By Monica Takacs, Pittsburgh Technology Council
After visiting Manchester, we made our way to Bristol in Southwestern England. Bristol had a very small town feel to in comparison to London and Manchester. Like Pittsburgh, Bristol has an industrial heritage and is reinventing itself as evident by the new construction throughout the city. The Bristol/Bath region is home to nearly 1.1 million people and 43,000 business. 50,000 people work in tech. Tech is booming!
We started our day with a ferry tour of the Bristol waterfront. As this was my first time in the area, I appreciated the tour and was impressed with the beauty of the city. There was a nice mix of old buildings that were retrofitted into new businesses and brand-new buildings designed in the latest architectural trends. From all of the places that we visited, I felt like I learned the most about Bristol as a city and a home. Quality of life is an important factor when a company is considering expansion. Although salaries are a bit lower than in London, so is the cost of living. Bristol is multicultural with nearly 91 languages spoken in the city. Like Pittsburgh, people are likely to have a car and rely on public transportation less.
At the end of the ferry tour, we reached Engine Shed for a discussion about the Bristol tech scene. Engine Shed is a collaboration between Bristol City Council, the University of Bristol and the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP). Engine Shed is a hub where businesses, entrepreneurs, academics, social innovators, and corporates collaborate and it showcases the strengths and innovations of the region by providing space, creating encounters, and running projects that inspire, enable, and challenge its citizens.
At Engine Shed, we learned that Bristol boasts two unicorns, most notably Strava, a social fitness network, that is primarily used to track cycling and running exercises, using GPS data. Major industries in Bristol are aerospace and microelectronics. Other connected clusters include software/digital, data analytics/ML, and creative content.
Our time in Bristol was short and we quickly made our way over the border into Wales to visit Newport and Cardiff. Back in the early 1900’s Cardiff was the fastest growing city in the world. the economy of Cardiff benefitted most from coal exportation and steel production, which was cutting edge for the time. Now, they are focused on bringing cutting edge technologies and are confident that they are going to surpass Bristol as the South West UK’s tech hub.
At the center of Cardiff’s tech hub is Cardiff University. They are the 8th largest university in the UK and ranked #5 in the quality of research. The National Cybersecurity Centre of Excellence is also in Cardiff and they just launched their Data Science Academy. We visited the National Software Academy. The goal of the software academy is to retain students in Cardiff and Wales. They retain about ¾ of graduates.
In line with the theme that we heard everywhere outside of London, cost of living is a huge benefit. Other advantages of Wales include their established tech sector, strong investment, collaborative ecosystem, access to talent, global marking opportunities, and competitive cost. One company that we met with told us that their 60 person office in London costs more than their 300 person office in Newport.
Although, I didn’t see much of Cardiff, the people that we met were warm and hospitable. The Welsh Government hosted us at a reception at TramShed where we were treated to a panel discussion of first-hand accounts of companies from Cardiff. I enjoyed connecting with the people most.