Happy new year! 2018 has been fantastic for the tech cluster in Bristol & Bath, but we’re not ones to rest on our laurels. We’ve spoken to a few of the amazing community leaders her and asked them to fill us in on their highlight for the year and what they think we’ve got to look forward to in 2019.

Nick Sturge – Director, Engine Shed

I think that 2018 was a year of consolidation. We have done a lot of work, collectively, on understanding the gaps, opportunities and strengths in the cluster. These all show there is some so much authentic activity – business, social and collaborative around here. So, the thing that rocked my boat this year was the Sparkies – getting 400 people celebrating the cluster was genuinely awesome, as well as genuine.

We saw some significant businesses raising above the parapet and appearing massively on the international radar in the last year – not least Reach Robotics, Xiylo, Ultrahaptics and Graphcore. I’m expecting to see a number of other solid, sustainable, well-run businesses become anchors of our cluster and further strengthen the Bristol & Bath cluster as a powerhouse of solid growth (as opposed to vapour-ware).

I also think that we’ll see some real progress on the actors in the ecosystem working together on ways to make our economy more inclusive. This is not an agenda that anyone owns: our economy, wellbeing and prosperity will benefit from more people being included in the economic activity in the region. There have been some great initiatives kicking off in the tech sector especially, and 2019 needs to see us building on that – and preferably prioritising energy to doing rather than talking.

Briony Philips – Associate Director & Scale-up Business Enabler, Engine Shed

It’s hard for me to name just one thing that excited me last year. We retained our title as the UK’s most productive tech cluster (thanks TechNation), Liz Truss MP visited to highlight our potential to become the UK’s Silicon Valley (thanks to our status as the fastest-growing part of the UK economy outside London), we saw Graphcore announce a further $200m funding round and take the title as the region’s first unicorn and our first official ‘grow on’ space for fast growth companies opened in central Bristol.

This year I’m expecting to see more of the things that make our region special – not least collaboration, innovation and camaraderie!

Mike Jackson – Entrepreneur Success Director, Tech Nation

The two landmark events for 2018 have been the opening of Runway East – and the fact that it was full of companies, many of them the same as those we were helping as startups four or five years ago in the Engine Shed.  Seeing them now, all as scaleups is fantastic.

The second thing about this year, is the very recent news that Graphcore has become the first true unicorn in Bristol. Even though that’s just one company and it doesn’t necessarily mean the whole ecosystem is changing it’s a badge for Bristol. It means that other investors will now have Bristol on their map in a way that they didn’t before

For 2019 I think it’s more of the above. More co-location and co-working spaces, more accelerators and incubators more ancillary ‘things.’ There are going to be some interesting announcments about some dining clubs and entrepreneur societies coming soon. Bristol is a big enough ecosystem to have two, three or half a dozen of something it’s not a single ‘thing’ city as you sometimes see. We’ll see more companies scaling, building jobs that benefit the local economy, hiring high-paid, high-skilled people in Bristol and building out into global companies, world-leading companies from our home city.

David Foreman – General Manager, Runway East Bristol

What really excited me about 2018 was the opening of two new large co-working spaces in Bristol, alleviating the chronic shortage of scaleup space in Bristol. Desklodge House and, of course, our Runway East.

In 2019, following on from the brilliant news that Graphcore became the city’s first unicorn, I’m excited to see who’s next and how many we can foster.
Tatjana Humphries – Senior Business Executive – Creative and Tech, Invest Bristol & Bath
We have lots of exciting projects in the pipeline from Bristol & Bath company expansions, to national relocations and some really exciting international brands looking to expand across the city region. Hope we continue to see these kinds of projects and Bristol & Bath continues to be the number 1 location to innovate!
So many to choose from including Graphcore’s latest raise and achieving Unicorn status, to the opening of delaware’s first UK delivery hub. For me though it has to be the selection of Bristol by Channel 4 as the destination of its new creative hub. Whilst next steps are still being worked on, the bid process not only showcased the strength and ambition of the entire ecosystem, but truly celebrated the collaboration of the tech and creative sectors.
Ben Shorrock – Managing Director, TechSPARK 
This year has been awesome for the tech cluster and has really shown how it’s matured in the last few years! From Ziylo selling for $800 million to Graphcore being named our first unicorn and Channel 4 moving in, it’s been a brilliant year.
We have lots of super exciting plans for 2019 launching projects around skills, diversity and growing geographically so that’s pretty cool! For the cluster, I’m hoping we see more ace companies coming through and showing how brilliant, world-beating companies can come out of the South West!
Want to stay caught up on all the Tech news coming out of the cluster in 2019? Follow TechSPARK on twitter @TechSPARKuk, Instagram @TechSPARKuk and on Facebook. You can also join our Facebook discussion group to get to know the Tech community here a bit more.

Geraint Evans