Since its inception the The UK IT Association (UKITA) has campaigned to the government to start aiming their business support gun at SMEs and give genuine financial and commercial support to SME's. Back in 2010 when David Cameron said "We're not just going to back the big businesses of today, we're going to back the big businesses of tomorrow. Today [we are] setting ourselves the ambition of making Britain the best place in the world for early stage and venture capital investment," we were interested. Interested but not particularly optimistic. We had seen these promises come and go before.
So it was no great surprise for us to discover over the weekend that some SMEs and start-ups are turning their backs on the Tech City circus because the bidding process is too complicated, too expensive and requires information that most start-ups just haven't got. The Government promise to support innovation and start-ups has turned into the usual group of high profile companies competing to get the finance and leaving little more than scraps for the SME's that comprise 95% of the UK's IT sector buinesses. So we are more than pleased to recognise the work of a local businessman in Croydon who has started a grass roots campaign to get help and support to SMEs and start-ups in competition with the governments flagship scheme.
London's Tech City, occupying part of the East End, has received a lot of vocal backing from government officials and large Information and Communication Technologies companies such as Vodafone, Google, Intel and Cisco. The support has, perhaps, been most vociferous coming from London Mayor, Boris Johnston, who has supported the attempts to get the worlds biggest IT companies to set up shop in the UK.
The project has not been without criticism, with John Dyson saying that attracting high end businesses actually drives rent up and pushes out smaller businesses and start-ups. The top-down approach has also been criticised for ignoring problems with the skills shortage in the IT industry, not offering sufficient mentoring and for being little more than a marketing gimmick to make it appear the UK Government are ahead of the game in the ICT business market. Indeed, many of the companies that occupy “Tech City” are not technology producers but are actually the biggest consumers of technology in the UK business place.
Now a grass roots movement in Croydon is seeking to offer an alternative to Tech City aimed as start-ups and SMEs. They are aiming at offering entrepreneurs the possibility of support, mentoring and training opportunities to make Croydon a genuine hub for technology innovation.
The project is the brain-child of local man, Johny Rose. Johny and his team are spend all of their spare time trying to turn Croydon into a tech ecosystem by developing relationships with venture capitalists and local businesses. He has managed to get support from the Tech City Investment Organisation, with their deputy-CEO Benjamin Southworth giving a speech at the Croydon Tech City launch party.
"At the moment, activities of ours are separate but we can foresee links between us in the future. Croydon isn't far from Tech City either," Rose said.
As large as the task ahead of them seems they can take comfort from the fact that the worlds most famous technology centre, California’s Silicon Valley, started from similar grass roots forces combined with local research output from Universities- something which London has plenty of.
At the moment they have around thirty start-ups on their books and around two hundred and forty members who regularly attend the Croydon Tech City community events. They have a long way to go to become a significant dot on the technology map, but from humble beginnings many great things happen.
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