Incubator which helped city’s tech scene to thrive announces it will close

PUBLISHED: 10:40 02 June 2018 | UPDATED: 10:40 02 June 2018

Whitespace founder Neil Garner.

Whitespace founder Neil Garner. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2016

An incubator unit which has played a pivotal role in developing Norwich’s flourishing technology sector is to close – with its founder citing competition and a lack of support for the decision.

Whitespace, based in St James Mill in Whitefriars, has been the beginning of the journey for many of the city’s successful digital start-ups including location marketing firm Proxama and AI firm Rainbird Technologies and chatbot-maker Ubisend.

But Neil Garner, who launched the not-for-profit co-working space in 2014, said its time had come to an end and he needed to focus his energy on his payments technology firm Thyngs – which itself has outgrown the venue.

Mr Garner said he was sad to make the decision but Norwich now had many co-working spaces serving the same needs as Whitespace.

He said: “It is not something I wanted to do but the city has become more competitive and we haven’t had the support we wanted from public bodies and big businesses.”

He added almost all of the companies and projects name-checked in the recent Tech Nation report had links to Whitespace.

“It is a little bit sad,” he added, “but hopefully what we did here was really good for tech businesses in the city.

“If you look at the Tech Nation report there are lots of links to Whitespace. Rainbird, Ubisend and TechVelocity have all been based here.

“For me personally I am focusing on Thyngs and I feel like bodies such as TechEast could have got behind Whitespace a bit more.”

TechEast chief operations officer Tim Robinson said the closure was sad but not demonstrative of the health of the sector in Norwich. “Our main priority is to make sure the businesses based there find somewhere to go,” he said. “TechEast is a business network and we don’t really get involved in property as it is not our area of expertise.”

Whitespace offers desks for leased on a monthly basis and is home to Norwich’s Barclays Eagle Lab, the SyncNorwich networking group and tech accelerator TechVelocity, which will continue to run in a new home.

Barclays declined to confirms its plans for the Eagle Lab, but reaffirmed its support for the Norwich digital scene.

A spokesman said: “We are not in a position to confirm our future plans but we are assessing multiple opportunities to support the Norwich ecosystem, which we have supported through the Eagle Lab since it opened in September 2016.”

TechVelocity programme director Kris Jones said: “It’s a huge shame that Whitespace is having to close its doors and will leave a gap in the digital world in Norwich.

“So many of our stars started their journey here like Ubisend, and Rainbird to name a couple. The impact on TechVelocity, now it’s a standalone entity, [is it] makes our job a little more difficult in the short term as I attempt to find a new tech hub home. Whitespace was an ideal location and working environment.

“We will honour our commitments to existing partners and cohorts and have more of both beating a path to my door to get involved right now. Everyone has to be aligned with the tech community as we take our next steps.”

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