Recently, the chancellor, George Osborne, vowed that the UK would become the “technology centre of Europe” at the opening of the new Google Campus in the Silicon Roundabout area in London.
The chancellor suggested that the new Google Campus in London, which offers desk space and mentoring for technology companies, will help “create the next generation of British technologies”. In doing so he rekindled the debate about the UK’s ability to create a global tech start-up hub to rival Silicon Valley.
Any move to foster a greater number of tech start-ups in the UK should be applauded. But is Britain really in the right shape to be this ambitious? Do we have the right talent to support this infrastructure in the first place? The Drum magazine editor Gordon Young argues that there is an issue cultivating talent in the UK. “There is a serious skill shortage which is the major impediment to its growth,” says Young. “There is also a culture in education — which tends to mean it is very slow in terms course developments — means that graduates are not always fully prepared for this fast developing sector.”
Bima chairman, Justin Cooke agrees. He says that homegrown talent is alive and kicking but often lacks the support that it desperately needs. “There is a plethora of digital talent across the length and breadth of Britain,” says Cooke. “The last few years have seen an explosion in the rise of a new generation of ambitious entrepreneurs across Europe.” The question is: How to support them?
Britain has a history of great technology companies; let’s not forget that it was a Brit who invented the World Wide Web in the early 1990s — the London-born Tim Berners-Lee. “The internet was founded in the UK,” says Young. “Some of the first social media sites such as Friends Reunited launched here too.” Then why is it that we don’t have our own Google or Facebook? “I think the issue is down to a broad range of factors such as the business culture, entrepreneurial market and the availability of VC cash.”
But before you begin to support talent, you need to pinpoint it. One initiative founded to try a help foster talent, is IPA’s Creative Pioneers challenge. This was designed to help its agencies hand-pick talent from a pre-selected pool and has gone down a storm. Of the IPA’s 581 shortlisted candidates 47 were subsequently offered internships or apprenticeships, with a further 51 being offered ‘business support’.
The Metro newspaper was keen to get involved. “We want to help young creative and talented individuals to develop their skills and realise their potential,” explains Metro managing director, Linda Grant. “We know how tough it is to get a foot in the door of the creative media industries. Creative Pioneers is a terrific opportunity for young people to take that first step on the ladder and kick start their career.”
“Creative Pioneers was founded to help develop the UK ecosystem in creative and digital media technology to create world-leading innovation in branded content and advertising platforms,” says IPA director of marketing and executive director of the Creative Pioneers Challenge, Janet Hull. “Its aim is to connect existing entrepreneurs and leaders with budding entrepreneurs and the next generation of future talent. It offers job opportunities, networking with peers, business mentoring and support for start-ups.”
Living in America
But even once we foster talent, will it just skip off across the Atlantic to sunnier climes? The Drum’s Gordon Young highlights this as a problem: “Europe doesn’t foster talent to the same extent as the US market. This is partly to do with an attitude to risk. It is also down to the fact that Europe does not yet operate as one market. As a result regions such as California simply have a far greater volume of cash available, which is partly down to the fact that their home markets are much larger.”
So, do we produce enough innovative companies that grow quickly and end up big? “No,” says Young. “This remains a major challenge, although there are some signs that this might now be changing. However, British firms do have a tendency to cash in the chips – very often selling out to US concerns — before they break into the megasphere.”
Digital Hall of Fame
The British self-deprecating attitude is a trait that funds our humour and our inability to be truly proud of our accomplishments. With the exception of the Olympics, we rarely puff our chests up with pride. Isn’t it time we start showing off more about our talent, the companies and people this country has borne?
The Hall of Fame was founded in part to recognise the individuals who have helped build the UK digital industry. Launched by the British Interactive Media Association, or Bima, it conducted a public poll into the top 20 Britons who deserve to be celebrated. Bima has teamed up with The Drum magazine and the digital marketing show, ad:tech London. The winners will be announced 19 September 2012, at ad:tech London, taking place at Kensington Olympia. Each year thereafter a new digital champion will be elected into this living, breathing archive of the greatest Britons in digital.
Bima chairman, Justin Cooke thinks it was about time that we made a fuss about the talent on our tiny island. “We founded the Digital Hall of Fame to recognise and celebrate the individuals that have changed and shaped our world, to tell their stories and highlight the impact of their accomplishments, in the hope of inspiring the next generation.
“And as Europe’s largest digital event ad:tech is the perfect partner to help us ensure that the Digital Hall of Fame reaches as wide an audience as possible.”
With these initiatives in full swing, now is the time to nurture entrepreneurial individuals and commend the small companies that make Britain great. This approach means we can produce more of the technology firms that rival those from all over the world, and lead the way with our own Silicon Britain.
Hear more about Creative Pioneers and be the first to hear the Digital Hall of Fame announcements by visiting ad:tech London 19-20 September 2012.
Register now to attend for free http://www.ad-techlondon.co.uk/register