Cambridge looks upon Tech City, and laughs!

By Milo Yiannopoulos on November 19th, 2012

How the entrepreneurs and angels and computer science PhDs and professors and local venture capitalists must guffaw at the spectacle of Tech City, a pointless exercise in local rebranding focused on the one bit of the technology industry – the internet – that the UK is almost spectacularly bad at.

Until this week, a layman in the Fens had little more than his own laughter-induced belly trembles and a bit of projectile spittle to point to when questioned on the subject. But thanks to investor Sherry Coutu, who has spearheaded the creation of the Cambridge Cluster Map, launched to coincide with her now legendary Silicon Valley Comes To The UK events, there is, at long last, some solid data to which the Cambridge cheerleader can point his interlocutor.

1,400 technology companies in Cambridge employ more than 53,000 people and turn over more than £13 billion a year. Such numbers make the two-guys-and-a-laptop brigade in Shoreditch look rightly absurd, and they raise questions about why the Government is pouring attention and resources into an area that will never come close to the innovation and returns happening in either Cambridge or along the M4 corridor.

The silly, narrow definition of “tech start-up” as equivalent to “useless iPhone app no one wants” must surely now be reconsidered as database, engineering, biotech, hard tech and every other sort of tech company can be shown to effortlessly outclass the internet sector. Very few tech businesses in London come close to the sort of size and success seen in Cambridge.

David Cameron himself has said that the M4 corridor is “Britain’s Silicon Valley”. He’s right: that’s where the money and power are in the UK’s internet industry. But if the UK – and, indeed, Europe, has a world-class technology cluster at all, it’s in Cambridge. The cluster map shows where some of Britain’s most exciting and profitable businesses are being built.

Eleven billion-dollar companies have been built in Cambridge in the past 15 years. This chart of the top 50 fastest-growing companies by revenue makes for eye-watering reading compared to the paltry growth of even the most celebrated east London internet companies. As for job creation? Well, the numbers speak for themselves.

Of course, many of the companies in Cambridge are no longer start-ups. You can’t really compare ARM with, say, Luluvise. But that’s sort of the point: where are the London-based technology businesses of any kind, particularly in the internet sector, of comparable size and revenue growth? Not in east London – and not, many would argue, anywhere else, either.

Among the earliest stage Cambridge companies, the top 50 hired 839 people last year and increased revenue against the last available data by £256 million, or 15 per cent. The top 50 companies overall hired an additional 4,146 people – a 14.7 per cent increase – and saw revenues lifted to £1.3 billion, a 17.6 per cent increase against previous records.

Here’s a bit more raw data pulled from the map, which Sherry kindly supplied me over the weekend:

1) Killer companies
Total Currently employ 6,789 people
Total Increase from previous data = 839
Total Previous employed Number = 5950
% change +12.4%

2) *Top 50 Companies which hired the most
Total Currently employ = 25,437
Total Increase from previous data = 5901
Total Previously employed Number = 19536
% change +23.2%

3) *Top 50 companies by revenue
Total Currently employ= 28,356
Total diff from previous data = 4164
Total Previously employed number= 24192
% change +14.7%

1) Killer Companies
Total Current Revenue = 1.7billion
Total Increase from Previous data = 256million
Total Previous Revenue= 1.44billion
% Revenue Increase 15%

2) Top 50 Employers
Total Current Revenue = 4.8billion
Total Increase from Previous data = 480million
Total Previous Revenue= 4.39billion
% Revenue Increase 10%

3) Top 50 by Revenue
Total Current Revenue = 7.4billion
Total Increase from Previous data =1.3billion
Total Previous Revenue= 6.1billion
% Revenue Increase 17.6%

All of which begs the question: why on earth isn’t UKTI focusing its efforts on the bit of the tech industry that actually makes money, pays taxes and creates jobs? It couldn’t possibly be, could it, that Tech City is little more than a PR exercise for a Government desperate to underscore its own entrepreneurial credentials by bigging up a noisy and self-regarding but ultimately unproductive community in London?

Heaven forfend!