Tech clusters around the world are booming – some might say we’re even in our fourth industrial revolution. And amongst all of this, Bristol has been named one of the top 10 tech cities in Europe.

But what sets Bristol apart from all the others? Sarah Keates, Events Manager at TechSPARK set out to investigate just what makes our South West corner so compelling.

Listen to the Bristol – Startup City episode of TEDxBristol’s Reflect, Rethink, Reboot series now!

The people on the ground

The podcast unearthed some pretty interesting stuff. From conversations with the founders to playing with state-of-the-art tech, Sarah was able to give listeners a real flavour of what people are up to in Bristol.

And the founders, CEOs and all-round business brains have a thing or two to say about working with technology in Bristol.

Sarah started at TechSPARK’s own home, Engine Shed. Here she met Monika Radclyffe, the Centre Director at SETsquared Bristol, who outlined what it is to be a global accelerator.

Monika says, “Incubators like this is where startups come to grow, where they are nurtured with hands-on support to help them get their product to market, secure funding and then scale.”

She takes Sarah through the dynamics of their exciting venture, which 80 businesses based across Bristol alone are a part of.

Every day they’re busting myths of startup culture. Monika tells us that in 2018 they, “collectively generated £42 million of revenue.”

Sarah then went on to meet some of these startups coming out from accelerators and incubators like SETsquared. First, she spoke to Zara Nanu, founder of Gapsquare – the company using data and technology to fight the battle of the gender pay gap.

Zara tells us why she chose to launch Gapsquare in Bristol: “Since Bristol is so ethically minded, it made sense to set up a company that looks at making the world a better place here.”

There is definitely something in the water here when it comes to inspiring attitudes. Zara explains how her background was not in technology, but it was thanks to the community spirit in Bristol that embraced the idea and helped them to flourish.

Stephanie Campbell, the founder of OKKO Health, agrees with this sentiment, saying: “I think there is a Bristol mindset when it comes to startups.”

This is something that continued to ring true throughout the podcast.

Inspiring one another

To get a taste for the type of shared learning that goes on in Bristol, Sarah and TEDx ventured over to the TechFusion Expo to engage in some of the exciting discussion.

Many thought provoking points were made, such as Monika’s interesting question of: “Technology will help us reclaim more time, but what do we do with that time? Work more?”

After the expo, Sarah got the chance to venture down to Ultrahapticscustomer experience room where she meets Rob Blenkinsopp, VP of Engineering.

Ultrahaptics is a special interaction company that specialises in mid-air haptic feedback. In the podcast, Sarah is lucky enough to play around on a game of Pokémon – the multi-sense addition. But whilst the tech can definitely provide entertainment, its uses don’t stop there. Its versatility to expand into health, automation and other industries make it such a unique development.

Rob says why he thinks Bristol is such an attractive location for all these startups: “Bristol is quite unique as it brings an engineering pedigree… but merges it with the creative and media side, which is a mix that brings communities together.”

Keeping ahead

The discussion turns to how Bristol can maintain its leading position in the journey technology is taking and keep its “supercluster” status towards the end of the podcast.

Sarah caught up with Jason Hart, one of today’s leading global visionaries in cyber, to talk about his humble beginnings on the tech scene. He tells us about life growing up on the council estate, Lawrence Weston, and what he has learnt from his childhood.

Jason underscores the importance of tapping into the hidden talent in deprived areas – without which we could easily fall behind. He also highlights the pace at which tech is developing means that education needs to span beyond purely studying.

He says, “If they’re going to university to do a four-year degree in technology, what they learn in the first two years will become irrelevant in the fourth year.”

Stephanie Campbell, the founder of OKKO Health – the smartphone software helping those with eyesight impairment – also raises the issue of the vast gender disparity that we are yet to overcome: “There’s the huge risk that we will be creating these new technologies by one half of the population for both halves of the population.”

But whilst Bristol’s tech cluster has steps to take, just like any other city or country that wants to move forward, the overall sentiment that this podcast highlights is that collaboration is what characterises Bristol.

Throughout, people praise one another and thank the wealth of resources readily available in the city, attributing collaboration to the reason Bristol is the Startup City.

Listen to the Reflect, Rethink, Reboot TEDxBrsitol podcast here – hosted by Sarah Keates – for more poignantly relevant conversation.

Shona Wright

Shona covers all things editorial at TechSPARK. She publishes news articles, interviews and features about our fantastic tech and digital ecosystem, working with startups and scaleups to spread the word about the cool things they're up to. She also oversees TechSPARK's social media, sharing the latest updates on everything from investment news to green tech meetups and inspirational stories.