Innovation Martlesham technology cluster makes its mark in new Tech Nation report
PUBLISHED: 06:00 01 March 2016
Ipswich and the surrounding area has been included in the 2016 Tech Nation guide to the UK top tecnology hot-spots. DUNCAN BRODIE takes a look at the report’s findings, and some of the local success stories it highlights.
When the Tech City UK initiative published its inaugural Tech Nation report last year, eyebrows were raised over the omission of Ipswich.
BT’s Adastral Park research facility at Martlesham Heath is the main base for more than 3,700 workers – mainly with the telecoms giant but also with a number of other hi-tech businesses, large and small – while Ipswich and a number of smaller towns in Suffolk can also boast their share of digitally-focused firms.
The inclusion of Ipswich is the new edition of Tech Nation when it was published last month was, therefore, widely welcomed, by organisations including Innovation Martlesham (the umbrella organisation for the Adastral Park cluster), Suffolk Chamber of Commerce and the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership.
According to the report, digital businesses in and around Ipswich are worth nearly £200million to the local economy and employ nearly 10,000 people.
Its research shows that the turnover of digital firms in and around Ipswich grew by 24% between 2010 and 2014, during which time the sector’s contribution to the local economy, in terms of Gross Value Added, grew by 16% to £190million and employment in the sector rose by 3% to 9,981.
The report says: “Ipswich is a growing digital cluster emcompassing new start-ups such as ITO World, Sharedbank and Silicon Safe, as well as more established tech companies like HTK and Smart421.
“Ipswich has strengths in a number of sectors, including Digital Advertising and Marketing, Telecommunications and Networking, Fintech (solutions for the financial services industry) and Photonics (light-based technology such as fibreoptic cabling).”
Not without an element of understatement, given the level of employment at Adastral Park, the report continues: “BT has a research centre in the area which has helped to attract talent, some of whom have left to start or join new digital tech businesses nearby.
“BT shares its campus with companies including Cisco, Huawei and Ericsson and has strong links with leadinig universities including Cambridge and MIT (the Massachusetts Institute of Technology).
“Community engagement has helped drive the growth of Ipswich’s digital industry. The IP Network and SyncIpswich hold regular meetups while the Eastern Enterprise Hub provides resources for aspiring entrepreneurs.
“Innovation Martlesham also houses digital tech businesses including Nokia, CIP Technologies and Zog Energy.
“University Campus Suffolk works with partners across the country to provide STEM skills development and meet employer demand,” it adds.
Kevin Woollard, BT’s director of research engagement and operations at Adastral Park and the group’s lead for the Innovation Martlesham technology cluster project, said that BT and its partners were delighted to be included in this year’s report, following the disappoiintment of its omission last time.
“Not only is Ipswich in the Tech Nation report this year, but it is in with some substance,” said Mr Woollard. “This will help to raise awareness of the cluster nationally.”
Mr Woollard said that BT currently employs more than 3,000 people at Adastral Park, with members of the Innovation Martlesham cluster employing a further 700-plus. Membership of IM was now approaching 80, with 14 companies having joined in the past year, he added.
Challenges for the Ipswich cluster identified in the report include low sector awareness (cited by 32%), limited access to finance (33%) and weak digital infrastructure (47%).
In respect of this final figure, Mr Wollard acknowledged: “It is telling us we have something to do, and we are on the case”.
Strengths identified include access to gradual-level talent (53%), access to commercial property (57%) and access to local networks (58%).
Mr Woollard said BT was committed to securing talent, at both graduate and apprentice level, and was looking at how Innovatioin Martlesham companies might be able to use BT’s programmes and procedures to meet their own skills needs.
The aspiration was to drive the access to talent measure to above 70%, he added.
Based on the vibrant Ipswich waterfront, HTK was founded in 1996 by Marlon Bowser and Adrian Gregory, and is now led by Marlon and his twin brother Justin.
HTK customers include Telefónica O2 and Specsavers, the DWP,
Defra and much of the
UK police service - having worked on everything
from the UK’s first e-voting pilots and the Scottish national flood warning system, right through to TV’s Big Brother.
Today, HTK is best known for the Horizon Digital Marketing Hub. Horizon is used by large and small businesses (including local companies Gough Hotels, the retailer Urban Vintage, and Stoke-by-Nayland Hotel, Golf and Spa) for targeted marketing via digital channels such as email, SMS, and mobile apps - using ‘big data’ to ensure a timely, relevant and engaging customer experience.
