Tech City: are there really 600 new tech firms?

11 Nov 2011

The Prime Minister has said Tech City is well and truly established in East London, with the Government claiming 400 new tech firms have set up in the so-called Silicon Roundabout area since last year, bringing the total to 600.

Now that would indeed be an accomplishment, if it were true. However, the new Tech City Map -- launched to mark the one-year anniversary of the plan -- doesn't support that claim.

It maps 819 companies -- 219 more than the Government's claims -- and is supposed to allow users to "analyse the tech ecosystem in East London". Scroll down the list, and it's clear a fair few aren't really so much tech start-ups as marketing agencies, lawyers, architects, photographers, PR firms, art galleries, financial services and dance studios, as well as festival organisers, clothing shops, and the singer Mary J Blige. It even includes Fabric Live, as though the famous club having a website meets the criteria for inclusion as "tech".

We -- myself and my poor work experience assistant Oliver -- looked into the first hundred companies (if anyone wants to look into the next 719, I applaud you). About half are tech related, and that's pretty generously including digital marketing and designers who looked vaguely techy.

Even if you stretched a bit and included designers, photographers and "creatives", it would be tough going to get to 600 out of the list -- a point financial data company Duedil and startup support firm TechHub agree with, saying in a blog post that they've identified only "200 high-growth, technology-oriented companies" in central London.

A spokesperson for Tech City said the data came from two sources; it included 250 software businesses gathered by business agency Gateway to London and 550 more "broadly defined digital businesses" put together in a door-to-door survey by the team at Digital Shoreditch. That full list includes 1,000 businesses, which Tech City whittled down to "550 more-broadly defined digital businesses, which included those who were part of the digital movement, so may include fashion houses, architectures, etc, who are doing interesting things with software, etc".

The objective with the map was to compile a good rich dataset to launch the site, then let the startup community fill in the gaps and get as close as possible to a comprehensive picture.

"As such, some of the businesses that came in as part of the Digital Shoreditch dataset are not tech firms, but they are still part of the startup ecosystem," the spokesperson said, so the team "worked through a random set of a hundred companies and found 25 that weren't tech related. That suggests 200 or so non-tech businesses in the whole dataset".

Startups or settled firms?

It's also unclear how many of the listed firms are actually newly founded. To get a sense, I took a very unscientific look -- although clearly scientific enough for Tech City and the Government -- at the first ten firms listed (this is out of 819, so it's very much a snapshot):

1. RedMonk is a developer-focused analyst firm, founded in 2002.

2. Ruby Pseudo is a consulting firm. I don't really understand what they do, but they started in 2008.

3. Indigo makes customised T-shirts, and has done so since 2002, moving to the area in 2007.

4. Mark Smith appears to be a graphic designer, and has been since 2005.

5. Mind Candy is a successful app developer that makes Moshi Monsters. It was started in 2003.

6. Dopplr is another UK tech start-up success, and has been since its launch in 2007.

7. Rapid Eye has offered darkrooms to photographers since 1996.

8. Last.FM is another darling of the start-up scene, and deservedly so. The music streaming service has been kicking around since 2002.

9. Darq is an IT support firm -- and apparently the commercial side of hacking group Darq.net. It's been going since 2001.

10. SoundCloud is a sound sharing system, started in 2007.

Not one has been founded in the past year. Surely some of the remaining 809 firms listed sprung up in the past 12 months, but it's rather hard to tell, so we've asked Tech City for more detail.

Time for a curator?

Rather than release a confusing, padded-out list,  Tech City should curate it carefully and highlight the real tech start-ups -- the next Last.FM or TweetDeck, not the next Nathan Barley.

I realise the Tech City folks are trying to create excitement around the project, and big numbers help that (and the buzz must be working, as the BBC reports that some firms say rents are already going up). But it's hard enough for tech startups to get their names out without having the very body created to help them adding to the noise.

Read more

Blogs