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The UK’s top tech hubs outside London

Nissan Innovation logoNissan Innovation 23/09/2014 Robert Bright

Look beyond the capital and you will find a variety of cutting-edge technology hubs...

Custard Factory in Birmingham is the city's very own creative and digital hub © Custard Factory Custard Factory in Birmingham is the city's very own creative and digital hub Silicon Roundabout in London’s Old Street is one tech hub everyone knows about. But these digital clusters are springing up all over the UK, and we’ve rounded up the best.


Newcastle is buzzing right now. There are 25,000 workers employed in hi-tech industries around the city, which has the second-highest rate of new start-ups behind London’s Silicon Roundabout. As well as big hitters such as the software company Sage, there are myriad small businesses emerging, supported by the start-up accelerator Ignite 100, which has also just opened Campus North, a 10,000sq ft venue that’s home to 150 developers and designers. Ignite 100’s co-founder Paul Smith says: “Newcastle has a strong native community of developers and designers. It’s an exciting place for business and culture.” Websites like Digital Union  and the TEDx Gateshead are great places to go to find out more about how you can get involved, and for a bit of face-time networking, don’t forget the pubs, The Town Wall and The Forth being two favourites.


The 85,000+ students at Manchester’s universities make for a highly adventurous and experimental atmosphere when it comes to innovative technologies, while Manchester Science Parks is host to more than 150 companies focusing in areas such as biotechnology, ICT and digital media. The place to go for those interested in getting something started is the TechHub on Lever Street, part of an organisation whose tentacles stretch out globally to such places as Berlin and Bangalore, and which provides a fulcrum around which like-minded techies can meet. For a spot of networking, try Silicon Drinkabout where you can enjoy a pint of Boddingtons and mix with some of those engaged in start-ups across the city.


Auld Reekie is far from being on the fringe when it comes to tech start-ups, with a scene that’s really started buzzing this past decade, after the arrival of the flight comparison website SkyScanner in 2003 created something of a domino effect. TechCube, based in Summerhall, a creative hub in the heart of the city, cultivates an environment that blends start-up businesses with an ‘open ecosystem’ including plenty of public space on the ground floor where “hackers, geeks, artists and everyone in between” can experiment with their ideas. Conveniently, the same venue is also home to the anarchic Hacklab, a shared space where people are encouraged to get their hands dirty and dive into the nuts and bolts of creating hi-tech engineering. The open nights on Tuesdays and Thursdays are perfect for getting some feedback on any project ideas you might have, no matter how wacky they might seem.


Cardiff's very own workspace for innovative startups, FoundersHub © FoundersHub Cardiff's very own workspace for innovative startups, FoundersHub The Welsh capital is gradually getting into the tech groove, and the collective Cardiff Start should be the first port of call for those interested in getting involved. It puts on events and brings together an incredibly extensive network of entrepreneurs, whose specialisations are as diverse as they are innovative. Stephen Milburn, founder of TradeBox Media and one of the key developers of the collective says: “We’re all unpaid. Our vested interest comes from the idea that what’s good for the scene as a whole is good for us.” As for potential workspace, FoundersHub offers 2,500sq ft of space in a state-of-the-art environment, including an extensive library of tech books. What’s more, there are free workshops every Friday on ‘web, tech and start-up life’.


In this new and fast-moving scene, Silicon Fen, like East London’s Silicon Roundabout, represents the venerable Old Guard, its history stretching back more than two decades. The university and its worldwide reputation has played no small part in the region’s rapid rise as one of the most significant cogs in the emerging knowledge economy, but don’t be put off by the seeming exclusivity of such an environment. Websites such as CamTechNet offer ways to connect with technology companies in the area (around 1,400 of them according to recent counts) and offer events like start-up masterclasses and start-up weekends. Another way to get involved is to join up with Creative Front, an initiative from Anglia Ruskin University designed to “stimulate, incubate, grow and further creative industries” in the Cambridge area, by providing resources, networks and training for anyone with an enthusiasm for new technological opportunities.


England’s second city is not about to be left behind in the tech revolution. Its Silicon Canal, a non-profit initiative dedicated to showcase, support and develop innovation, has become home to the digitally minded Brummie. Contributing to that push are organisations like the Oxygen Accelerator, which features dozens of start-ups and investors, as well as developing a co-working space, Tech Tropicana at the Silicon Canal. Oxygen is not just there to help with the geekier end of the process. As Mark Hales, a local backer and entrepreneur, puts it: “It’s often the case that the sort of support start-ups need is not just technical advice but business advice, as well as sales and marketing.” But for some purely creative inspiration, head to The Custard Factory, where digital mixes it up with film, fashion and shopping.


Bristol has had a long association with tech and creative industries, with micro-electronics industries developing in the 1980s, and a diverse and hip entrepreneurial sector throughout the 1990s. Now, thanks in part to the establishment of a Local Enterprise Zone (LEZ) in the Temple Quarter, lots of vibrant new hi-tech start-ups are emerging. The most prominent hub is the Engine Shed, once the HQ of one of Victorian England’s most innovative engineers, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, which includes a business lounge with ‘innovation pods’, and puts on a wide range of events and lectures. The site includes incubators such as SETsquared, which provides opportunities for students, and freeware for those looking to develop their practical experience.

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