Tech City Needs To Maintain The DNA Of “Free Radicals”

Today, there is without a doubt a huge array of entrepreneurial talent within the UK. However, following the latest GDP figures forecasting the country back into recession, there needs to be more than just political spin from Westminster about the need to stimulate the economy by promoting innovation and entrepreneurship within the technology sector.

No project has inflamed more political debate recently than Tech City, “Britain’s answer to Silicon Valley.” Despite early promise, with the number of high-tech companies jumping from about 20 to 200 in just four years, including 85 startups, the project is in danger of stalling somewhat. Too many Politicians have been jumping on the bandwagon without taking the necessary advice from private companies to make the project a long term success.

Tech City has changed a cheap and dreary part of East London into a creative, vibrant space, but for it to be a long term success; it needs to get more private sector expertise from people who understand technology. A vibrant future for the project depends on the city and country not reverting to big government as it truly begins to take hold. The project needs to remain tightly connected to private sector expertise, to people who have a heritage and a track record in technology and a propensity for risk.

The emphasis should be on incubating startups, with public/private partnerships, tax incentives, financing geared to small firms and extensive mentoring programs from the Tech City Investment Organisation. There should also be even more focus on sponsored and grassroots efforts in which developers help one other on technical and business matters.

To date, the project has directed most of its energy towards the mobile internet, which combines the massive economic and social power of social networking with the force accelerator of more than six billion personal mobile devices. Its size, commercial potential, and ease of developer access is fuelling a powerful new wave of global innovation, decentralising power into distributed hubs around the globe.

This is no surprise. Large companies have seldom been innovators. Today, the situation is even more pronounced. Large organisations simply can’t innovate fast enough to keep up with mobile internet technology. Innovators in the mobile space and other sectors are “free radicals”, in both the chemical and sociological sense. They are highly reactive within their environment. In a time of economic uncertainty, they combust and trigger change. Orderliness is not part of their makeup.

In summary, for the future of Tech City, the danger is that the DNA of traditional government doesn’t match up well with the DNA of innovation. Over time, politicians—who must constantly balance the needs of many—tend to turn to middle-of-the-road mediocrity. Tech City is the embodiment of a principle that people are just beginning to understand – that Silicon Valley is not a geographic location but a platform and a set of services and expertise with a highly engaged community brought together on behalf of innovation.

Tech City is a good instantiation of this platform, an example of many of the best attributes of Silicon Valley, but for continued success, government need to fully release the apron strings on entrepreneurial spirit and allow innovative technology vendors to lead economic recovery.

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Robert Marcus is the Chairman and CEO of QuantumWave Capital, a global investment banking boutique specialized in early-stage mobile internet M&A. The architect of Microsoft’s early mobile internet strategy and solutions, he spent nearly a decade as a senior manager at the company’s Redmond headquarters, most recently as a director on the M&A team. He also built a public company to a half-billion dollar valuation, co-founded three successful start-ups, and led a turnaround, generating two IPOs. He is the co-author of The Fifth Wave, A Strategic Vision for Mobile Internet innovation, Investment and Return (2012) and Collective Knowledge, Intranets, Productivity and the Promise of the Knowledge Workplace (2002).