After a decade-long whirlwind of change, east London now has the well-deserved reputation as the UK’s own Silicon Valley. The number of technology companies and start-ups that can be found is exciting – and this weekend many of them are attending world-famous South by Southwest in Texas. We’ve grilled Duncan Ray, the Shoreditch Town Centre Manager who’s leading this journey to the New World, to get the lowdown.
Duncan Ray by East London Lines
The transformation of Shoreditch over the past 20 years has been substantial. What key factors do you think have contributed to the development of the area? How important have the tech and digital industry been in this?
The transformation of the area has been going on a while – in the late 16th century Shakespeare started off his career here; it’s had Hitchcock, the Young British Artists, different waves have come. But this latest wave has been very special – the ‘tech and digital industry’ is really another name for the companies at the forefront of innovation, society and culture. I see technology as an enabler.
Do you agree with the Silicon Valley comparisons? And which tech and creative start-ups are you excited to be working with in London?
I spoke to a big VC guy a few years ago and we agreed that east London beats Silicon Valley because we have creativity, industry, investment – all in a living, breathing city, rather than miles and miles of separate offices. I think each place specialises, and Silicon Valley has its obvious specialism, and so does London.
There are so many great start-ups, and the workspaces are the places to find them. Shoreditch is blessed with some of the best workspaces in the world. TechHub, the Trampery, Hoxton Mix, Shoreditch Works, the list goes on. Take the music platform space, we have Mixcloud going past 10m users a month, ThisIsMyJam (where you upload your favourite song of the moment) is doing really well, Pingtune (sharing music with people in fun ways) getting good investment and Audiosplitter (creating collaborative playlists) working with Mother London and operating out of Somethin Else. Not to mention Songkick, Dopplr and Last.fm.
What does your role as Shoreditch Town Manager involve?
There are five town centre managers across Hackney – the others being Dalston, Hackney Central, Hackney Wick and Stoke Newington. We support the local business sector, help them navigate council services; provide creative initiatives like the venue www.bl-nk.org and Hackney House. It’s a great job because you work with a range of people all day who are all creative and full of energy.
Being so heavily involved in Shoreditch, you must know lots of unknown gems off the beaten track. Where’s your favourite place to hang out in east London when you have a day off?
There are so many things going on, actually www.destinationhackney.com is a great site for finding things to do. If I could pick one gem it would be an event, it’s worth keeping track of the dates and diarising…Dance Nation Dalston. It’s a great annual event in Gillette Square with some mind blowing dance moves on display.
This is the second year you’ll be taking Hackney House Austin (HHA) to SXSW. Can you tell us how you’ll top last year’s incredible experience? Who’s going with you this year?
We’ve a stellar line-up this year, it’s bolder and bigger. We were surprised by the response to last year’s HHA, and the ‘Hackney is a force to be reckoned with’ comment during the closing speech of SXSW by Bruce Stirling really spurred everyone on. This year we‘ve even more amazing Hackney companies, and everything has gone up a notch.
Last year we showcased Makielab dolls, this year we’ll have them being 3D printed. Last year we had the iCity infographic, this year we have the newly-named Here East curating our MAKE day and bringing an exhibition. We have BA, Gensler, V&A, Human After All, Absolut, Becks, Stella, and Nordic Connection joining Hackney Council as the main sponsors. And another 40 partners providing sponsorship either financially or in-kind, like Tech City News our media partner.
We think we have one of the best line-ups in Austin. It’s the only place in town you’ll get to see the US and UK go head to head in a meme battle, try your luck in a digital raffle and help the Victoria & Albert museum collect the future. You can also catch Grammy award-winning Cory Henry playing a Hackney-designed keyboard and pick your team as Hackney and Austin young people pitch million pound ideas live to international brands.
Students from Hackney Community College have been working alongside Austin Community College to develop pitches to respond to briefs from major brands. Top digital agencies have provided support for the Millennial Mentoring project and the three teams of Hackney students will be coming to Austin to deliver their presentations. This element is really important. The tech industry in Hackney is thriving; we need to make sure the young people in Hackney are connected to and benefit from the training and job opportunities this sector provides.
What are you excited about seeing or doing while you’re in Texas?
Having more time this year to go and explore Austin. We’ve such great friends over there (being business friendship cities) and whenever we get a chance we are treated to amazing Texan hospitality. This year I’ve got to eat in Lucy’s Fried Chicken on South Congress.
You can see the programme and exhibitor details and get tickets at www.hackneyhouse.org. The days are themed DESIGN, MAKE and PLACE.