Google helps London’s Tech City expand

Move pushes aspirations to become tech center

LONDON — Google’s announcement last week that it was planning on opening a multimillion dollar investment hub in East London’s so-called Silicon Roundabout not only marked a good day for the city’s aspirations to become a technology center but also made the government’s ambitions for its Tech City scheme seem more of a reality.

What started as an area that three years ago housed around 15 digital companies, now boasts more than 500, from digital advertising and marketing outfits to social media and e-commerce shingles to gaming and apps businesses.

And with the London 2012 Olympics being set mostly in East London next year, some $14 billion of government coin is already being plowed into the region.

Tech City is, according to Eric Van Der Kleij, the chief exec for the project, the fastest-growing tech cluster in Europe.

“The pace of growth in the digital and technological sector in the area has more than doubled since January,” says Van Der Kleij. “Every week we see a major company from the broadcast sector and entertainment sector come and have a look because of the incredible infrastructure going into the Olympic Park.” It looks like that’s exactly what Google is doing: The company, whose main offices are in a more central part of London, is taking out a 10-year lease on a seven-story building in Tech City that will act as a shared space for the growing cluster in internet companies based in the area.

While the Internet giant will have a presence in the building, Google says it plans to use it for events, training workshops and demonstrations for engineers and startups.

Last November, Prime Minister David Cameron first announced his wish to make East London one of the world’s great technology centers, backed by £400 million ($625.3 million) in government funding with corporate support from tech companies such as Facebook, Google, BT and Cisco.

But the new region could be a tricky sell for London’s vibrant post-production and vfx shingles, which are mostly located in London’s Soho.

Van Der Kleij says that though some Hollywood entertainment companies are expressing interest in Tech City, there’s not been a rush to relocate. And while some Soho-based post houses are intrigued, others are either unaware or happy where they are.

“We have no interest in relocating to the Tech City area,” says a rep for one prominent post house that didn’t wish to be named.

Another high-profile post house hadn’t even heard of the initiative and said it was “highly unlikely” the company would move to the area.

But perhaps this could change once Tech City is up and running post-Olympics, and provided that Van Der Kleij and his team entice the right start-ups and established companies into the area.

“We’ll invite people back to have a look when it’s thriving during the Olympics,” to get the feel of the scope of the facilities and the amount of production they’re able to support,” Van Der Kleij says. “There is nothing like it in Europe.” n