Croydon may not be the first place you'd think of as a hot-bed of start-up activity but a grass roots organisation has begun touting the area as a viable base for innovative firms.
While those in the UK start-up scene have had their eyes firmly glued on the government's Tech City initiative since its launch in late 2010, the Croydon Tech City organisation began its work in August last year, holding its official launch party at the end of January.
It's aiming to offer entrepreneurs an alternative location in London to base their business, along with the possibility of investment, support and training opportunities.
The work of the organisation differs from that of the ‘top down' government initiative focused on developing London's East End to become a world-leading tech hub to rival Silicon Valley.
Most obviously, the difference is that the government initiative has an army of support organisations helping drive it forward, along with public funding and numerous voices of public support from the likes of ministers and the London mayor Boris Johnson.
In contrast, Croydon Tech City is the idea of one man, Jonny Rose (pictured right), a local to the Croydon area, who wants the organisation to bring growth and investment to the South London borough.
Rose has a day job, working as a product evangelist for Idio, a digital marketing start-up that specialises in content personalisation. But in his spare time, Rose tries to turn Croydon into a tech ecosystem, and his team is currently cultivating relationships with venture capitalists and local businesses to support his vision.
The Tech City Investment organisation has issued its support to the Croydon Tech City organisation, with its deputy chief executive Benjamin Southworth giving a talk at its launch party. However, at the moment, that is where the government's support of the Croydon Tech City organisation ends.
"At the moment, activities of ours are separate but we can foresee links between us in the future. Croydon isn't far from Tech City either," Rose tells V3.
The task ahead of Rose seems enormous but then again Silicon Valley is not the area it is because of a government initiative. Silicon Valley was similarly developed from a mixture of grass root forces, such as the numerous universities in the area churning out developers and research, the Stanford University Industrial Park and the US Navy research and technology base.
Rose said he believes the conditions in Croydon are perfect for the development of a tech ecosystem, with a large amount of office space available at relatively cheap prices for London.
He further pointed to the incubator space available to start-ups at Matthews Yard, which is both a coffee shop and workspace, and holds meeting rooms that can be booked. "It's a sort of Croydon type of Tech Hub," said Rose, referencing the office space centre at the Old Street roundabout.
Croydon is already the home to a number of bedroom start-ups that now turnover millions of pounds. Perhaps the most notable is the dotDigital Group, a digital agency that provides website design, e-commerce and search engine optimisation, boasting a £12m turnover a year and offices in New York.
Meanwhile ICUK, a Croydon hosting provider, is now generating £3m in revenue and has ambitious growth targets for the year ahead.
Rose mentioned particular social networks he is working with, including Famberry, a social network for families that is still in beta mode, as well as gaming company MojoBones. His intention is to secure investment and opportunities for the start-ups on his books, and then use their names to promote them as examples of Croydon's tech successes.
"We have around 30 start-ups on our books so far and there are around 240 people who are regulars in our Croydon Tech City community, who attend our events," said Rose.
The Croydon Tech City organisation holds monthly events for its members (pictured left).
The last one in February was the launch of Croydon Code Club, an education initiative that aims to teach school children how to code. Local Croydon tech software developers, such as dotDigital founder Simon Bird will be volunteering time to go into schools and improve pupils' IT education.
Rose is not alone in leading Croydon's development into a tech city, and has two others working alongside him.
Nigel Dias is the head of investment and advice for the organisation, while also the managing director of analytics firm 3n strategy. He was previously a data consultant for SAP. Dias is currently building up relationships with local businesses to support Croydon Tech City, such as accountancy Kingston Smith and law firm Kilburn and Strode.
Meanwhile Anthony Killeen is Croydon Tech City's head of development, on the lookout for software developers and start-ups interested in joining the organisation's ambition. Killeen is currently a web design and development freelancer.
The below is a YouTube video of Jonny Rose speaking at the Croydon Tech City launch event:
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