UK Tech Hubs: East Anglia
Tech life beyond London
Although we pride ourselves on keeping abreast of tech news from all over the country, it can be easier said than done.
Titles like UK Tech News are making a conscious effort to cover regional tech hubs, but most national tech publications are very London-centric. If you want to find tech news from further afield in the UK, you have to go looking for it.
The UK media isn’t the only institution a little guilty of favouritism. According to City AM, London tech startups received 80% of all UK venture capital funding in 2017.
In the interests of self-improvement, we’ve set ourselves a challenge: to get better acquainted with UK tech scenes beyond London. We’re going to create a series of articles exploring the tech hubs we don’t know much about. Considering the Luminous PR team has connections to Newcastle, Manchester, Scotland, Wales, and beyond, it shouldn’t be too tricky. Perhaps we can even fit in an LPR road trip or two?!
But first, we’ll start with the one we know best: East Anglia. Comprised of Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, and some of Essex, East Anglia is home to businesses innovating in all sectors. According to the Tech Nation Report 2017, 47,786 people work in tech across the three counties, earning an average salary of £42618 and enjoying a generally high quality of life. The region also contributes £1.1 billion GVA to the UK economy.
While we’re on the subject of the Tech Nation Report, we were particularly pleased to see which UK city had the greatest ‘turnout’ for Tech Nation Survey responses:
1. Norwich – 364
2. London – 238
3. Leeds – 139
4. Belfast – 139
5. Redruth & Truro – 116
Top 5 responses, by City
— SyncNorwich (@SyncNorwich) February 13, 2018
From AI, and Agri-Tech to digital payments and services, let’s take a closer look at the UK’s most eastern tech hub.
Technology at our Universities
Although not strictly tech-specific, East Anglia’s tech hub is certainly contributed to by the many leading universities based here.
Most prestigious of the region’s universities is the historic University of Cambridge. The university has its own School of Technology, and its alumni have gone on to create a number of innovative tech firms, including Improbable, Cytora, and Darktrace. However, the city’s second university – Anglia Ruskin – is not to be underestimated. With a large School of Science and Technology, the university is attended by 20,935 students across its Cambridge and Chelmsford campuses.
Norwich also has two universities to its name. The Norwich University of the Arts (NUA) teaches courses on UX, graphic design, and game design, as well as more ‘traditional’ art subjects. The university is also using tech to improve students’ employability: it has partnered with Norwich firm Immersive VR to create a ‘simulator’ for creative professional environments. The University of East Anglia – also based in Norwich – has a strong computer sciences department and an award-winning business school. It also co-organises the annual Sync The City hackathon that has spawned several startups, including Safe Point App and SenLab.
Though smaller, the University of Suffolk still has a tech connection. As well as its Science and Technology department, the university has its own Innovation Centre to “put Ipswich on the map as a hub for tech-based businesses.” Not to be outdone, the University of Essex has collaborated with tech giant ARM to provide ‘degree apprenticeships’ in STEM subjects.
Tech communities and meetups
In our opinion, East Anglia’s flourishing tech scene is due – in part – to the amazing network of support communities. Collectively, LPR has lived and worked in the region for a long time, so we know it’s a friendly and helpful place. However, these great organisations help formalise and structure this helpfulness so it’s accessible to everyone.
Probably the largest support community is TechEast: the “collective voice of the digital tech sector in the East of England”. TechEast’s goal is to create a further 5,000 tech jobs, generate an extra £650 million GVA of economic growth, and place East Anglia as one of the UK’s top 5 tech clusters by 2020.
Another group providing regular support and networking opportunities is Sync Norwich. We’ve been to a few of the meetups and they’re always very popular – and not just for the beer and pizza! Sync Norwich also co-organises the annual Sync The City hackathon alongside UEA.
