Trying to clone Silicon Valley has been a cornerstone of this coalition’s business policy. Rohan Silva, until recently the PM’s policy guru, spent several years in government and opposition creating the ‘Silicon Roundabout’, an attempt to provide a new leg for the UK’s economy in East London.
Depending on who you believe, the East London Tech City project has either been a roaring success or a waste of time. Despite all the encouragement from the government, the main challenge is recreating the enticement of Silicon Valley in Shoreditch — something that may be impossible. Brent Hurley, a founder of YouTube, spoke on the Today programme this morning about the ethos of the Valley:
‘For me, I think Silicon Valley is more a state of mind, it’s a mentality, among entrepreneurs to look at the world and if you see something they want to change, a pain point, then try to develop a solution or a product to address that. Take your idea and bring it to market. ‘
Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to travel to the West Coast to investigate what makes the region so special. This little snippet, from exploring the startup community in San Francisco, shows what East London is up against:
‘My second mission was to find some nerds in their natural habitat. Sightglass Coffee is a hip entrepreneurial gossiping shop owned by Twitter billionaire Jack Dorsey. People drink strong lattes (ordered using iPads, naturally) while boastfully discussing ‘where our next million will come from’. The techies here — all skinny red trousers and lopsided haircuts — could be from east London, although in Shoreditch this kind of talk would be pure fantasy, fuelled by seven pints. In California, these conversations are actually serious. “I don’t even know what it does, but it’s something to do with HTML5,” said one gaggle of bores. “But it’s only a matter of time before Google show up and we’re set for life.”’
Having a business community based on an ethos is always in danger of loosing its edge. Hurley doesn’t think Silicon Valley is becoming another New York — ‘there are certainly big tech companies, but there’s always up and coming ones’ — but believes California will remain at the forefront of technology startups the near future:
‘There’s always been a sunshine tax in California. Taxes in California are one of the highest states all across America…but for startups, the constrained resource is just technical talent, and Silicon Valley in California has the highest concentration of that. If you’re looking to build your team of smart folks, you’re going to do that in California. Even if the taxes are incrementally higher there.’
So, where should the UK go from here? On Thursday, the next Spectator debate will be exploring this whether the UK is capable of producing the next Facebook. We’re delighted to some of the most knowledge figures on the matter speaking, including the Prime Minister’s ex-advisor Rohan Silva, the culture minister Ed Vaizey and entrepreneur Julie Meyer. Find out more information or book tickets now.