The following is a guest post by Startup Weekend Organizer and Facilitator Eric Brotto and was originally published on his personal blog.
This past March I had the honour of hearing Brad Feld speak at the Global Entrepreneurship Conference in Rio de Janeiro. I was quite impressed by his authenticity and how he spoke in very real terms on what it takes to build a startup community. Among the points he made, which drew from a deep well of knowledge and experience, he made it clear that he didn’t have all answers. But this was not an admission of shortcomings as much as the recognition that each city is unique. This is important because every community needs to understand its strengths and its weaknesses and develop its own roadmap to success. To try to perfectly impose the lessons learned by Brad in Boulder on any other location would be foolish. This may be obvious to some of you, but it needs to be said, especially given the tempation to try to mimic the triumphs of others.
London is considered, along with New York and Tokyo, one of the major financial centers of the world. Its large concentration of banks and other fiscal services means that a significant portion of the British economy depends on the success of these industries. But the last recession hit the banking sector particularly hard and Britain was forced to reassess where it was focusing efforts for economic expansion.
What came out of this reassessment was the realization that the tech industry, despite all the calamity of the diving financial markets, was still in reality good shape and had the potential for significant growth. Shortly thereafter we saw endeavours made by both the Mayor of London and 10 Downing Street to help the new generation of tech companies that were already organically popping up in East London.
When this startup culture arose in London there were inevitably comparisons with places that already have a long tradition of fostering growth in tech, such as California and New York. Our new attitude was ‘They did it, so why not us?’
So far we have been doing quite a good job, but there is still quite a number of challenges in making the tech community strong in London. One brilliant answer to this issue is looking at ways of merging industries. Tech is very flexible as it can easily enter any industry only to disrupt it. Many efforts are being made to do exactly that in the financial sector, most notable the launch of L39 down in Canary Wharf.
But there is another huge industry in London that already has been a natural bed fellow for tech, but still has a huge potential to be exploited: advertising.
Indeed, the tech world would be very different without it. If you think of all the major disruptive services of the past decade, most of them have a free or freeium model. This would not be possible without their advertising components. Likewise, would the valuations of companies such as Twitter or Facebook be so astronomically high if it were not for the promise of eyeballs looking at ad space?
This relationship is obvious. And there are plenty of agencies in London that are wise enough to take advantage of this from the onset, most notably Albion with their Drive agency (headed by none other then Bryce Keane of the London tech community leaders3 Beards).
But considering the size of the industry (London has hundreds of agencies with an annual turnover in the millions), there is much more to be done. And that is why it absolutely wonderful to see the launch of The Bakery which will contribute to this larger effort.
Co-founded by Andrew Humphries, The Bakery is an accelerator that focuses on giving startups access to brands and their consumer base. Most startups that are being run intelligently will immediately see the immense value in this, as having new users is so much more important then just cash alone.
But I am also under the impresssion that The Bakery’s contribution to the London tech scene will not stop there. I believe its strongest impact will be in bringing creatives and techies together to really exploit the potential of collaboration between London’s already established and well-respected ad industry and its nascent, but ambitious and exciting tech scene.
Of course, there will be some resistence, especially for those who wish it was still the era of Mad Men where the creatives were oligarchs who answered to few. But times change, and if we don’t change with it we will be left behind. The Bakery is giving us a chance to move forward and we should all dive in.