South London on the up as Silicon Roundabout reaches saturation point, claims Croydon Tech City co-founder.
Croydon Tech City – borne in the aftermath of the London riots
Until the London riots of 2011, some of Croydon’s biggest employers were department store Allders and Nestle.
But just over a year after the looting and fires disfigured the town centre and singed Croydon’s reputation, both businesses closed.
Allders never recovered from the damage done that fateful summer, while Nestle chose to move its headquarters to Gatwick.
As Croydon’s economy floundered and people grew angry at the lack of government funding to help the area recover, tech firm employee and Purley resident Jonny Rose co-founded Croydon Tech City (CTC) – an initiative named after east London’s own startup hub – with friend Nigel Dias.
Nine months on and he believes the scene he and his co-volunteers have helped nurture has the potential to eclipse Shoreditch.
"The riots were the catalyst for action," Rose tells CBR. "I was acutely aware policy makers weren’t doing anything to rehabilitate the area, nothing was being done in the wake of the riots.
"The economy was absolutely stagnating and I became aware that all the future thinking economies were shifting to become tech cities. Croydon needs this."
Croydon’s own cluster of startups, he points out, has arisen in a similar way to how Shoreditch’s hub grew up in 2008.
There was already a tech scene in the area that had grown organically before CTC decided to lend a helping hand.
There are 320 digital or tech firms in the borough, with CTC now working with about 40 startups to try and help them develop into larger companies.
And Rose believes the conditions are right for Croydon to eclipse Tech City in just a few years to become the UK’s premier destination for tech startups.
"What Shoreditch was like seven years ago is what Croydon is like now," he says. "Inexpensive rents, lots of developers, relatively edgy. I wouldn’t use the word grotty, but it’s got that urban griminess.
"There’s so many reasons we could out-position Silicon Roundabout. We have got everything east London’s got except its profile."
One advantage Croydon has over its rivals is its cheap rents. Shoreditch office space goes at an average of £30-£35 per sq/ft, compared to locations close to East Croydon Railway Station going for around £20 per sq/ft and cheaper.
Rose adds that the University of Sussex, which has close ties with Croydon College, is soon to open a 20,000 sq/ft ‘innovation centre’ in the town as early as September.
"We’re soon going to have this complex with the cheapest Grade A office space within the M25," he boasts.
Another advantage is the 14-minute train journey to Victoria, as well as Croydon’s tram and bus links to elsewhere in south London.