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SERC/Urban and Spatial Programme Discussion Paper
Here Be Startups: Exploring a young digital cluster in Inner East London
Max Nathan and Emma Vandore
November 2013
Paper No' SERCDP0146:
Full Paper (pdf)

JEL Classification: L2; L52; M13; O18; O31; R11

Tags: digital economy; cities; clusters; innovation; london; silicon roundabout; tech city

The digital industries cluster known as 'Silicon Roundabout' has been quietly growing in East London since the 1990s. Now rebranded 'Tech City', it is now the focus of huge public and government attention. National and local policymakers wish to accelerate the local area's development: such cluster policies are back in vogue as part of a re-awakened interest in industrial policy in many developed countries. Surprisingly little is known about Tech City's firms or the wider ecosystem, however, and existing cluster policies have a high failure rate. This paper performs a detailed mixed-methods analysis, combining rich enterprise-level data with semi-structured interviews. We track firm and employment growth from 1997-2010 and identify a number of distinctive features: branching from creative to digital content industries, street-level sorting of firms, the importance of local amenities and a lack of conventional cluster actors such as universities or anchor businesses. We also argue that the existing policy mix embodies a number of tensions, and suggest areas for improvement.

This paper has been published as:
Here be startups: exploring London’s Tech City digital cluster by Max Nathan and Emma Vandore, Environment and Planning A, Volume 46, Issue 10 April 2014