Opinion: Silicon Gorge 5 years on, a growing ecosystem

How has the Bristol & Bath start up scene changed since we started our investment competition
7th December 2018

Charles Grimsdale co-founded Eden Ventures, sits on the board of various successful tech companies, including Brightpearl and BaseKit, and is an active angel investor with personal investments in BluWireless, Creo Medical, Ometria, Funnel Music, Skin Analytics, et al. He gives us his thoughts on how the Silicon Gorge Pitching competition has changed in the last 5 years

 

Yesterday I attended the Silicon Gorge Pitching competition in Bristol, hearing pitches from eleven startups looking to raise. It’s five years from the first of these competitions and looking back on that first one gives me a real sense of the journey that the tech scene in Bristol & Bath has gone through over that time.

During the first Silicon Gorge at Engine Shed (which had only just opened), we had founders of early-stage startups looking to raise their first seed investment (including Wriggle who, 5 years on, pitched yesterday for growth funds to take them to 10+ new cities to scale their growth). The companies at the very first Silicon Gorge were mainly consumer-focused software businesses looking to grow from a standing start and they were all very early stage. There were some exciting ideas there, but there were few with deep defensible technology.  

However the types of businesses we’ve seen in 2018 are much broader, they tend to be better established, have a strong MVP and have been often been involved in one of the local entrepreneurship programmes. Yesterday, of the companies who pitched, we had eight who were looking to raise over £1 million and were utilising deep tech including autonomous vehicles, ultrasonics, HPC in the cloud, computer vision, and AI. 

It’s clear that the community of startups in Bristol and Bath has grown significantly in these past 5 years, as has the support ecosystem around it. Specialised incubators and accelerators like the Quantum Technology centre, Oracle’s High-Performance Cloud Accelerator and Unit DX , now complement organisations like SETsquared to support a growing range of start-up businesses focussed on the applications of technology.  

This trend is starting to show in some of the more established businesses who’ve been involved in the ecosystem, from companies like Ziylo (acquired by Novo Nordisk for $800 million) and Graphcore (raised $50 million from Sequoia) to Ultrahaptics who just this week announced a £35 million growth round. The SouthWest technology scene has actually become very well connected (in fact Bristol has the most tech meetups per head of anywhere in the UK) and entrepreneurship is thriving. At the same time, it is a capital efficient area to build new businesses, with staff turnover and salaries typically lower than London or the SouthEast.

There is a deep technology heritage in the SouthWest with companies like Inmos, BAe, Oracle, Sun, Hewlett-Packard and many others that have provided the foundations. There is a growing pool of world-class engineering talent, and as a result, the diversity, quality and technical depth of startups in the area continue to grow.  So I am confident that we will see a growing cohort of world-leading technology businesses emerge from this region in the coming years.

If you’d like to find out more about the businesses that pitched at Silicon Gorge 2018 check out this article or, if you’re an investor, drop a note to [email protected] to gain access to a page with all the companies’ decks.