Entrepreneurialism is not manufactured in a business park
The motive behind the coalition government’s plan to turn the Olympic Park into a ‘Tech City’ after the games to stimulate the technology industry in the UK is admirable, but I don’t agree with the strategy. If the ultimate aim is to build world-class companies like Google of Microsoft from the UK, a top down approach is not the right way of doing it.
To encourage entrepreneurs and entrepreneurialism, you need to get entrepreneurs together. Shoreditch has already created an organic hub of very early stage companies who all cluster together because there’s an existing creative culture in the area, and there’s access to technical talent. What the government is proposing will not replicate this as it’s more of a corporate hub for established companies.
Even with names like Google and Facebook, which are undoubtedly incredible companies, the reality is that the people who will be at the park are essentially professional managers running the UK or EMEA operations. If you’re walking the halls or eating in the cafes in the Tech Park, you won’t be bumping into Mark Zuckerberg, Sergey Brin, or Larry Page. And that’s where the real value is.
The unique culture that Silicon Valley has is built on entrepreneurs meeting, sharing war stories, and inspiring each other. Being surrounded by professional managers, even if they are of a very high calibre, is not the same thing.
If the government wanted to build a new tech hub, the companies it should be urging to cluster together are some of the UK’s established entrepreneurial companies such as Moo, Betfair, Huddle, Wonga, and Moonfruit. That way, budding entrepreneurs can learn from these companies’ unique experience of founding and building a business in the UK.
Ultimately, building a thriving start-up culture is a bottom-up and not top-down process. If we want more global leaders, we need more seeds from which to pick winners. The Tech Park will support winners, but not necessarily create more of them by itself.