What the East of England’s £8bn tech economy needs to keep growing
PUBLISHED: 16:41 14 May 2019 | UPDATED: 16:41 14 May 2019
Tech companies in the East of England are booming.
That is the simple conclusion from the annual Tech Nation report which outlines the health of the sector across the whole of the UK.
Turnover in the region's tech sector topped £8.3bn in the financial year of 2018/2019.
There are 89,000 people employed in the industry, producing around £101,000 per head worth of output in a year.
But, experts warn, for the East of England to stay ahead as the tech revolution gathers pace the region needs the funding and network to support it.
Industry leaders who are paving the way for tech in the East to flourish are pleased with the progress - but remain determined the build on the successes.
According to Tech Nation's 2019 report, 15% of the £6.3bn of venture capital invested in the UK came to the region.
This includes capital funnelled into the well-established tech hubs of Cambridge.
Neil Garner is the founder and chief executive of Norwich's Thyngs. The company specialises in contactless payments using QR codes.
"It's clear from reading the Tech Nation report that the UK is prioritising the tech industry - you've got Theresa May doing the forward for the report," Mr Garner said.
"But when you're looking at the break down of where capital investment is going, so much of it is heading into London and it's not spread evenly around the county."
In fact, 36% of all tech investment in the UK went to the capital.
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"But when you look at the awards - like Tech Nation's rising stars - there are so many in this area. Look at us and Developing Experts, as well as the likes of Rainbird. We are here and we're succeeding but it's not given the attention like it is elsewhere," Mr Garner added.
"You look at the report and the names that keep coming up are London, Manchester, Cambridge - but there's a lot of people doing exciting things in Norfolk and Suffolk who just don't want that lifestyle."
But instead of trying to outshine the shadows cast by Cambridge's £582m investment between 2015 and 2018, Mr Garner said Norfolk and Suffolk need to utilise their neighbour's expertise.
"We're always saying we don't have the skills or resource in Norfolk to be able to compete but they are there in Cambridge. I think we need to improve network and infrastructure and work collaboratively if we're going to keep improving tech businesses. These businesses are popping up but it's happening slowly," he said.
"There is such an opportunity in the UK to lead on FinTech. But I think specifically in Norfolk we can really insure InsurTech (insurance tech), because we have the likes of Aviva and Marsh.
"But it's on the big companies to start looking out and working with the smaller local firms to start developing this."
Indeed investment in FinTech start ups have trumped any other sector for the past four years, bringing in £4.5bn.
"We do have other opportunities in the East because of advancements in internet of things (IoT) technology," said Mr Garner.
"We still have a strong manufacturing industry which IoT tech could really improve - a similar thing could be said of the agriculture sector."
Mark Thomas - managing director and founder of tech firm Coderus, based in Adastral Park in Suffolk's Martlesham - believes the current success is just the beginning.
"'Booming' I wouldn't say because that would imply its not stainable but it is," he said. "I have seen this region grow and building up over the last years - in fact I feel we are hitting a critical mass now - with the events we have run and excited to see the Suffolk tech scene to started to shine, with other great examples of StayLists, IJYI and Inawisdom.
"However investment is needed on multiple levels to maintain the current pace and to accelerate it - but its also important for us employers to invest in team and skills too.
"I would see IoT developments and machine learning as tech areas this region can thrive and dominate as we have many other companies such as Qualcomm and BT who have their research and development in this region.
"There are also opportunities for clusters like ours by offering better lifestyles for employees. I also believe all clusters should be collaborating as each one generally have areas of expertise."
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