Dubbed ‘the new Silicon Valley’, this hub of forward-thinking, entrepreneurial business heads has been quietly going from strength to strength in London’s East End.
Sandwiched between Farringdon and Stratford, this cluster of expanding businesses has evolved from the Silicon Roundabout – the epicentre, or beating heart, of a new British drive to bring a hi-tech business nucleus to London.
”So much more than simply popular and trendy ‘Silicon Roundabout’ is fast becoming ‘the major hub’ for media agencies and tech firms with a digital edge, in an area encompassing Shoreditch, Hoxton and particularly Old Street.”
What’s interesting though, is that David Cameron has recently stated the government’s desire to further accelerate the growth of what is now known as Tech City and, injected with fresh government cash, this concentrated hub of technology and business looks set to expand out of East London and into the surrounding districts.
“Once a rundown area dominated by derelict warehouses and manufacturing sites, East London has emerged as a miniversion of Silicon Valley, attracting hundreds of technology and new media start-ups.”
Expansion is the buzz word here. Just last week, Londoners were told that London-based developer ‘Mount Anvil will build a £160m residential tower block near east London’s hi-tech hub Silicon Roundabout’ – a whopping 36 storeys of residential apartments to be plonked right by Silicon Roundabout.
The Metro reported last month that ‘after it became a home to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) specialising in gaming, computing, mobile apps and design, Tech City is an area which has grown over the last three years from about 15 companies to more than 300’.
It’s clearly on the way up, with Cameron stating that ‘as a government, we are determined to continue doing everything we can to help support and accelerate this growth’ and Boris Johnson wants London ‘to be a beacon for the digital economy and with world-class creatives, advertisers and academic institutions we have everything this sector needs to thrive.’
All good. Reason to be hopeful as we teeter on the brink of a double dip recession, you might think?
Well, all this enthusiasm and goodwill has brought with it a note of caution recently: ‘there’s a huge question about regeneration, what’s happening in East London’ said Boris Johnson’s digital advisor, Kulveer Ranger. And it’s the knock-on effects of this regeneration that are the primary concerns here:
“If you describe it as gentrification (…) in the right hands it could become a very positive investment into a wider community. In the wrong hands, it can become a very exclusive thing, and it’s absolutely right to raise these as a challenge because that’s exactly what it is.”
So, what goes up, must come down seems the relevant cliché here. The vibe is very much that of making your own way, and anyone can be successful; ‘we want locals to join in, it’s exactly what we’re looking for and what we’re trying to do. They can be entrepreneurs straight out of university’ continued Ranger, but it begs the question, ‘at what point do you become a victim of your own success?’
As Charles Dickens’ 200th birthday approaches, it is apt that the area which formed the backdrop of his greatest tales is experiencing such vibrancy and change. Take Eventbrite for example, ‘a start-up based in San Francisco that sells tickets online’, who have moved over to Tech City to get amongst it with the big boys the other side of the pond.
‘London will be our hub for the rest of Europe,’ says Renaud Visage, a co-founder of Eventbrite, ‘it’s a natural progression for U.S. start-ups to move to the U.K., then expand further afield’ he says.
Specifically Eventbrite will be moving to Saffron Hill, a ‘district that was notorious for crime in the 19th century and inspired Fagin’s Den in Oliver Twist.’ What a difference 200 years makes.
So, will East London be the next Silicon Valley? These are exciting times for the businesses in the area, but can the growth be sustained and will the regeneration of the area benefit those who need it most? Let us know what you think.