Where the future's at
The new tech cities: revealed
The spiritual home of technology is Silicon Valley: a stretch of San Francisco’s Bay Area that’s home to some of the world’s largest tech companies and thousands of small startups. But it’s not just our West Coast cousins that get to have all the fun. Around the world, from Cardiff to Kansas City, there’s an exploding digital scene that means nobody’s far from the future of gadgets. Here’s a rundown of the most happening technological cities — and some of them might take you by surprise…
Tel Aviv: thanks for the memories (above)
At the far east of the Mediterranean is Israel’s Silicon Wadi, and at its centre Tel Aviv. Home to a world-class university, the city’s long been a mecca for research and development: over the past 20 years it’s spawned everything from ICQ instant messaging to the humble USB memory stick. But there’s a shift underway, and research is making way for established giants of the tech world, with the likes of Google, Microsoft and Intel all snapping up offices in the city. That’s an amazing melting pot for future innovation – and explains why there’s 20 times more funding available in the city than in the rest of Europe. Plus it’s warmer than Silicon Valley; what’s not to love?
Croydon: tech riot
Think English tech and you’ll picture London’s Silicon Roundabout in hip East London. But soon you’ll want to head south to Croydon, the country’s newest startup capital. Spurred by rejuvenation following the 2011 riots, Croydon Tech City now sees locals come together to share ideas and expertise. “Croydon has much of the same promise as Old Street’s Silicon Roundabout,” explains 18-year-old Andrew Brackin (here on twitter), a local who already has four start-ups under his belt. “It has great infrastructure, rail connections, and space, but more importantly a diverse community that is in no way self-contained. It could become a real hub for talent in the South of London.”
Nairobi: going everywhere fast
In 2002, Kenya boasted $16m worth of tech-related services; by 2010 that soared to $360m. It’s based not on PCs but mobile phones: 74% of residents own one, and 99% of internet connections are mobile. Since 2010, government support and a revolutionary mobile payment system called Safaricom has seen the country bursting with innovation, driven by the Google-funded seed investor (88mph). “In the next decade Africa will see one billion people get online with smartphones,” explains Nikolai Barnwell, Program Director at 88mph. “The opportunities to build companies are overwhelming — and Nairobi is at the centre.” From helping farmers monitor chickens via SMS to micro-financing apps, Nairobi is becoming Africa’s Silicon Savannah.
Kansas City: wizards of speed
You might think Kansas City is a hick town — but you’d be wrong. Straddling the Missouri–Kansas border, 2012 saw it become home to Google’s first optical fibre broadband network. Boy, did the kings of search do a good job: the city now boasts 1 gigabit connection speeds, 100 times faster than the US average. Since, start-ups have flocked, [coming together in the Kansas City Startup Village and Brad Feld, managing director at Foundry Group, one of the most revered technology venture capital firms, even bought a house there to loan out to new companies. “Google Fiber, a great educational infrastructure and a great quality of life makes Kansas City a super place for startups,” explains Feld.
Cardiff: capital motivation
Docks, steelworks and sheep no longer define Cardiff — it’s all about a burgeoning startup scene at Cardiff Start. Bringing together tech and software businesses from across the valleys worth a combined total of £105m, local efforts are producing everything from smart taxi apps to hi-tech band merchandise. “There’s a raft of talent supported by boundless motivation here,” explains Stephen Milburn, founder of app developers Tradebox Media and co-founder of Cardiff Start. “Combine our skills with the low cost of living, and you’ve got a pretty heady mixture that could lead to a city-wide incubator for a great deal of high-growth businesses.”
Seoul: future in your face
There’s more to South Korea than Gangnam Style. Its capital is exploding: the fourth largest city economy behind Tokyo, New York and LA, Seoul is one of the most connected cities in the world. Millions of invested dollars mean its 20 million residents live within one giant Wi-Fi hotspot, and a scheme called Ubiquitous Seoul will soon allow city-dwellers to check anything, from air quality to traffic conditions, on their phones. And when work gets too much, locals kick back not in a bar but one of the 25,000 computer gaming rooms that litter its streets. Really. Driven by the world’s leading digital giants like LG, Seoul is the city of the future — now. K-pop optional.
Jamie Condliffe writes for Stuff magazine and analysed the future of flexi-tech in the June 2013 issue