent exhibitions: South Kensington’s Natural History Museum, Science Museum and V&A are all within a short walking distance of each other and make for a splendid day-long visit. Art lovers will want to make a beeline for the National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery and Tate Modern which together house some of the greatest paintings in the world.

London is famous for its shopping: Oxford Street makes a good starting point but for high-end fashion, head for New Bond Street and Regent Street. Pedestrianised Covent Garden has a good selection of smaller, independent stores and boutiques.

A West End theatre show is a popular choice for an evening’s entertainment. Visitors can choose from a bewildering array of top shows at some of the most famous venues in the world. The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie is currently staged at St Martin’s theatre and is the longest-running show in the world. Restaurants in the area often offer pre- and post-theatre menus.

What makes Silicon Valley different?

As Facebook comes under tough scrutiny lately and Mark Zuckerberg has to apologise to the world, Silicon Valley and technology companies are making the headlines again. The road to stardom is not smooth but it requires more checks and balances and ultimate accountability as the Silicon Valley behemoths clearly can influence users in surreptitious ways. 

Artificial intelligence is what many companies in the valley like Facebook, Google and Microsoft are chasing frantically. "AI is the brains of the future and data is the new oxygen", Stanford University professor Dr. Burton Lee .

So what makes Silicon Valley different and why is everyone racing to learn about innovation from them?

  • They build and grow companies to a global level faster – and more efficiently – than anywhere else in the world
  • They create more new jobs and industries – faster – than anywhere globally
  • They look for and reward disruptive ideas, technologies, teams and intellectual property that can be scaled globally
  • They do world class research and technology development
  • They design, build and manufacture great technology products and services

Silicon Valley is where the world learns first many (but not all) new approaches to innovation!

Berlin – Europe’s burgeoning tech hub

Berlin is undergoing a quiet revolution. A city that was once scarred by a physical and political schism has cast off its grim cold-war legacy and is being transformed into a buzzing European capital by an avalanche of investment and the influx of talented tech-preneurs from across the world.

Earlier this year, a Savills study awarded the city its global top spot for ‘buzz and wellness’ – a metric that takes account of social, cultural and environmental factors such as entertainment and commuting times. 

Technology is in Berlin’s DNA

Berlin’s technology focus is nothing new. A hundred years ago, the city was something of a prototype Silicon Valley, dubbed ‘Elektropolis’ thanks to innovations pioneered by homegrown electronics manufacturers Siemens and AEG.

Flip the dial to 2017 and Berlin’s thirst for cutting-edge tech is now driving the advancement of the fastest-growing startup eco-system in the world, attracting impressive venture capital inflows and providing exciting investment opportunities for entrepreneurs.

Berlin’s success is due, in part, to its economic agility. Relatively low living costs, coupled with affordable office and studio spaces and a relatively bohemian culture has made it an attractive prospect for digital freelancers and progressive startups everywhere. The explosion of an ambitious, relatively young professional population has, in turn, created a vibrant community of artists and entrepreneurs that is sparking a new wave of innovation in Germany’s uber-cool capital.

Tech startups are leading the way but others are hot on their heels

It’s estimated that a startup business is being founded in Berlin every twenty minutes, with inward investment out-performing traditional business hubs, including London. This traffic is being given additional impetus by Brexit, as foreign investors look for fresh and fertile business locations on the European mainland.

International tech giants like Google and Facebook are at the vanguard of investment; Google already funds the Factory Berlin tech hub and is set to open a campus in Kreuzberg later this year. Locally grown companies like incubator Rocket Internet, music streaming service SoundCloud, food delivery firm Delivery Hero and Auto1, an online used car marketplace, are also making headlines with record levels of market capitalisation.

Berlin’s social and cultural highlights

A visit to Berlin is a must for anyone who’s interested in the anatomy of a successful startup but there’s plenty to enjoy away from the boardroom.

Berlin’s built environment speaks of its political history, as well as being informed by the input of modern architects such as Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius. No visit to the German capital is complete without a walk along what’s left of the Berlin Wall, more than twenty-seven years after the reunification of Germany.

A trip to the Holocaust Memorial, located just south of the Brandenburg gate, is also time well spent. The memorial pays tribute to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust; the five-acre site features 2,711 concrete ‘stelae’, arranged in a grid pattern on a sloping field in a poignant reminder of lives lost.