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London: Tech capital of the world with international talent pool

Divesting the pin-stripe suits and donning Bermuda shorts and flip flops, tech gurus are flocking to London for their events and conferences. Fiona Keating reports.

Despite the capital city’s reputation as a land characterised by centuries-old tradition, London is the mover and groover of the technology universe. Research has shown that 80 per cent of all venture capital money invested in the UK since 2016 came from London’s tech firms.

“London is the undisputed tech capital of Europe,” London Mayor Sadiq Khan said. “With world-class universities and a diverse international talent pool, London is a centre for creative energy and innovation.”

The Brewery straddles the City of London and the periphery of trend-setting Shoreditch. Commercial director James Varah believes this blend of old and new is the big draw for many events and conferences. The main space here takes 900 people theatre-style, and the smallest room holds 48 people.

“It’s an 18th-century listed building but with an industrial feel, which resonates with a lot of the tech brands. It’s not that traditional hotel ballroom, or traditional conference feel. A lot of clients like it,” Varah says.

The Brewery has seen huge growth in the tech sector over the last six or seven years. “We have just over 150 per cent growth over the last five years in terms of tech conference revenue,” he adds.

“We were up until 2009, heavily dependent on the financial sector. Because of our location in London we were very reliant on the City, but then someone turned off the tap. That market changed so we had to diversify. We looked at the new business that was coming in. We saw there was more technology-focused software company events, so we invested quite heavily in the infrastructure of the building, including IT and connectivity.”

Plexal at Here East, Stratford

Plexal at Here East, Stratford

 

Tech a must-have ingredient
Bandwidth is crucial and the Grade II listed former Whitbread brewery is set up to have 2,000 concurrent users on devices at any one time. In order to keep up to date with the latest tech, Varah says they have recently changed their audio visual partner. They have signed up with Blitz GES which gives them access to a stable of event technology which gives their clients better data about their events.

The companies who come here for conferences have eye-watering turnovers, who didn’t exist ten years ago, says Varah. The largest event The Brewery hosted in April of this year was for Qualtrics, a data analysis business which is worth around US$2.5bn.

There is a theory that conferences and events are now turning towards where the talent is located, like a sunflower turns to the warming sunshine.

Moving even further east into Stratford is Here East, which clearly upholds that argument. Situated in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, this area was once a wasteland but transformed by the London Olympics in 2012. But Here East is much more than a legacy from the Olympics, says Helen Fisher, its brand and communication director.

East London’s 1.2 million square foot digital and creative campus is home to Europe’s largest Technology Innovation Centre. “The vision is to build an environment where collaboration happens between education institutes, startups, businesses and entrepreneurs. Artists and creatives are moving here from Hackney Wick,” Fisher says.

Based in the former Olympic Press and Broadcast Centre, which housed over 200 journalists during the Olympic Games, Here East is home to many tech companies including BT Sport, Sports Interactive, an online gaming company, and Signal Noise, a data design agency.

Tech talent is a key ingredient, with University College London’s institute of robotics located here. In November, the Monster Confidence conference brought 500 young women to Here East. Keynote speakers included internet entrepreneur Martha Lane Fox CBE and Kirstie Wilkins of Deloitte, as well as Here East tenants Hobs 3D and Ford taking part.

‘We are a campus which is very technology focused,” says events and creative programme manager Sophie Skewes. “Clients want to associate with the cool, east London rather than your typical venue in central London.”

Smart manages their event space. “We give them a brief that we very much like to attract tech companies here,” Skewes says.

The jewel in the digital crown is Plexal, the innovation centre. “It’s the largest innovation ecosystem in Europe. A mini-city complete with a town hall, cafes, makers lab, events stage, a high street, park and library. It covers 68,000 square feet, with over 800 members. This is where all the startups are.”

ASK THE EXPERT
Sean Spencer, head of venues and facilities  from the Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET) has witnessed the boom in tech. The London charity, situated next to the Savoy Hotel on the banks of the river Thames, was founded in 1910. The IET is one of the world’s largest and most established engineering and technology institutions with over 168,000 members in 150 countries.

“London seems to generate AI, robotics, autonomous vehicles, Fintech and medtech, among others. You’ve got all those little hub areas and tech cities – the east side of London where they’ve got all the new innovation hubs,” Spencer says. “There are a lot of ICT students in London – you’ve got institutions like ourselves which link in with many universities and academic partners.”

To attract tech events and conferences, the IET beefed up its AV equipment to the tune of £1.3 million. IT now takes up 62 per cent of all meetings that come to the London venue, with over 74,000 delegates visiting per year. The venue has two tiered lecture theatres, a roof terrace and 18 versatile spaces.

To further foster tech events, the IET actively works to promote gender parity and for many years has hosted the Young Women Engineer of the Year Awards in November.

CASE STUDY: ALL-NEW FORD FOCUS REVEAL AT HERE EAST
With Ford’s European smart mobility offices based at Here East, the company decided  this was the place to hold their launch event in April of this year.

The event took place in the large theatre located on the first floor, which sits in between the two main buildings, floating over the main yard. In order to get the cars in the theatre, a large platform was used to pull the cars up through the theatre windows.

To demonstrate the innovation and new design for the cars, a state-of-the-art stage was created for the reveal which saw the cars drive round the theatre with tiered seating around the outside for guests.  The event included cutting-edge AV, utilising the world class tech and connectivity  capabilities of the venue. The event ran for two days and saw over 200 media guests and Ford staff attend.

LONDON TECH CRUNCH

  • 36 out of 60 UK tech unicorns (private companies valued at US$1 billion or more) are based in London, with a total revenue of US$132bn
  • London holds more tech events than Paris, Berlin, Dublin and Amsterdam combined
  • At least 240,000 digital employees are based in London
  • The capital city has around 23,000 students studying ICT at London’s universities