For years now we've been told that London could rival the Silicon Valley with its own tech hub. But five years after launching my business, I’m a bigger advocate for Birmingham's Silicon Canal than I have ever been.
There is an incredible talent pool in Birmingham that offers a wealth of brilliant software engineers. These are people who are often here due to family ties and therefore won’t jump ship to the next job offer from Google, adding security for companies.
What’s more, runway - the amount of time a business has to become successful before it runs out of money - is significantly longer in Birmingham. Read about the most common problems that startups have and you'll read about "running out of cash" again and again. The importance of this can’t be understated; building technology almost always takes longer and costs more than first envisaged so this is a massive advantage.
It is, of course, widely publicised that businesses are unable to raise as much money in funding as our counterparts in the US, but in Birmingham especially, the money goes far further. Asos recently opened an office in Birmingham, citing 50 per cent lower costs for tech talent compared to London. Obviously value, not cost, is important - but when you analyse talent, cost, staff retention and recruitment, the value here trumps anything that can be seen elsewhere.
Tied to this, the tech community in Birmingham is undergoing exponential growth – connected and promoted by the Silicon Canal: an entirely community-run initiative to make tech in Birmingham thrive. There are regular software and tech meetups, where, aside from the wealth of expertise that you can surround yourself with, you can find something to occupy yourself every day of the week if you’re a social butterfly.
But the most valuable asset is the actual business community, which is well connected and above all supportive, not just with tech businesses helping each other for no direct personal gain; the wider business community of professional services all support tech startups in this city.
There are other reasons I’ve decided to call Birmingham home. It is close to London – a commute takes just over an hour and twenty minutes, and is little more than someone commuting in from Zone Five - but the cost of living is far lower, which is reflected in salaries.
The independent food community in Birmingham has also exploded in the past five years and the city has a string of new restaurants and bar openings all the time. It’s becoming increasingly hard to get bored of Birmingham’s cultural offerings; live music across the city, different festivals, a wealth of history and museums, and beautiful countryside like in the Lickey Hills is just 20 minutes drive.
Forget the “more canals than Venice” or “the most Michelin Star restaurants outside London”. I’d never set up shop in Birmingham for those reasons. But when it comes to the battle of the tech hubs, Silicon Canal beats Silicon Roundabout every time.