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February 28, 2023

Shared values will be the key to replicating Bristol’s tech success elsewhere

The port city has emerged as a champion of inclusivity, diversity and experimentalism within its start-up ecosystem.

By Katy Ho

Few other cities in the UK have experienced as much success in establishing a supportive environment for technology companies to prosper quite like Bristol. At Digital Catapult, I lead the Innovation team who designed and implemented several innovative programmes in Bristol to support the local tech community, and I’ve seen first-hand how shared values contribute towards the city’s booming tech space.

With a large talent pool, a collaborative and inclusive community and a good quality of life, more tech companies are either establishing themselves in Bristol or setting up shop there. In fact, according to a recent report, Bristol ranked as the third-largest hub for tech investment in the UK, demonstrating the success of the city’s tech ecosystem. As I continue to develop innovative programmes and hubs in other parts of the country, a key lesson for me is that Bristol is not an anomaly. Its success as a tech pioneer can be replicated elsewhere, as other regions can look to drive forward the same shared values that are deeply embedded in the ecosystem. 

Bristol tech
A typical foray into virtual reality engineered by a Bristol-based start-up. (Photo courtesy of Digital Catapult)

Implementing inclusivity  

The tech ecosystem in Bristol has led the way in developing an inclusive approach to innovation and training initiatives in collaboration with industry. This approach has not only created new pathways and a more open and welcoming environment for individuals from different backgrounds, but has also brought a range of benefits to the city’s tech ecosystem. For example, TechSpark in Bristol works with groups of people under-represented in Bristol’s tech cluster, to help them excel and boost their profile within the industry. This is achieved by using training, peer support and a network to support talented start-up founders access a platform that’s traditionally difficult to reach for minority groups. By valuing inclusivity, the city has been able to tap into a wider pool of talent and foster impact-driven innovation. 

This emphasis on diversity has helped to create a more vibrant and dynamic community, where different ideas and perspectives are encouraged and valued, empowering individuals to contribute to the ecosystem. As a result, the tech ecosystem in Bristol has become a model for other cities, demonstrating how inclusivity can drive growth, innovation, and success in the tech space.

Creating a collaborative environment in Bristol tech

Bristol’s tech ecosystem has cultivated a strong emphasis on collaboration, with a variety of accelerators, incubators, and co-working spaces designed to support and foster start-up growth and innovation. The city’s collaborative approach has been a key factor in the success of its tech industry, enabling start-ups and entrepreneurs to tap into the expertise, resources, and networks of others in the community. This is why Bristol’s 208 tech start-ups and scale-ups, which employ more than 13,000 people, reported a combined turnover of £4.69bn last year, making up 36% of the city’s high-growth businesses.

Through open collaboration, the city has been able to build a supportive and dynamic ecosystem, where entrepreneurs and start-ups can receive mentorship, guidance, and access to funding opportunities, which is what Digital Catapult facilitates in the region. This collaborative approach has also helped to create a culture of innovation, where new ideas and business models are encouraged and supported. Other cities can learn from Bristol’s approach, recognising the value of open collaboration in building a strong and thriving tech ecosystem. 

Shaping the sustainable future

Bristol is a city that has placed a strong emphasis on sustainability and green technologies, with a growing number of start-ups and companies developing innovative solutions to address climate change. This focus on sustainability is not only crucial for the planet but also benefits the tech ecosystem in Bristol. The city has become a hub for innovative technologies, products, and services that aim to reduce carbon emissions, improve resource efficiency, and promote a sustainable way of living.

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As an example, Tech for Good is a Bristol-based initiative that brings together communities of people, projects, and organisations utilising technology to improve social, environmental and economic outcomes. Further to this, Bristol Energy, the national gas and electricity supplier, offers its customers 100% renewable electricity and 15% green gas. This is, perhaps, why so many green tech companies have moved to Bristol – and why the city’s tech space has subsequently benefitted from sustainable initiatives. 

Accelerating ambition in the city

Bristol’s tech ecosystem has a strong reputation for being ambitious, driving innovation and pushing boundaries in various fields. This ambition has been a key driver of growth and success, enabling entrepreneurs and businesses to create new technologies and services that address complex challenges and opportunities. By embracing an ambitious mindset, the city has built a culture of risk-taking, experimentation, and creativity, encouraging individuals and companies to aim high in pursuing their goals. 

Bristol’s tech ecosystem also benefits from its proximity to leading academic institutions, including the University of Bristol and the University of the West of England. This proximity has helped to foster collaboration between academia and industry, leading to the creation and application of new ideas, products, and services that are driving growth and innovation. One example of this is the MyWorld programme, which is led by the University of Bristol and funded by UKRI. It’s a major pillar of Digital Catapult’s work in the West of England, and will see the development of new R&D facilities to pioneer new digital formats and technologies. 

Other regions can learn from Bristol’s ambitious approach, recognising the value of taking risks, experimenting, and embracing creativity in building a strong and vibrant tech ecosystem. By fostering meaningful collaboration with academic institutions, cities can also tap into a pool of talent and research expertise to push forward the art of the possible. 

As the UK looks to science, innovation and technology to drive economic growth amid recession, Bristol is demonstrating the commercial success of fostering a community that allows tech companies and innovators to prosper. Of course, Bristol’s success can’t be tied down to one key attribute, but instead many values which underpin the city’s successful strategy. It’s embracing these values that will see more regions play a key role in facilitating national economic growth in the UK through technology and innovation. 

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