Silicon Valley vs Silicon UK?

When it comes to fostering tech start-ups, the United States wins hands down. When we think of the Microsofts, Googles and Apples of the world, they are synonymous with Silicon Valley. When it comes to the UK, which location makes you think ‘tech’?

From the space tech point of view, there are some centres of innovation particularly at Harwell. Stevenage, Guildford and Glasgow, are amongst other various other locations in the UK where space tech companies are located. However, the UK does not have a ‘Silicon Valley’. There is no central location from which space, and other technology companies, can set up that will automatically attract investment, because the investors know where to go.

That’s not to say that investment is not being made in the UK space industry. In July 2017 it was announced that the government will plough £99 million into the Harwell Science Campus to expand its facility and develop a National Satellite Testing Facility. Could Harwell become the Space Tech Centre of the UK? A further £4 million will go to develop a new rocket construction and testing facility – Westcott in Buckinghamshire. Under David Cameron’s government, Tech City was established in London, which aims to accelerate the growth of digital businesses across the UK. However, whether this will take off, remains to be seen – and would established companies be prepared to re-locate to London where real estate is sky high and at a premium?

This is an important question. Does there have to be a centralised hub where tech ‘lives’? Let’s take a look at Europe. Luxembourg is blazing a trail in terms of its development of the space resources industry. It might seem bizarre that this tiny country has put itself at the very centre of the asteroid mining business. Although this is a nascent industry, if the concept of asteroid mining becomes a reality, the truth is that Luxembourg is onto a very lucrative path.

The country already boasts the highest GDP per capita, and is very forward thinking in terms of the fact that it is careful to diversify its industries. The focus on asteroid mining is true evidence of this. In early 2016, the government of Luxembourg announced that it was basically fast-tracking the development of the asteroid mining business by developing a regulatory framework and financial incentives, co-investment in R&D and eventual capital investment for companies that would seek to base themselves within its borders. This would encourage the re-direction of some space companies from Silicon Valley to Luxembourg so that increasing amounts of R&D activity would take place there. In November, Luxembourg passed a law that any private companies based in the country, would be able to keep any resources that they obtained from space, making the prospect of basing themselves there even more attractive.

It’s early days for Luxembourg, but the government has truly thrown itself into the whole space resource thing. The U.S. government did the same for Silicon Valley – and perhaps this is what is required in the UK.

Whether it is a matter of centralising the tech companies and talent in the UK or creating an environment where innovation is consistently encouraged and attractive to investors, the UK government must really get behind the UK as a leader in technology as the U.S. and Luxembourg governments have done. If London (or another area of the UK) can be identified and promoted as an incubator for start-up companies, where entrepreneurs can really be given a fighting chance of making their dreams a reality, perhaps one day it could rival Silicon Valley. They say ‘build it and they will come’. There is certainly a huge amount of talent out there, but the right environment to grow is what is really needed.

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