Technology is good business for Cornwall – and Cornwall is very good at it. The industry here is growing at nearly twice the rate of the rest of the UK.
According to the Tech Nation 2017 report, the sector is one of the fastest growing in Britain, contributing £170 billion to the UK’s economy.
The sector contributed £39 million to the Cornish economy and created 22 start-up businesses over the past 12 months, with a growth rate of 31% in the past five years, compared with a 17% growth rate nationwide.
There are more than 680 tech companies in Cornwall supporting more than 1,380 highly paid jobs and all are growing and recruiting at an extraordinary rate. They vary from sole traders employing one person to firms providing up to 100 jobs.
However there are concerns that further growth could be stunted by a lack of potential employees with the right skills, a problem cited by more than two-thirds of the county’s tech businesses. There are also concerns about the lack of necessary infrastructure.
The Cornwall Live EDGE Awards , launched on Monday in association with Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Growth Hub and Skills Hub, aim to celebrate these businesses and the growth of the tech sector in Cornwall.
Cornwall Live is celebrating Cornwall’s thriving tech industry with the first EDGE Awards in partnership with Cornwall Growth Hub and Skills Hub
Why is Cornwall so good at tech?
Superfast broadband means Truro or Camborne, Pool and Redruth now have more fibre connections than most European cities, while the sector has been backed by a collaborative ecosystem.
Cornwall was one of the first places in the UK to get superfast broadband and it’s had a huge impact on the ability of digital tech businesses to grow. There’s now work going on to bring 5G ultrafast broadband technology to Cornwall too.
Furthermore, there’s a huge amount of collaboration in Cornwall, with networks like Software Cornwall helping businesses work together and Digital Peninsula Network supporting 700 members across Cornwall.
The Agile on the Beach conference showcases Cornwall’s offering brilliantly for digital technology firms, while organisations like Invest in Cornwall works to attract new businesses.
There’s also support for businesses from organisations like the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Growth Hub and Skills Hub, who help growing businesses by offering a free review that will identify the right support, skills and training their business needs to grow.
Toby Parkins, director of software outsourcing company Headforwards, based at Pool Innovation Centre, who are partners in the EDGE Awards, believes that the whole sector needs to be recognised collectively for maximum impact.
He said: “The most important thing is people and actually having lots of skilled people and an increasing number of people is the most important. And the only way you get an increasing number of people building around the cluster is by communicating that the cluster is growing.”
Why are there so many start-ups?
A start-up company is a newly-formed business with particular momentum behind it based on perceived demand for its product or service. The intention of a start-up is to grow rapidly as a result of offering something that addresses a particular market gap.
Start-ups are often heralded for their potential to disrupt industries and introduce new processes and products to the market, as well as for their innovative spirit.
In Cornwall, the huge growth in teaching and learning in the creative and digital media sectors in our universities have resulted in a large number of highly-skilled graduate entrepreneurs who want to maintain the Cornwall lifestyle and grow their business here.
Thanks to European funding and the university sector, there are a number of innovation and incubation centres where small companies can base themselves.
The Crypto Fintech’s growing team in Liskeard. This tech business chose Liskeard because broadband speed in the town is three times faster than in London and there’s plenty of tech (Image: Olivier Vergnault)
Crypto Fintech is one of these young start-ups, co-founded by Marcus Kern, who decided to leave the London rat race behind and moved his family to Cornwall instead.
His firm now employs eight staff out of its Liskeard office but is looking to recruit 30 more over the next two years, from software coders to financial advisers.
The company, which has had support from our headline sponsors Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Growth Hub, creates software which allows consumers to regain control of how and when they pay their bills, from direct debit payments split over several accounts to discounts if you pay sooner than planned.
Mr Kern believes what Crypto Fintech will revolutionise the direct debit industry in the same way Paypal has transformed credit card payments.
He said: “If you think of what we require in the fintech sector. We need talented people and a great internet connection. We have fibre to the premises which gives us 380mb per second, which is three-times faster what I ever got in the centre of London.
Fibre optics carrying data passing a circuit board (Image: Getty Images)
“We have hired people who are relocating to Cornwall. Liskeard is better connected than people might think. Every mainline train stops here.”
What can I earn?
With advertised average salaries of £34,367 – almost twice the average salary in Cornwall of £17,340 – the tech industry offers good careers for talented young people keen to stay in the Duchy.
The tech cluster centred around the Pool Innovation Centre and Truro area is fast transforming the county into Britain’s own Silicon Valley.
This is how you can enter the EDGE Awards
Cornwall’s ‘California style’ growing digital community was ranked second in the UK in terms of turnover growth, showing a 153% increase.
This was second only to Southampton on 180%, and far exceeding London’s 101% increase.
Headforwards’ office space based in Pool Innovation Centre (Image: Sally Adams)
What are the issues?
