Old Street roundabout

Robert Belgrave, from Wirehive, and BIMA South asks the controversial question: is it time for innovative businesses to move from Silicon Roundabout?

London and innovation. Innovation and London. These days, the two are inseparable.

And the bond is only tightening. Just recently, a cluster of London boroughs and the Greater London Authority (GLA) unveiled plans to create a London Office of Technology and Innovation (LOTI) to link and strengthen digital initiatives in the capital.

GLA assistant director Andrew Collinge explains in a blogpost that while there are many initiatives encouraging collaboration in London, there is even more to be done to deliver innovation at scale and across boundaries. He implores readers to “Get involved in the next stage of London’s data, digital and technology journey.”

Good news for London, for sure. At a time of great upheaval, as we career into a post-Brexit unknown, we need to invest in and safeguard our greatest assets. According to the newly-released Disrupt 100 report, which ranks the world’s most disruptive ventures according to a judging panel of top tech firms such as Uber and Google UK, the UK’s start-up economy is flourishing, and continues to lead innovation in Europe. However, Matt Connolly, founder of the initiative and CEO of Tällt Ventures, warns that Britain “must remain an attractive option for start-ups if the UK is to maintain this status”.

As our capital stands at the helm of the economy, strengthening it is no doubt paramount to a stable future; but what about the innovation hubs popping up all over the country? Whether it’s Edinburgh, Manchester, Bristol or Bournemouth, these once promising digital collectives have now become booming economies.

What’s more, a study released earlier this year by accountancy firm UHY Hacker Young found fewer entrepreneurs are founding start-ups in London. The acclaimed Silicon Roundabout saw a 70 per cent fall in the number of new businesses set up across 2016. Is it time to turn our attention elsewhere?

In short, of course the answer would be no. Progressive initiatives like LOTI are, generally speaking, a bright idea. However, there is also a danger that as we advance our capital even further, we risk turning our backs on other promising regions. Rather than ignoring non-London innovation, there is a pressing need to start looking beyond the capital as the beating heart of our digital future – and we need to be unified in this objective on a national scale.

To break the habit, businesses have an important role to play. Whether in aerospace, banking or cosmetics, most industries today are being transformed and futureproofed by technological innovation, and they need to start recognising and investing in this reality.

My web hosting company Wirehive, for instance, which is based in Farnborough, has been running an awards ceremony for a number of years to celebrate outstanding creative and technical talent across the South. This year we’ll be hosting Wirehive 100 in Southampton, one of the UK’s rapidly growing tech clusters and host to the University of Southampton’s Science Park, which provides workspace for digital tech and science businesses. Earlier this year, we also teamed up with Surrey-based digital agency Kyan to host Web Expo Guilford, a conference to discuss the latest technologies, products and services impacting our day-to-day lives – exactly the kind of event you’d expect to find in a plush Shoreditch hotel.

These initiatives are just a couple of examples of how businesses can take charge, offering on-the-ground support and proactively celebrating other cities. But much more can be done. For instance, businesses should also be forming ties with schools and higher education institutions to educate students, who are just starting out, about the plethora of options across the country, rather than automatically directing them towards London.

Of course, local governments and businesses have a responsibility to showcase what their cities have to offer and help foster their individual economies; but, as the world becomes increasingly globalised and competitive, they need help. In order for the UK as a whole to retain its place as a figurehead of innovation, we need to do so together.

Robert Belgrave, is the Founder and CEO of Wirehive, and chair of BIMA South