I read a piece this week in the Guardian about a report citing concerns over the government’s plans to convert parts of the Olympic Park into office space for technology companies. The report suggests that it is too far away from Tech City to feel part of the same hub. It also says it will be difficult to attract companies to the area, especially in the early stages of development, because it will feel like a ghost town and won’t have the life and stimulation of somewhere like Shoreditch.
I think it’s great that this government has been, and continue to be, supportive of the UK and London’s tech industry. They understand that it is one of the few bright spots in the economy right now and will be a source of growth for the future. There have been a number of good initiatives from the government like the entrepreneur’s visa, increasing entrepreneur’s relief and also further expanding the EIS scheme to encourage further early stage investment.
But in this case I have to agree with the findings of this report that the government’s plans for Olympic Park seem poorly thought out to me. I think technology hubs have to be really concentrated to work well and benefit from the all-important trickle down effect. Silicon Valley and New York are great examples of this. I also feel that the foundations of a technology hub have to be built in an organic way – governments can help to accelerate its development but they cannot create something out of thin air.
This all got me thinking that a much better way to reuse the Olympic Park would be to build a University for Science and Engineering that would focus on software engineering and all things computers. This is something that is poorly served in the UK’s universities and doesn’t even exist in our schools, something that really holds back the development of the industry. In the US one of the key drivers of their technology hubs is the availability of talented and trained software engineers who can build great products and go onto to build great companies of their own.
The idea was inspired by New York’s ambitious plans to build a new science and engineering campus on Roosevelt Island. The project is going to cost around $2bn and will be funded with a combination of public and private sector money. I think this project is wonderfully ambitious and could set a new benchmark for education and how it can work alongside the economy to the benefit of all sides.
All successful technology hubs have relied on close connections to universities and colleges – the Valley with Stanford and Boston with MIT and Harvard. I’m a big believer in the UK’s growing tech industry as an investor in many of its start-ups but definitely one of the main things holding us back is a shortage of technical talent.
The UK government should take note. What better way to secure the legacy of the Olympic Park than to turn it into a University that will provide much needed talent to turbo charge an industry with such a bright future ahead of it?