Several digital businesses say they’re struggling to recruit the talent they need in Cornwall, despite it being such an attractive place to live.
In the 2016 Tech Nation report, a limited talent supply was highlighted by 68% of local tech businesses surveyed as the main brake on Cornwall’s tech growth, with close to half saying low sector awareness and limited access to finance were other challenges.
Others believe investors and a lack of business space are holding back the industry.
Mike Barritt managing director of health technology business LumiraDx Care Solutions UK (formerly SCSLhealth), believed “top notch” premises were essential for the sector’s future wellbeing as a whole.
Dan Pugh, of IT Services company Piran Technologies, told a report in 2016: “The one thing that keeps coming back is where are the businesses that should be moving down to Cornwall or that are outgrowing the innovation centres going to go?
“It’s a common problem – there are no offices – you have to go somewhere else. Over and over again it’s the real problem. We’ve been looking for offices now for three years and we just can’t find any fundamentally affordable office space.
“We can buy a plot of land but you’ve then got to find someone who’s going to develop it, someone who knows about all the planning requirements and we’re too busy trying to run our companies, we’re busy growing. It’s one of our biggest barriers to growth.”
Since 2010, BT, Cornwall Council and the EU have rolled out £132 million worth of fibre broadband as part of the Superfast Cornwall partnership. (Image: BT Openreach)
What next for tech?
Fibre Park may well be the answer to Cornwall’s space issue and will help reinforce the links that businesses have and the ability to further promote Cornwall as a successful tech cluster.
Pool Innovation Centre
Launched in January 2016, the project in Pool is seen as the natural extension to the existing £9 million Pool Innovation Centre and could create 1,200 new jobs.
The Fibre Park, a collaboration between Cornwall College and Headforwards, would be built on a redundant part of Cornwall College’s Camborne campus in Pool, creating 150,000sq ft of mixed-use space.
Mr Parkins said the facility will provide a “central core of futuristic inspiration” for every young person in the area from primary, through secondary and on to college, apprenticeship and degree stages.
He said the complex had been designed to provide an innovative environment for businesses working in the fields of software, food technology, e-health and e-wellbeing and smart energy.
The fibre park will have access to hyperfast internet speeds (10Gbps+), providing the next generation speeds required to allow research, innovation and development of new products and services that will have a global reach.
Mr Parkins added: “the Fibre Park will complement Pool Innovation Centre through providing grow on space, whilst attracting larger companies to the area and creating a critical mass that will raise the profile of Cornwall’s digital tech economy.
“We are currently in strategic discussions with the council to identify potential delivery routes. The council is being very supportive and helpful in trying to enable the project to move forward.”
The Fibre Park is not the only physical site investment currently underway in Cornwall.
RoboThespian is the creation of tech firm Engineered Arts in Penryn (Image: Olivier Vergnault)
In addition, several new workspaces are being funded and are in the process of getting off the ground.
Matt Silver, business and stakeholder relationship manager for the Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “Critical issues at the moment concern ‘grow on space’ and this is where we will be focusing attention.
“However, while this work is taking place it is worth noting that various new workspace funded through the growth programme and Cornwall Council is underway.”
Carluddon Technology Park and Engineering Space for Advanced Manufacture in St Austell, the Aerohub Business Park in Newquay and Hall for Cornwall at the heart of Truro are among the growth projects funded by the EU and the local authority to help the tech, engineering and aerospace sectors grow.
Hall for Cornwall, through a £5.1 million investment, will be a creative hub providing office and meeting space for businesses in the creative sector, will be constructed as part of its planned £18 million redevelopment.
Mr Silver said: “This project will help advance the development of the creative industries and support the sector to contribute to job creation and economic growth.”
The EDGE Awards
Our EDGE supporters
We’re looking for Cornwall’s digital superstars, from the school projects and teachers using software, tech, digital and design to new start-ups, digital entrepreneurs, games designers, software developers, website, app and video producers and digital media gurus to enter the EDGE awards.
You can nominate yourself, your business, or someone else that you think deserves recognition. Either nominate through our website www.cornwalllive.com/EDGEawards or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Please submit a short one-minute video where possible along with your entry – which can either be a corporate or a simple straight-to-smartphone talking camera piece.
Here are the categories…
Most inspirational IT/ digital/ multimedia teacher
Best school IT/ digital/ multimedia project
Digital rising star
Best video production company
Best games developer
Best community/ social use of digital
Best software developer
Best social media engagement initiative
Best digital media company
Best website or app
Best IoT development
The Edge Award for Excellence
We’ll be running content throughout the next three months to promote and celebrate Cornwall’s leading role in the tech and digital business sector. If you’re interested in becoming a partner or sponsor or would like to share your story and be part of the EDGE campaign, email Cornwall Live Editor Jacqui Merrington on email@example.com
Source: Cornwall Live