The Croydon Tech City summit

By - Thursday 12th June, 2014

Becca Taylor reports as tech founders, specialists, and champions took centre stage at the first ever #Croydon #TechCity summit at Croydon College

Croydon Tech City co-founders Sarah Luxford, Jonny Rose and Nigel Dias presented the movement’s first summit.
Photo by fluid4sight, used with permission.

Organised by a collaboration of White Label Consultants through their ‘Croydon, London’ brand and the gang at #Croydon #TechCity, the conference brought together stars such as the FT’s CTO, John O’Donovan, MD of Code Club, Laura Kirsop,  and Google’s Rupert Whitehead with Croydon’s faithful – Daryl Willcox of DWPub and Skip Fidura of Dotmailer. Choosing Croydon, creating a tech culture, investment and policy, and future tech were items on the agenda at Croydon College last Friday in an attempt to lure property developers to the town.

The afternoon kicked off with a summary of the Croydon Tech City journey from two of the three founders, Nigel Dias and Jonny Rose. Jonny explained that the idea had come together in the wake of the riots – desperate to do something positive, the trio began to make the connections between the tech companies and people they knew were in the Croydon area. Now, with the catalyst in place, the groundwork has been laid and that community is beginning to form. Nigel’s brief look at the stats showed a reasonable split between men and women (61% male, 39% female, more even than many burgeoning tech areas) and a good spread of ages and home location, with CTC hitting far across South London.

Newly appointed as Cabinet Member for Economic Development (from the same role in the shadow cabinet), Councillor Toni Letts was given the job of the keynote speech. Councillor Letts is a keen supporter of the tech movement in Croydon and wants to use her role in the cabinet to make sure Croydon becomes a connected, smart city. She appreciates the skills gap we are facing, believing a mix of private investment, plus code clubs and Croydon Tech City can help to bridge that. She closed by saying, “I am sorry it took the riots to bring people like you together.”

Toni Letts, Croydon Council’s new cabinet member for Economic Development.
Photo by fluid4sight, used with permission.

Also speaking on behalf of the council was new Director of Development Jo Negrini who was keen to strike the balance for the role of government in Croydon Tech City. She cited her biggest challenge as balancing the demand for space with the rising costs from landlords, and reassured us that she also believes the council should support and facilitate without taking over.

Next up was the panel debate ‘Why Croydon Works for Us’ featuring Croydon stalwarts Smarta, DWPub, Dotmailer and ICUK. Each panellist gave their reasons for basing their offices here in Croydon, from setting up here and never leaving, to being surrounded by a tech community, and of course, the relative price for startups and smaller businesses. Skip Fidura said: “Nowhere else we go can we be in town or an airport so quickly – we can’t find [a] Croydon in New York City.”

Croydon has the potential to grow and develop into a successful tech hub, but we really have to be patient with it

The next panel (Investment and Policy) brought a comparison perhaps never heard in the Croydon start-up scene. “Matthew’s Yard” said Orange’s Dharmesh Suraj Bali, “is like a gym. You see the other guys there and it means you’re always pushing yourself further.” Dharmesh was one of a dwindling minority as the panel debates went on and fewer people involved in the Croydon scene spoke. An outside perspective is always refreshing, but it seemed that all too often there was a comparison with Shoreditch which didn’t match.

Mark Martin, aka Urban Teacher, and Andrew Collinge from the GLA.
Photo by fluid4sight, used with permission.

Two important promises were given though, which Croydonians ought to hang on to. Councillor Toni Letts promised, “I will get as much money out of these people as I possibly can,” and BT’s Andrew Campling said, “[There is] No area in Croydon which we are not willing to put fibre.”

The post coffee session brought advice mostly from those involved in the ‘original’ so-to-speak Tech City in East London. Creating a tech culture is more than having a few cool coffee shops (sorry, Saif) and the trick is to get people to stay and play here once they’ve finished work. The importance of good gig venues, theatres, and bars cannot be downplayed. Though perhaps we should all catch on to the positive vibes shared by Skip, who thinks as soon as we start shouting about how cool Croydon is, more people will believe it. “I thought it would suck but it doesn’t.” How very true.

The closing panel spoke on tech education and ICT Teacher Mark Martin (who sounds like the coolest teacher ever, managing to get Google Glass into his school) was joined by Code Club MD Laura Kirsop, the FT’s John O’Donovan and CTC faithful Marc Roberts. This panel was very aware of the skills gap facing this country, and the lag between teaching those skills to youngsters now and being able to employ them when they’re older. There was debate over the way we do degrees and whether an 80,000 word thesis was the best way of displaying someone’s intelligence. In Croydon there are over 20 code clubs, but 23 schools within a 5-mile radius of Croydon College are still looking for volunteers.

Croydon has the potential to grow and develop into a successful tech hub, but we really have to be patient with it. Superfast broadband will come, tech start-ups will blossom here and the bars, venues and culture will follow. Hopefully last week’s event will sow the seeds of potential development and we will see some really exciting work continue in Croydon.

The next Croydon Tech City event: Women In Tech

Croydon Tech City’s ‘Women in Tech’ event takes place on Thursday 19th June at 7:30pm at Croydon Conference Centre, Croydon. It will be an evening of presentations and debate focusing on female founders from South London’s tech startup community.

To attend, please sign up as ‘attending’ here or  to confirm your attendance.

Becca Taylor

Becca Taylor

Becca is a newcomer to South London, currently living in Sutton and working in Purley, as's Head of Marketing. She has a background in politics and journalism, and is slowly learning the ropes in the tech world. A graduate of Swansea University, Becca is also a keen fitness enthusiast and a proud fan of Southampton FC.

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