The group also has a number of sister organisations. Those further down the coast can benefit from the Sync Ipswich meetup group, which assembles at the Ipswich Waterfront Innovation Centre. There’s also Sync DevelopHER which is a Norwich-based meetup group aiming to “promote gender equality in the technology industry”. As well as regular events, the group runs the annual Sync DevelopHER Awards, honouring the achievements of women in the region’s tech scene.
Sector spotlight: Agri-Tech
East Anglia is one of the most fertile regions of the country, with much of the UK’s food produced here. Combined with the East’s tech prowess, it’s unsurprising that the region is home to a number of Agri-Tech businesses.
One Agri-Tech firm based here is KisanHub: a crop intelligence platform designed to give farmers greater decision-making insight. The technology is currently used by over 3,000 farmers to improve crops and increase yield. Earlier this year, the Cambridge-based startup raised £1.75m in pre-Series A funding.
Another is PBD BioTech. These guys have developed technology to help farmers screen for Bovine Tuberculosis.
The region has such a wealth of Agri-Tech firms, it even has its own membership community: Agri-Tech East. Their goal is to support “the growth of a world-leading cluster of innovative farmers, food producers & processors, scientists, technologists and entrepreneurs with a shared vision of improving the productivity, profitability and sustainability of agriculture.”
There are even plans in place for a new Agri-Tech workspace “park”. ARC Cambridge, which is due for completion in 2022, will be a community-based park for Agri-Tech and associated sciences.
Big players in tech
Don’t worry: we’re not going to run through every tech sector. There’s far too much going in East Anglia for that! However, we will introduce you to some of the biggest names in tech that have a home in the region. Chances are, you’ve heard of them already…
Although a national firm, BT has a large presence in East Anglia. In particular, its research and development team is based at Adastral Park, just outside Ipswich. Derivco, an international gaming software firm, has also made Ipswich its base on the UK mainland. The firm is a big employer in the region, and its presence in Ipswich town centre has more than tripled since 2015.
The region’s largest AI firm is Darktrace: a machine learning software company that uses algorithms to spot patterns and catch cyber-criminals. The firm is hailed as “the world’s leading AI company for cyber defence”. The firm received $75m in series D funding last year and made Tech City UK’s Future 50 in 2018.
Norwich also has its share of big players. Founded in 2000, Liftshare is the UK’s largest lift-sharing platform and is used by over 1,000,000 commuters a month. Payments software firm Epos Now is used by over 30,000 businesses across the UK. The firm was also made the Tech Track 100 for the third year running in 2018.
Workspaces and tech hubs
Of course, these amazing tech companies need the right environment to grow and thrive. Luckily, the region has plenty of accelerators and specialist tech facilities offering support and workspace facilities.
Norwich has recently gained its first ever accelerator facility: Tech Velocity. Based at the beautiful St James Mill, right next to the Barclays tech Eagle Lab, the accelerator is still bedding in its first cohort of startups. For businesses wanting to retain a link to an academic environment, UEA’s Enterprise Centre also offers workspace facilities, as well as being the UK’s greenest building.
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The historic Cambridge Science Park was founded almost 50 years ago by Cambridge’s Trinity College. Today, the facility is home to over 100 STEM firms, including the likes of Huawei, Astra Zeneca, and WorldPay. To encourage collaboration across its huge facility, the park hosts regular meetup and networking events to get its members together.
Suffolk businesses can benefit from the close proximity to BT at Innovation Martlesham: the tech accelerator and community located on the BT campus, Adastral Park. Chinese tech giants Huawei also have a base here and are currently engaged in a five-year collaborative project including Huawei, BT, and the University of Cambridge. Other members of Innovation Martlesham include O2, Intel, and Cisco.
Trust us: we’ve barely scratched the surface of East Anglia’s tech scene. We bet there are loads of great companies, communities, and events in our region that we haven’t even heard of yet!
We’re already looking forward to the publication of the 2018 Tech Nation Report in May. A lot can change in a year, and we want to see how far our region has come in the past twelve months.