Why tech ‘unicorns’ are flocking to the East of England

PUBLISHED: 05:10 30 March 2020 | UPDATED: 08:34 30 March 2020

Adastral Park at Martlesham, Ipswich  Picture: LEE WILKINSON

Adastral Park at Martlesham, Ipswich Picture: LEE WILKINSON

© Lee Wilkinson 2018 All rights reserved Norfolk & Suffolk Unlimited

The East of England’s growing position as the UK’s regional hot-spot for artificial intelligence and ‘deep tech’ has been backed up by a new report.

Norwich University of the Arts gaming technology  Picture: NORWICH UNIVERSITY OF THE ARTSNorwich University of the Arts gaming technology Picture: NORWICH UNIVERSITY OF THE ARTS

Outside of London, the latest Tech Nation 2020 report – published on March 17 – showed the region leading the way for the UK’s fast-expanding tech sector and becoming a hotspot for “unicorns” - or top tech entrepreneurs.

Across the UK, the industry’s Gross Value Added (GVA) performance grew six times faster than the rest of the UK economy in 2018 and contributed £149bn to it – or 7.7% of total GVA.

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Digital tech now employs 2.9m people in the UK – a rise of 40% from 2017 – representing 9% of the total workforce, the report found.

A quarter of Europe’s top 20 highest investment tech cities in 2019 were in the UK – Cambridge among them. The others were Manchester, London, Bristol and Oxford.

TechEastchief operations officer Tim Robinson. Picture: TechEast.TechEastchief operations officer Tim Robinson. Picture: TechEast.

In the East of England, the total emerging tech investment between 2015 and 2019 was £998m, the report said, and the median digital tech salary in the region was £39k, putting it in the high-skilled, high paid bracket. Nine digital tech “unicorns” – privately-owned businesses with a worth greater than £1bn – were based in the region, the study found.

Tim Robinson, chief operating officer for digital technology businesses network Tech East, said the report’s findings spoke for themselves in terms of the growing importance of the region for the sector, and were “massively upbeat”.

“What the data says is outside of London the East of England is performing the best of all the regions in the UK on all the measures,” he said. “The report is telling us what the level of investment has been in the last year and in the last four years.”

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The region is an “absolute hot-spot” for artificial intelligence and ‘deep tech’, or specialist business-to-business software technology such as medical life sciences, he said.

While he expected all the “unicorns” were based around Cambridge, or the wider CB postcode, it nevertheless indicated the east as a very good region for skills and talent, he said.

“The East of England is doing, and continuing to do, incredibly well nationally and that data isn’t just for Cambridge,” he said. “It’s a massive recognition for this region.”

There were also “significant” businesses in Norfolk and Suffolk contributing to the numbers, he said. Over the six consecutive years of the report the region had gone from strength to strength, he added.

“It’s very, very pleasing. Based on the big picture of the East of England it goes to show the East of England is the UK’s leading region outside London for tech, and that’s the story – that’s no longer solely about Cambridge.”

Cambridge Norwich Tech Corridor programme director Linn Clabburn said the Tech Nation report highlighted the importance of the East to the UK’s thriving tech economy.

“Though our world-leading research centres in Norwich and Cambridge are undoubtedly a big draw for businesses and investors, the rapid growth of funding into the region is testament to the innovative, ambitious companies based across the whole of the east tackling the big issues facing society around food, energy, medicine and mobility,” she 

“Digital and ICT is key sector for the Tech Corridor and the Norfolk and Suffolk economy as a whole. Though many companies will face difficult challenges over the coming months, we look forward to continuing our work supporting these exciting businesses and helping unlock the region’s unlimited potential.”

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