Welsh capital is the latest U.K. city to try to forge a thriving local hi-tech scene to rival London's Silicon Roundabout.
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"Silicwm Valley" in Wales might soon join the Cambridge Cluster and London's Tech City/Silicon Roundabout as a growing U.K. tech region, if a new Welsh group has its way.
Cardiff Start represents the Welsh capital's emerging IT startup community: a collection of over 300 entrepreneurs, investors and students who believe that their city is not just a "great place to work and live" but could also be a serious incubator of job and wealth creation.
"We're a city built on industry -- but the industries we grow are changing," volunteer organizer Stephen Milburn of Cardiff app development company Tradebox Media, told InformationWeek U.K.. "Rather than shaping steel as we once did, we're now shaping the world of tech and digital -- from mobile tech to e-commerce, from peer-to-peer file sharing to IT from recruitment to design. And we're doing things in a new (and very Welsh) way," he said. "In Cardiff, we're driven by the power of getting things done like nowhere else in the UK. It's a legacy that comes from our proud industrial heritage and a vision that is sculpted by the possibilities of our people."
Although it might look like a typo, the "cwm" in "Silicwm" is pronounced "cum" and is Welsh for valley. Cardiff Start, which has received funding from Cardiff University, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales and the Know Cities Project, is worth £110 million ($167 million) to the U.K. economy, said Milburn, and if it were one organization it would be one of Cardiff's biggest employers.
It's so new it does not yet have a formal structure, but Cardiff Start soon will "bring together the startup scene (and the knowledge within it) to show to the world the power of Cardiff's tech and digital businesses," said Milburn. "We're passionate about sharing knowledge, advice and help."
Cardiff has had its ups and downs. The once-thriving steel town started dying in the late 1970s, around the same time the city's maritime trade also started ebbing away. In an attempt to stem the decline, both national and Welsh civic money was funneled to re-develop the city, which has created a whole new docks area as well as other improvements. Cardiff got hip a few years back when the BBC started to do more programming there, including the "Dr. Who" series and spin-off "Torchwood,"
which claimed a futuristic secret base was operating under the new dock front.
The Welsh have even revived on the sports front, with the Dragons recently trouncing England to
claim the top spot in Europe's Six Nations rugby tournament .
All of these changes have resulted in Cardiff now seeing itself as a "thriving, dynamic and unique capital city," said Milburn, with a population of 325,000 people -- 860,000 including the wider metropolitan area. A big part of that population attends or works in the local universities, making the Welsh talent pool second-to-none in the U.K., he claims.
Against this brighter background, Cardiff Start's goal is to raise the profile of local tech startups and increase the flow of knowledge in the group, said Milburn. It plans to do this in many different ways: by co-hosting events such as presentation and pitching workshops led by local experts, sponsoring knowledge-sharing workshops and hack days, and mounting investment showcase events where members can speed-pitch their businesses ideas to a panel of would-be investors. To ensure Silicwm Valley is at the forefront of local and national policy and that its worth to the overall U.K. economy is noted, Cardiff Start will release regular financial reports of the group's value.
"We've already witnessed the success that comes when tech and digital founders get together to make things happen," said Milburn. "[London's] Tech City has led the way for us, but more than emulate this locally we're looking to tailor our work to the unique needs of Cardiff's entrepreneurs."
Key to that drive will be looking for ways to ramp up exports: Cardiff Start says around 30% of the group's products and services get shipped outside the U.K.. Being digital, says Milburn, "We're not constrained by delivery costs but we do face the challenge of localization. It's as important for our
members to attend overseas trade missions as those with factories and production lines, which is why we'll be running a series of events throughout the year to raise awareness of the export programs available to tech SMEs in the city."
"We're in the right place at the right time and have the right talent to make Cardiff work," said Milburn. "Wait and see as the Welsh 'tech dragon' reaches for its place on the global stage."