By Mitchell Gadd
Growth of Wales’s own technology hot spot to rival the Cambridge Cluster and London’s Tech City is gathering pace after news of the drive to put Cardiff on the world tech map reached Downing Street.
The emergence of a number of IT start-ups near the capital has led to an area of south Wales being dubbed ‘Silicwm Valley’, and this was underlined by the launch of Cardiff Start last month, a group representing its new businesses.
The group’s co-founder, Neil Cocker, was among those invited to meet the Prime Minister’s senior business advisor. Mr Cocker, who runs his own start-up, an e-commerce platform for music merchandise called Dizzyjam, also sits on the board of the Welsh Innovation Centre for Enterprise (ICE), which has played a key role in helping establish ‘Silicwm Valley’.
Since it was created as a social enterprise in July 2012, Welsh ICE has welcomed more than 40 new businesses, many of them digital innovators, to its base in Caerphilly with the aim of fostering a new generation of imaginative entrepreneurs for the region.
“As a group we know Cardiff and surrounding regions are a great place to work and live, especially to those prone to thinking creatively, and the growth seen at Welsh ICE in the last 10 months alone bears testament to this,” says Mr Cocker.
“But unless we give this movement more focus, the average resident, and international business community as a whole, could potentially remain completely unaware of the ‘digital dawn’ that is currently taking place in south Wales’s very own tech valley.”
Among those attracted to the proposition and support provided to businesses in Wales was BAFTA-nominated games designer, Cohort Studios, who relocated to Welsh ICE from the traditional gamers’ haven of Dundee, Scotland in 2012.
The company pioneered online gifting platform Timto and knowledge sharing app Noddlepod, whilst its latest offering, Cirkits Toy Robot Racing, has just been approved by Apple for download on iTunes. It was helped to set up base in Wales through support from the Welsh Government’s Digital Development Fund.
Sam East, who founded Audibase, a plug-in which allows users to both edit and publish audio blogs, has just launched tech start-up Sobytes at ICE, and believes that the nature of the sector lends itself to more companies following in the footsteps of Cohort.
“The great thing about the web is you can gain recognition on a global level, where location takes second place,” says Mr East.
“Most digital developers are free to choose where they work and that’s where south Wales and Cardiff comes into its own, and why it’s important to be recognised as an innovative city – it encourages creativity and as a result exciting projects are emerging every other day.
“As a start-up it’s great to be working around other businesses at ICE and have opportunity to network with a variety of people – getting help and encouragement from others in a similar position is a great asset to have.”
Stephen Milburn, co-founder of Cardiff Start and founder of app development company, Tradebox Media, outlines the importance of Cardiff Start in creating a strong ‘tech community’ that can lead to further private sector funding.
“We are, as a city, lagging behind in terms of promoting our tech start-ups and success stories,” says Mr Milburn. “We also don’t have a big investment flow in our sector; it’s funded almost entirely by the public sector at present. Cardiff Start is about private industry driving private industry to not only get better funding support, but help build momentum for the sector.
“It’s also important that we look internationally to promote the work going on here, and our biggest resource in doing that is our members themselves. You’d be surprised at the international connections and footprint Cardiff Start already has, and that comes from the wealth of experience from within our community that is encouraging further private sector investment.”
Welsh ICE co-founder Gareth Jones is fully supportive of Cardiff Start in trumpeting what the region has to offer both new and more established firms.
Gareth said: “I have personally had a hand in helping more than 40 businesses either set up or relocate since Welsh ICE opened its doors less than a year ago, and this is just in our own centre. If you consider this a reflection of what is happening across Cardiff and south Wales as a whole then ‘tech valley’ is not a pipe dream – it is happening here and now.
“The local landscape for starting exciting businesses in the area has radically improved over the last 18 months. One historic challenge has always been connecting the various silos of knowledge and through connecting like-minded individuals we are creating the perfect conditions for digital and tech developers.”