The West of England tech and digital cluster is continuing to grow and make international headlines – and the work being done in Exeter is an integral part of this.

The city has taken on board a plethora of initiatives and schemes, from supercomputers to incubators, many of which are attracting those hoping to make a name for themselves in tech to the region. It has resulted in a recognition of the city’s potential in the 2016 Tech Nation report, as well as creating vast employment opportunities for its residents.

“When founders of Crowdcube… decided to base their business in Exeter, it injected life into the city”


To find out more about the exciting things happening in Exeter, we caught up with Victoria Hatfield, Economy and Enterprise Manager at Exeter City Council and Manager of the Invest in Exeter Initiative.

TechSPARK: Why has Exeter’s already thriving tech sector seen a boom lately?

Victoria Hatfield: Since the arrival of the Met Office in 2003, Exeter’s tech scene has flourished. More recently, when Luke Lang and Darren Westlake, founders of Crowdcube, the UK’s first and leading equity crowdfunding platform, decided to base their business in Exeter, it injected life into the city.

Luke and Darren’s commitment to the city and their ongoing success has no doubt inspired a new generation of entrepreneurs to stay in the city to see their business ventures become a reality.

“The supercomputer will be one of the fastest in the world, completing more than 2 million calculations per second for every man, woman and child on the planet”


The opening of the pioneering Exeter Science Park in 2013, the growth of Exeter University’s Innovation Centre and the introduction ofnew tech incubator initiatives including Digital Exeter, has also encouraged an influx of young tech entrepreneurs to launch new business ventures, with the help and support of some of Exeter’s most successful innovators.

Exeter Science Park: Find out the story so far.
The arrival of the £97million Met Office supercomputer has also helped to put Exeter on the map on a national and international scale.

This year, Exeter was also recognised in the Tech Nation 2016 report as a key cluster location for digital technology growth. The report identified 161% employment growth in the tech sector in the wider Exeter area during 2011-2014.

TS: Tell us a bit about the exciting projects that are going on in Exeter at the moment. 

VH: There are loads of cool things happening within the city right now. At Exeter Library, Fab Lab Devon is hosting lots of events, tours and workshops for anyone of any age. The Fab Lab is a prototyping workshop offering digital fabrication and 3D printer facilities.


Also at Exeter Library is the newly opened Business & Intellectual Property Centre, one of just 10 located across the UK. The Centre provides businesses, entrepreneurs and startups with free intellectual property and business expertise. Local entrepreneurs can improve their chances of success by researching their idea for a product, learn how to protect it and make a prototype all under one roof.

At the Exeter Science Park, the tech incubator initiative, Canopy Exeter, is going from strength to strength. The initiative is an extension of the well-established model at Canopy Boston, where start-ups, freelancers and mentors come together to help young tech businesses grow. This year, entrepreneurs from Lisbon and Boston have made special trips to join Canopy Exeter meetings, looking for opportunities to expand their businesses in Exeter.

“If you were housebound or in a wheelchair and unable to move around easily, you could interact in public by using a robot representative”


The Met Office’s new High Performance Computer, or ‘supercomputer’ as it is widely known, will bring with it many benefits for the city. Expected to be operating fully in 2017, it will enable the UK to lead the world in weather, climate and environmental science high-performance computing and deliver £2bn of socio-economic benefits through enhanced UK resilience to severe weather and related hazards. The supercomputer will be one of the fastest in the world, completing more than 2 million calculations per second for every man, woman and child on the planet. (This is 16 petaflops – 16,000 trillion calculations per second.)

digital_exeter-2The rise of Digital Exeter, a digital networking community, has supported the growth of the tech industry by bringing exciting speakers to the bi-monthly events to inspire local professionals. Recent speakers include Terry Makewell, Chief Digital Officer for the Office of National Statistics (ONS) and Alex Pierre-Traves, CRM Consultant for McDonald’s UK.

Earlier this year, Exeter hosted the inaugural Venturefest South West event, a showcase of the cutting-edge innovation and entrepreneurship coming out of Devon, Cornwall and Somerset. The event brought hundreds of entrepreneurs and businesses together with innovators and academics to fuse business ideas with novel research and opportunities for funding.

The University of Exeter’s Living Systems Institute (LSI), a world-class, collaborative research community designed to revolutionise the diagnosis and treatment of diseases, will be moving to its new base on the campus over the coming months. The new, seven-storey, 7,500m2 LSI building has been designed to embed inter-disciplinary research practice.

It will house 29 research groups, of more than 200 researchers, with complementary expertise in biosciences, medicine, physics, engineering, mathematics and computer science. High-quality research laboratories, bio-imaging facilities, physics and engineering spaces and high-performance computing will enable the institute to be a hub for the analysis of the precise operation of living systems.

TS: Tell us a little about the Being There project and about the collaboration involved in this.

VH: Being There is a collaboration between six universities: Exeter, Bath, Oxford, Cambridge, the Bristol Robotics Laboratory and the Watershed in Bristol, funded by Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). The project is exploring how robotics might have an impact on our experience of a public space, how to preserve privacy, and encourage trust in human-robot communications.

pepper-to-appear-at-being-there-showcaseThe researchers are working with a diverse range of creative practitioners from Watershed to add nuance and a disruptive element to the project. A range of artists, designers and game makers all of whom work with technology will be collaborating throughout the project.

One such project is the Synchrony and Cooperation project. Professor Mark Levine, Dr Miriam Koschate-Reis and Dr Huseyin Cakal from the University of Exeter’s Department of Psychology will produce a series of experiments in the laboratory and semi-public spaces which will deepen understanding of the relationship between social identities, social interactions and the spread of emotion in groups.

As Professor Mark Levine said: “There are many barriers that prevent people from getting out and about in public. These could include immobility, illness or social distance, like being in another country.

“The interactions with a robot will allow someone at home to experience being in a crowd. If you were housebound or in a wheelchair and unable to move around easily, you could interact in public by using a robot representative.  We are very excited to extend our research in ‘helping’ behaviours and interactions in public to the area of Human Robot Interaction and extend our lab studies to real life interactions in public spaces”.

TS: What has the Invest in Exeter initiative done for the city so far? What are its ambitions for the future? 

VH: Invest in Exeter supports many schemes, businesses and individuals within the city. Team members support local businesses with their day-to-day needs, including one-to-one advice and support, recruitment, broadband, marketing, publicity and connections and networking with local stakeholders and suppliers. One of the main services provided by the initiative is relocation support.

Over the years Invest in Exeter has supported some major relocations to the city, including the Met Office relocation from Bracknell in 2003. More recently, the initiative has supported the relocation of businesses such as Dashboard, an internet of things (IoT) oil and gas remote-monitoring specialist; Media Concepts, an integrated digital solutions provider offering bespoke software and services for the hospitality industry; and Veal Global, a new business, supporting South African companies to relocate or expand their business in the UK. The latest in a long line of companies arriving in the city is Swedish furniture retailer IKEA.

TS: How can people be a part of this exciting time for Exeter? What events can people attend? 

fab_lab_-_exeter_library-1VH: Anyone can get involved with the networking groups, co-working space and tech incubators such as Canopy Exeter, ExIST, Digital Exeter and Thrive Hub. Specialist groups such as Being There and Data Science Exeter are only open to those working in the specific industries.

Fab Lab Devon and the Business & Intellectual Property Centre are based within Exeter Library and are therefore open to anyone interested in the services on offer.

Thanks to Victoria for taking the time to talk to us. To keep up with the latest news about Exeter’s tech scene follow @InvestInExeter on Twitter.