When you think about the world’s technology centres, places like San Francisco, Tokyo and London likely come into your mind. These great cities are home to some of the world’s biggest tech firms and are constantly churning out new innovation.
The small devolved nation of Wales would be your last guess. However, the country is very much involved in the global technology industry. In the past, big industries such as steel and coal dominated Welsh towns and cities, but now technological innovation is putting them on the map.
Led by innovative companies, entrepreneurs and technologists, Wales is becoming a catalyst for technology. And research proves this. According to a report published in August, Wales is the fastest growing digital economy after London.
Last year, the total number of digital companies operating in Wales grew by a respectable 9.2 percent - rising from 3,000 in 2014 to 3,275 in 2015. There are a number of reasons why the country is succeeding, from cheap rents to good education.
New opportunities across the Welsh valleys
Cities like Swansea and Cardiff, in particular, are highlighting the potential of Welsh technology. Thanks to new opportunities from organisations like Finance Wales, Innovation Point, TechHub Swansea and Welsh ICE, more people are taking the plunge by turning their ideas into businesses.
TechHub, which is an organisation that runs tech incubators right around the world, came to Wales in 2013 when it opened a co-working space in the Welsh city of Swansea. It’s helped to launch a plethora of startups, including inventory management system Veeqo, which has raised over £1M ($1.25M) in seed funding.
The organisation went one step further earlier this year when it opened Wales’ first ever tech accelerator, IdeasFund. Five startups reached the final stages of the scheme and raised over £550k ($684) in private equity. Paul Harwood, co-founder of TechHub Swansea and IdeasFund, believes that Wales is the perfect place for tech startups and entrepreneurs to flourish.
“Welsh tech has been a sleeping giant for years, truth is we have fantastic conditions for early stage ventures. South Wales is now the fastest growing tech region outside of London. We have bags of talent, low costs, very direct access to private equity, and very direct access to a really supportive Government with superb initiatives and funds,” he says.
“TechHub Swansea channelled this all together with the ideas fund recently and we ended up producing seven investment ready startups, right from idea stage, in only eight weeks. Five of those went on to raise over £550k ($684) private equity within six weeks of ending the cohort. This was despite pitching in London at Google Campus on the day of Brexit! Good going considering the climate. For me this underlines an optimism within the community for the future of the region.”
A tech startup revolution is brewing
Doopoll is one of Wales’ fastest-growing technology startups. Launched in 2015, it offers companies a real-time polling platform that aims to improve internal decision-making. The firm has customers in over 400 cities across the world and is currently valued at £1M ($1.25M) after a successful funding round.
Marc Thomas, co-founder of Doopoll, says: “Doopoll helps you to surface valuable information in your organisation. We want to change the way that businesses make decisions and help them to embrace better decision making at every level.
“Our big idea is that there is valuable untapped information in organisations. Not surfacing it costs a lot of money and traditional decision making processes are fundamentally flawed.
In decision making processes, people suffer from: fear of judgement, loud voices taking over, not being asked, not being listened to.”
Although the company only launched a year ago, it’s quickly grown into one of Wales’ most successful tech startups. Marc continues: “We now have users in over 400 cities. We won the Sir Michael Mortiz award and closed a seed round with a valuation of £1M ($1.25M).
“Wales is without a doubt the best place to start a business at the moment. With access to funding and support as well as a booming startup ecosystem, high quality of life and great academic resources available for collaboration, there is ample reason to start in Wales. We’re still waiting for that global startup success story (in my opinion) but I think we’re getting there.”
A supportive tech community
Wales is a relatively small country [the population is just over three million], and the tech industry benefits from a small but like-minded community of startups and entrepreneurs. This is demonstrated through the likes of Cardiff Start. The latter is an organisation that brings together the tech and creative sector within the Cardiff region, developing new opportunities and collaborations.
Robert Lo Bue, co-founder of Cardiff Start, explains that the tech scene in Cardiff and the rest of Wales has grown exponentially over the last few years, thanks to co-working, a supportive government and a good quality of life.
“Cardiff Start was founded three years ago and now holds regular meet ups and events with 100+ attendees and boasts over 2000 members. In the last three years, the Welsh tech scene has exploded. There are at least six co-working spaces in the city centre, with new venues being announced every few months,” he tells us.
“The social scene is thriving too, with at least one tech or startup event taking place each week. Companies in Wales also benefit from a receptive devolved government and relief on small business rates, not to mention free mentoring support, access to government backed financing initiatives, and trade mission support to other global tech hubs. Finally, Wales continues to boast a high quality of life, with affordable office space, accommodation and high-speed internet access.”
Wales is developing into a catalyst for tech
While Wales is in the process of creating its own success stories, larger firms are also turning their heads to the country. Coup Media, a tech agency based in Newport, runs one of the UK’s largest social media conferences. Online Influence [also known as OiConf] attracts tech giants like IBM and Google to Cardiff, the Welsh capital, every year.
Paul Shepherd, CEO of Coup Media, says: “Coup have been actively developing software platforms in Wales for three years now. These include our entertainment analytics platform, and our ChatBot Building platform. We also bring tech giants like Google, IBM, Adobe and Microsoft to OiConf Cardiff each year at the OiConf.”
He believes that the tech industry in Wales is producing some great success stories, although he says it’s still relatively young and growing. “In that time we've seen more and more Welsh startups appear, some of which have gone on to great things and some of which came and went,” he says.
“I think the tech scene in Wales is simmering but has a long way to go and probably needs one runaway success story to really shine a light, encourage serious private investment and propel Wales into a bigger league than we currently play in.”
Silicon Valley may be the tech capital of the world, but that’s not to say that smaller countries and regions are neglecting the opportunities offered by tech and innovation. Wales is demonstrating that it can maintain a solid economy thanks to a growing tech sector.
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