Yesterday’s Budget saw the government look beyond Silicon Roundabout and recognise the innovation and entrepreneurship that’s evident nationwide, investing £11 million in tech incubators in Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield. Two new “enterprise zones” are also set to be created in Plymouth and Blackpool, with the eight that already exist across the UK being expanded. As current “Enterprise Zones” have already created more than 12,500 jobs and attracted £2 billion private investment, this can only be good news. A Budget that encompasses nationwide innovation is certainly a leap forward from where we were five years ago.
It was back in 2010 that prime minister David Cameron set out his vision for a London Tech City set to rival Silicon Valley, stating:
"Silicon Valley is the leading place in the world for high-tech growth and innovation, but there is no reason why it has to be so predominant. Our ambition is to bring together the creativity and energy of Shoreditch and the incredible possibilities of the Olympic Park to help make East London one of the world's great technology centres.”
Then, in 2012, the prime minister pledged £50 million towards the regeneration of the Old Street roundabout - widely known as “Silicon Roundabout”. Cameron said the money would support the development of Europe’s largest indoor civic space house startups and entrepreneurs, giving them access to workshops, coworking spaces and more. It was later pulled but the fact he put the money on the table for London illustrates a bias towards the capital.
While it was fantastic to see the government supporting the high growth tech industry and nurturing innovation in London, other tech hubs across the UK, including Cambridge, Bristol, Reading, Leeds and Manchester, remained in Silicon Roundabout’s shadow. According to a report back in 2013 by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, there were 270,000 companies that made up the UK’s digital economy, so focusing all efforts on London seemed a little shortsighted.
The £11 million investment in incubators in the North and support of Enterprise Zones shows the tides have turned and the government is looking to digital clusters across the UK to help drive the economy. This is also highlighted by the fact the Tech City initiative, which was originally launched to support and grow digital businesses in East London, now encompasses companies across the UK.
Support for the next wave of entrepreneurs was also evident in the updates to the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme and Enterprise Investment Scheme, so that businesses no longer have to spend 70 percent of the funds raised under SEIS before EIS and Venture Capital Trust funding can be raised. As a founder, I’m all too aware of the fact is takes a huge amount of time and effort to raise funding and it becomes a job in itself as you go to meeting after meeting and deal with all the paperwork. In the meantime, your business has to continue running. Being able to secure investment concurrently means management teams can spend more time doing what they should be doing – running and building a successful business.
There’s always still more that can and should be done, but the Budget was a step forward when it comes to supporting digital clusters and entrepreneurs across the UK.