Can Cornwall Be The Next Silicon Valley?


Over 4000 years, Cornwall — south west of Great Britain — was known to be the heart of mining industry in Europe. Extensive tin, copper, silver and zinc mining went even back to 2150BC. However, as centuries passed, profitability diminished and mines began to be closed. Long formed economic system began to crumble. In search of new sources of prosperity, authorities decided to move Cornwall’s economic dynamics from underground. With the help of EU funds and British government’s support, the region’s focus is now on creative technologies and computer software.

As part of the GREAT campaign organized by UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) I had the chance to visit the region with other fellow journalists from all around Europe. I met numerous entrepreneurs, academics and innovation center directors in order to understand their motives. Their spirit was high and hopes were ambitious. Cornwall wants to be the Silicon Valley of Europe. Will they succeed? Only time will show…

Cornwall forms the tip of the south-west peninsula of Great Britain, and is exposed to the full force of the prevailing winds that blow in from the Atlantic Ocean. The coastline is composed mainly of resistant rocks that give rise in many places to impressive cliffs. (Wikipedia)

Work By The Beach

Cornwall is a region with amazing scenery. It is home to 300 miles of coastline and has 400 beaches that are rated as the best in the world. Surfing is a very popular activity in Cornwall as well. The area is one of the unique surf tourism destinations in Great Britain. The weather is different than the London area and somewhat reminds California. It has the mildest and sunniest climate in the whole United Kingdom.

Tasha Price, Marketing Manager of Engine House VFX says “having an office right next to the beach is a good reason to attract new talents”. Besides, the crime rate is low, the population of the region is only half a million and is a nice area for families to raise their kids. People who are tired of high costs of big, noisy and crowded cities, prefer coming down to South West of UK, in search of a better life quality.

Tremough Innovation Centre is managed by Plymouth University

3 Innovation Centres Host Entrepreneurs

But natural beauty is not the only attraction for new talents. Since 1999, UK government and the European Union has poured in hundreds of millions of euros to promote new businesses in Cornwall. Between 2014 and 2020, the EU Regional Development Agency (EURDA) is planning to invest an additional 600 million euros. As a result of these investments three innovation centers have been built until now.

Tremough Innovation Centre is created as a business acceleration facility for creative, media, eco and environmental science sectors. With a total net rentable floor space of approximately 2200m², the center is funded by EURDA and the management is delivered by Plymouth University on behalf of Cornwall Council.

Pool Innovation Centre is another business acceleration facility that welcomes start-up and existing businesses from a range of sectors. The centre offers office space and business support to its tennants. The other innovation centre is Health & Wellbeing Innovation Centre which is soleley concentrated on health and fitness startups.

Falmouth, Plymouth and Exeter Universities have several campuses around the region. They offer academic support and skilled workforce for technology entrepreneurs.

Agile On The Beach 2014 / Photo Source: http://agileonthebeach.com/

Agile On The Beach

To improve the relations of the software companies in Cornwall, an annual software and technology conference is organized. Named as “Agile On The Beach” the conference aims to bring together hundreds of people and explore the latest agile and lean thinking in software craftmanship.

Photo source: Superfast Cornwall

Fiber Internet Is Everywhere

When we talk about technology startups, a fast and reliable internet connection is crucial. A fiber superfast broadband programme called “Superfast Cornwall” aims to deploy 130,000km of fibre optic cable throughout the area, which is enough to travel around the world 3 times. The programme is funded by the European Union, BT and Cornwall Council, and managed by Cornwall Development Company with a budget of 132 million euros. Thanks to this project, almost 95% of the offices and households in Cornwall and Sicilly Islands have access to fiber internet by the end of 2014. The internet speeds vary from 38 Mbit/s to 330 Mbit/s. The superfast internet connection enables people to work remotely.

You Need To Play Games To Finish This School

Parents used to say “finish your school studies and than play your game!” but not in Falmouth University’s Game Academy. Led by the Digital Games Professor Tanya Krzywinska, “BA Digital Games” and “BSc Computing for Games” classes are offered to teach the secrets of developing digital games. A team of 8 researchers work on the aspects of game technology, as well. Currently research is in the area of Artificial Intelligence and Augmented Reality. For example, The ANGELINA project focuses on automatic generation of game design. These researches are funded by European Commission for 5 years with 2.4 million euros.

Alacrity Falmouth is another program aiming to teach the dynamics of gaming industry. The program is designed to place talented graduates in several teams that incubate into incorporated, investible companies. Each student is part of a team of 4 or 5 people, and is awarded a 16,000 pound stipend during the program. The teams are working on different prototype games for PC, Playstation 4 or Oculus Rift. The leader of this program is Nick Dixon, a veteran in gaming industry with 15 years of experience.

Alacrity Falmouth

Startup Ecosystem In Cornwall

During my visit to Tremough and Pool Innovation centers I had the chance to meet with several startup companies. There are around 3,000 tech startups and companies in the region.

Touchbyte

Touchbyte develops face recognition, Interactive Self-Service Kiosk solutions and software based communications technologies. Their face recognition software is used at border controls and retail stores.

Ultramed

Ultramed builds a health software called MyPreOp. It is a platform that can be interfaced remotely via computer, tablet or smart phone to facilitate the communication between the patient and doctor.

Headcaster

Headcaster is a messaging app, that lets users to send and receive animated messages.

Engine House VFX

EngineHouse is a CGI and animation company that creates work for film and tv companies, commercials and game cinematics.

Yoonic

Yoonic is an Austrian software company, developing games and work apps.

MadeOpen

MadeOpen is a free-to-use crowdsourcing site where people worldwide can source ideas, donations, volunteers and resources for community projects.

Round Table Games

Round Table Games Studio is a game development studio founded by Rich Barham.

BlueFruit

BlueFruit is a software programming and development company mostly focused on IoT (Internet of Things), automotive and aerospace sectors.

CrowdFunder.co.uk

Crowdfunder.co.uk is a crowdfunding platform for local business ideas and communities.

Office of Crowdfunder.co.uk. Surf boards are not decoration! The team enjoys surfing after work.

So… Can Cornwall Be The Next Silicon Valley?

For obvious reasons, all innovation hubs around the world are compared with Silicon Valley. Many governments want to re-create a similar ecosystem in their own countries. Whether it is London’s Silicon Roundabout, Berlin’s Silicon Allee or Israel’s Silicon Wadi an inevitable “envy” exists.

Thinking about the huge success that Silicon Valley brought into our modern world, this “envy” is quite understandable. But one thing is for sure, no replica is like the original. Silicon Valley is a unique experience for mankind. It is the product of its time, location, educational system, government support, private funders and philosophy.

Therefore, instead of focusing on being the next Silicon Valley, every technology hub around the world should focus on writing their own story.

And this is true for Cornwall too…

After spending some time there, I believe that Cornwall offers a great atmosphere for creative people who are looking for new ways to improve their life. There is a community of likeminded entrepreneurs, a strong government support and a growing number of private funders. Advanced universities offer a quality workforce for new comers.

Examples like “Alacrity Falmouth Project” is quite impressive. Fiber internet connections allow companies to work remotely.

On the downside, the lack of direct international flights is a miss.

Cornwall seems like a good starting point for technology startups that are looking to grow with low costs and high living standards. Cornwall needs to write its own story, and I believe it has a great potential to do that.

Overall, it would not be fair to compare Cornwall with Silicon Valley. Silicon Valley may be an example of inspiration but not a comparison.

Sunset Over Cornwall Watergate Bay