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New Silicon Stakeholders: How the East can build its own valley

PUBLISHED: 08:30 07 August 2019 | UPDATED: 08:50 07 August 2019

Could the East of England build its own Silicon Valley? Picture: Archant

Could the East of England build its own Silicon Valley? Picture: Archant

Archant

Silicon Valley companies are turning their sights to the East of England - pumping millions into the region.

Paul Graham. Picture: MatrixxPaul Graham. Picture: Matrixx

Talent is drying up in the Californian tech heartland, but in this region a combination of university leavers and London commuters mean there is a pool of untapped talent to be exploited.

Matrixx Software is a Saratoga-based company which began operations in Suffolk five years ago.

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Now, the communications giant has announced that it will be opening its second engineering hub in Adastral Park, doubling its headcount in the UK.

"Over in the valley there's a skill shortage," said Matrixx's director of UK engineering Paul Graham.

"People don't realise this. It's because there are so many companies over there with so much money being invested - there are a lot of opportunities for software developers and it's a sellers' market - it's saturated."

The company currently has around 200 employees, and a turnover worth tens of millions of dollars.

"In Ipswich the skill is still relatively untapped," said Mr Graham. "There's talent in Norwich and Cambridge thanks to the universities. In Cambridge it is not that affordable to live there, whereas here it is and you can get to work in ten minutes."

Mr Graham said he was also seeing a lot of developers turning their back on Shoreditch in a bid for a better quality of living.

"The value of the sell here is that there's no commute. You don't have to spend two hours on the train getting there and back every day," he said.

Matrixx Software will be investing upwards of £2m into new offices in Adastral Park, and hiring around 25 new people in October.

The company is recruiting in roles in predominantly app and general software development.

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This is because the company is building the infrastructure to be able to process payments when 5G becomes readily available.

"How do you monetise 5G? Of course you go from 3G to 4G to 5G. It's faster, but how do you sell that to somebody? That's the problem," Mr Graham explained.

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Mr Graham and his team are creating networks to be able to process charges, meaning that through Internet of Things technology, consumers can make purchases.

An example of this could be an app created for a furniture store which shows customers items through augmented reality on their screens. They would then be able to make a payment through the app and 5G network.

Matrixx are making connections through the Adastral Park network which is helping them build the infrastructure to be able to provide these services.

"The park is a network within itself and that's what the silicon valley phenomenon is," said Mr Graham.

"It's self-perpetuating. If somebody else looking to set up and take some of that talent then they'll see this and will move over, building that eco-system."

He added that working with local institutions was key to continuing to grow the talent: "We're all stakeholders in Suffolk and we need to work with our local institutions - once you've got a source of talent then you attract more companies.

"We are working with the University of Suffolk and sponsor projects and knowledge programmes where the students are trained in anticipation for them one day working for you. It's a bit like a research project," he said.

However he said that although the talent is there, Suffolk needed a wake-up call about its image.

This is because Mr Graham found it very difficult to find managed office space on a reasonable lease.

"If you're a two or three-man start-up you can find some desks and a meeting room to borrow," he said. "If you're five or ten in a team you can find some decent space. But if you scale up to 20, 30 50 people, that's a significant investment and there aren't any spaces - just massive floors with long-term leases that need to be fitted out."

He said: "The council and community need to make it desirable for companies to come in and stay. We can be a Silicon Valley of our own and Suffolk can strive to achieve this as long as you provide the resources."

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