Can Tech City support Britain's digital start-ups – or just those in Silicon Roundabout?

Digital veteran Phil Cooper provides news and insight on what's happening in the London start-up scene. An internet entrepreneur, Cooper has built and sold two digital businesses – the last to Fox/News Corp for an undisclosed eight-figure (US dollar) sum – and has just founded the native advertising business neoncandi.com

After more than 14 years working in digital advertising, I’m disappointed to see little progress today on government support for the UK wide start-ups community and tomorrow’s digital entrepreneurs in waiting.

Has Tech City placed too much focus on Silicon Roundabout?

I have primarily worked across the agency-dominated digital advertising landcape. The UK’s digital advertising market contributed £6.3bn to the UK economy in 2013. The majority of the sector is based around Soho and Covent Garden, but all we hear about is Tech City.

I was surprised to hear recently that the government initiative of Tech City is actually tasked (with a budget of about £2m) to empower the entire Digital Britain, not just Shoreditch. With the exception of its Cluster Alliance, you would be fooled for thinking it had any interest outside its key sponsor Google’s Silicon Roundabout.

No offence intended to the wide range of exciting businesses and entrepreneurs that are based there. (In fact, I have already run to your support on a different battle in the Evening Standard.) But it seems a shame that Tech City has not used the full potential of its unique positioning to provide some stimulation as well as training to our next wave of entrepreneurs. It could have additionally enticed Corporate UK to mentor them to maximise transfer of experience.

I would like to see more focus on creating UK-wide talent and connecting it through a non-commercial portal for start-ups. A drive into employment would further validate Tech City's training mandate.

The government funding initiatives of SEIS and EIS have helped start-ups find investment, but there is a documented lack of follow-on funding initiatives, together with no single non-commercial portal to accelerate fund raising. That could have easily been fulfilled by Tech City, and its omission is in my opinion a failure.

Without ranting, am I the only one in digital outside the Silicon Roundabout that feels we could be doing more to: foster career interest in digital, truly support UK start-ups and provide real resources to support fundraising and employment for digital growth from UK talent?

Currently, I see national budget overly focused on East London, facilitating US companies with easy visas and reducing their need to fully integrate into UK talent pool. And let’s remember these are the same companies that often form aggressive tax structures that do little to reward the UK economy.

Hopefully Tech City's new head Gerard Grech, who replaced Joanna Shields in January, will withdraw himself from the Google grasp and focus on empowering UK-wide digital talent.

It may be a large job to unravel the current disarray but if I’m feeling a lack of support in digital advertising only five miles down the road from Tech City, I’d therefore hate to ask a digital graduate in Newcastle their views on Vince Cable and David Cameron’s true commitment to Digital Britain.

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