London, Manchester, Edinburgh: Most people with a passing interest in the technology industry can name the UK’s most prolific centres of excellence, where start-ups and SMEs rub shoulders with international giants, and the links between higher education and enterprise have truly matured. However, move away from these areas and there are lesser-known but no less impressive examples of innovation to discover, whether in smaller cities or, even more surprisingly, away from urban locations altogether.
The South West of the UK in particular features a wide range of dynamic and exciting centres of excellence, driven by a powerful combination of investment in superfast connectivity, collaboration between universities, new technology incubators and lower-cost premises than other parts of the country. Let’s take a closer look at some success stories from some of the South West’s most surprising locations.
The top tech hubs in South-West England:
Starting in the most southwestern corner of all, Cornwall is one of the UK’s least populous and most rural counties (its only city is Truro, with a population of under 20,000). However, back in 2010, a project to introduce fibre optic internet to the county was launched, and by 2015 it had covered 95 per cent of the county. By 2016, Tech Nation was reporting that a cluster of digital economy organisations around Truro, Redruth and Cambourne was the second-fastest growing in the entire country, with turnover going up by 153 per cent from 2010. It is a powerful accolade for the impact of effective connectivity.
Some specific examples of digital tech innovation in the county include the members of Software Cornwall, which celebrates the region’s fast-growth status and provides networking and representation opportunities to the likes of Crowdfunder, Launchpad, FibreCRM and many more. And the county’s technology industry truly is reaching for the stars, with an announcement in 2018 that the Goonhilly Earth Station will receive an £8.4 million investment to deliver deep-space tracing and satellite communication services.
According to the Tech Nation Report 2018, the eighth-largest city in the UK is the country’s most productive and competitive technology cluster in the country. The report shows that digital technology businesses in Bristol recorded a turnover of £7.9 billion in 2017, while the city supports nearly 27,000 digital technology jobs. Factor in nearby Bath, with its £61 million investment from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport into the Temple Quarter Enterprise Zone for creative, media and microelectronics businesses, and the picture looks very exciting indeed.
Major telecommunications companies such as Nokia, Vodafone, EE and BT are all based in Bristol, as well as a wealth of start-ups and SMEs. Collectively, they enabled Bristol to be named a ‘super cluster’ by CBRE in autumn 2018 – that as, a city with between 50,000 and 70,000 people in high-tech employment. This placed Bristol in the top ten for the whole of Europe.
This market town in East Dorset has a population of just over 15,000 – and an impressive array of IT services companies, serving not just the flourishing business community in areas such as Poole and Bournemouth, but much further afield. Excitingly, in November 2018, Wimborne-based life sciences company Solentim won a coveted place on the Deloitte UK Technology Fast 50 list, following an outstanding revenue growth of 1,106 per cent over the previous four years. The firm is a global leader in cell line development, which in turn drives the development of innovative new bio-therapeutics, and ultimately new treatments for a wide range of diseases. Solentim’s achievement is a reminder that small, highly specialist companies are fantastically-placed to have a major impact in the technology sector – and these can be found all over the country.
The Tech Nation Report 2018 for Exeter revealed that the city’s digital technology businesses turned over around £172 million, and there were over 10,000 digital technology jobs in the city in 2017. The TechExeter and Digital Exeter communities, as well as incubators such as SETsquared, have helped to create a vibrant, dynamic and community-led approach to technology innovation, supported by the city’s excellent university and further education institutions. The Met Office Informatics Lab is also based in the city, paving a powerful path in environmental science and data analytics. The smart capture, analysis and application of rich data is at the heart of many of the most exciting developments in digital technology, and Exeter has rich expertise in this area.
The South West is a largely rural region with a heavy focus on agriculture, so it is perhaps unsurprising that some of the biggest technology success stories in the area have focused on optimising this sector. Somerset’s Shepton Mallet might be best known as a cider town surrounded by hills and countryside, but it is there where farmers are testing robotic feed bins and health monitoring collars.
Meanwhile in Devon’s seaside town of Plymouth, university researchers are developing sustainable technology solutions to revolutionise crop production. FABsoil, which seeks to ‘create’ soil and study its properties, is a collaborative project between the University of Plymouth and Cornwall’s Eden Project, and demonstrates not only the high-tech innovation happening in Plymouth itself, but also the rich potential of collaborative and communicative work between different tech hubs in the same area.
The IT industry offers some of the most diverse and exciting opportunities for growth in the UK, whether enabling ambitious entrepreneurs to set up brand-new enterprises, or powering efficiencies and innovations in established sectors. By looking beyond the most well recognised, established and urban tech hubs and shining a light on centres of excellence elsewhere, we can generate and maintain a truly nationwide flourishing technology industry.
Nick Orme, CEO, ITEC
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