The United Kingdom is recognised as one of the most important technology hubs in the world. The UK technology sector is reportedly growing more than twice as fast as the overall economy, and London has been recognised as the second most connected place for technology across the globe, behind Silicon Valley in the US.
In addition to London, we also have a fast-growing tech hub on our doorstep in the South East – Guildford. The town is hugely attractive to businesses of all sizes and its reputation within the gaming and space industries in particular puts Guildford on the worldwide stage. But how has Guildford evolved to become a tech hub? What are the ingredients needed to be the UK’s answer to Silicon Valley?
A beautiful environment
Guildford sits on the edge of a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – the Surrey Hills – hiking, biking, village living on Guildford’s doorstep. The Enterprise M3 LEP (Local Enterprise Partnership), one of 38 set up to drive economic growth of areas, is ranked eighth out of 48 sub-regions in England on quality of life score – and yet, it is on London’s doorstep, with Heathrow and Gatwick nearby. The combination of a desirable place to live or work and enviable transport connections makes Guildford an attractive offer for anyone looking to base their life, or their business, for the long-term.
Influential infrastructure at your fingertips
Guildford is well served. The Surrey Research Park is owned and run by the University of Surrey. It hosts 150 largely tech-focused companies and is home to the Surrey Technology Centre – a multi-unit centre and incubation hub serving more than 100 SMEs, and a branch of the world’s leading university incubator SETsquared, a collaboration with the universities of Bath, Bristol, Exeter, Southampton and Surrey. But there is more – the nearby Guildford Business Park is currently home to Philips and Ericsson and the funky Walnut Tree Close precinct, with its collection of resident games companies. The networking opportunities and space to grow for companies is particularly compelling for small or start-up businesses.
An internationally-renowned university
The University of Surrey has always been about science, engineering and industrial engagement. Its adventurous and generous academic spirit sees it more and more exploring the unexpected ‘knowledge territories’ where disciplines intersect – for instance, the collision of technology and its societal implications in everyday life, in business, in the law, and in our health. Innovative research and new developments just up the road make the town a hotbed for creativity and opportunity.
Virtual connectivity at your disposal
The digital infrastructure in Guildford is set to be supercharged in the near future with the Enterprise M3 LEP leading the charge. Ambitious plans are well advanced to create a multi-terabit fibre spine and international internet gateway linking the greater region around Guildford with Hibernia Express, a transatlantic submarine cable passing through Slough. Key to the plan is to support an early-adopter 5G Network, expanding the region’s 5G capacity at the University of Surrey’s 5G Innovation Centre.
Guildford has a lot going for it. From digital gaming to artificial intelligence, companies choosing to build their foundations there are going from strength to strength.
Guildford as a games location was kicked off by Peter Molyneux in the 1980s and is known worldwide as the “Hollywood of Games”. Molyneux’s and others’ successes led to today’s concentration of creative and programming talent centred on Guildford, with 1000+ games developers working in some 70 studios, and still innovating. Rocketdesk has established the world’s first 5G-enabled games hub. VR games are growing in popularity.
Making the most of the opportunities available within the hub, the University of Surrey’s Centre for Vision, Speech and Signal Processing (CVSSP) has joined with UK Interactive Entertainment and the law firm Charles Russell Speechlys to launch the Galvanising Guildford Games Group. Forums like this, linking the University’s technology academics to local games gurus, are critical in pushing the boundaries of technology needed to produce the games people want to play.
Leading the way in the journey into space, SSTL, a global leader in baby satellites, is currently building 23 satellites and is a key manufacturer in the EU’s Galileo programme. Other space companies are joining them in Guildford – eg Earth-i is offering high-definition, full colour video imaging from space, planning the world’s first such constellation, for sectors as diverse as financial services, farming and clean energy.
5G makes Guildford’s offering to businesses completely unique. The technology has become a catalyst for national innovation with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s regional test bed projects across the country. Surrey’s campus at Stag Hill is a 5G testbed, and it will soon be linked to other testbeds around the world. Players in the testbed include major telecommunications companies like BT, Vodafone, Huawei, EE and more. As pioneers in 5G technology, the University of Surrey was home to Europe’s first 5G controlled car demonstration. 5G will continue to unlock much more; for example, enabling machine intelligence as it becomes the driver of AI for machine to machine transactions.
A number of companies on the Surrey Research Park and elsewhere in Guildford are well advanced in using Blockchain and artificial intelligence. One of the local companies utilising the technology is Coinmode, for payment systems for games and e-sports. The University is creating another major testbed for these new developments. A huge part of this is to do with the technical ability found in Guildford as a tech hub: the skills needed to build games engines are the same ones needed to drive 5G, generate AI solutions and distributed ledger technologies, such as blockchain, and connect satellite constellations. This all links up to create a turbocharged tech ecosystem.
Here we are in a beautiful part of the world, surrounded by the glorious green of the English countryside. Companies have all they need at their fingertips, with creative, smart, open and forward-thinking people, limited only by the power of their own imaginations.
Guildford attracts and develops industry experts that can bring research ideas and concepts into fruition, contributing billions to both the UK economy and our society. With the key elements to develop a tech hub combined with huge existing success stories, the town will only continue to thrive as a world-leading centre for innovation.