In recent months, HTK has expanded its Horizon product to address the rapidly growing ‘loyalty’ industry – to transform often mundane customer loyalty schemes into something truly special that will appeal to every unique customer and deliver maximum financial benefit. This has led to significant new international opportunities in Ireland, Italy, Germany, the US and Australia.
Founder and chief executive Marlon Bowser said: “We serve our customers who are located across the UK, and increasingly internationally, from our fabulous offices on the Ipswich Waterfront. I moved from Manchester to this area to work for BT before setting up HTK 20 years ago. This is a great location to work and live, and I was delighted to see Ipswich rightly recognised as one of the UK’s leading technology clusters.”
Ipswich-headquartered Sharedband was formed in 2003 to speed up Internet access for businesses by combining multiple broadband connections into a faster, more reliable Internet pipe.
Its founder, Paul Evans, previously led the Internet Infrastructure Lab at BT Adastral Park, co-founded a BT spin-off, Venation, and was a member of the Parliamentary IT Programme Committee.
Today, many thousands of businesses are helped by Sharedband’s technology, having being used for live broadcasts of sporting events including the Winter Olympics, under-pinning the Wi-Fi networks in many thousands of hotels as well as keeping small businesses online as far afield as Australia. 2015 saw record revenue and profits for the company and 2016 brings the national launch of a world-first solution called Boosty.
Boosty helps those households with slow or unreliable internet by seamlessly combining their home broadband connection with the second broadband connection they carry about in their pocket, their smartphone. For those that cannot wait for fibre optic to be installed and want an immediate solution, Boosty can help those with some 3G or 4G mobile coverage. Across the globe, tens of millions of households suffer from poor broadband, creating a large opportunity for exports.
Paul Evans, Sharedband chief executive, said: “We’re delighted to have been included in the Tech Nation report and recognised for our ground-breaking technology. It’s certainly an exciting time for the rapidly growing telecoms sector in the Ipswich area, with Adastral Park, Huawei and Alcatel-Lucent on the doorstep.”
The scale of online password theft continues to increase and TalkTalk, JD Wetherspoon and Carphone Warehouse are just some of the companies that have suffered significant theft of usernames and password details in the past six months.
Silicon Safe has created a hacker-proof technology for the storage of user names, passwords and biometric data, and in January this year, it was announced that the company had secured US$1million in funding. The product will launch in April 2016.
Silicon Safe chief executive Nick Lowe said: “A lot of customer interest has been generated in Silicon Safe, as our product is installed at the Customer Showcase at Adastral Park.
“Seeing our company recognised in Tech Nation along with some of the UK’s tech superstars is a fantastic platform for us, since we have solved the identity theft problem, 2016 will now see the public launch of our technology.”
Based at Felaw Maltings in Ipswich, Smart421 specialises in IT consultancy, bespoke solution delivery and service management for complex business problems.
The company has world-class relationships with partners such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft and CA Technologies and delivers projects for household names, such as O2, Virgin Atlantic, Aviva and Kuoni. Smart421 also counts many Suffolk based companies as clients, including Haven Power, Suffolk County Council and Ipswich Building Society.
Founded in Ipswich in 2000, Smart421 grew consistently and was acquired by KCOM Group plc in 2006 in a deal worth £24million.
Since then, Smart421 has more than doubled in size as demand for its technical and consultancy skills has increased. It is now the second largest tech employer in Suffolk with more than 250 experts in Cloud Services, Big Data, systems integration, digital transformation and many other areas of IT.
Graham Masterson, general manager of Smart421, said: “Tech Nation highlights that Ipswich is now recognised as one of the UK’s leading tech clusters and one of the top places for digital salaries. This is helpful because our company is continuing to grow and needs more talent.
“People join Smart421 because the work is interesting and builds their career. Some of our people commute to Ipswich from London, Cambridge and Northampton but more people are moving here. In other words, it is a great place to live and do business. From the Smart421 office, you can be in the countryside in 10 minutes or on the Suffolk coast in 20 minutes.”
Founded in 2012, Zog Energy is an online energy company dedicated to driving down the cost of gas for domestic customers.
It currently serves over 5,000 customers and aims to reach 10,000 by the end of this year.
Zog Energy was founded by two former BT engineers from Adastral Park with the philosophy of “keep it simple and make it cheaper.”
The company created links with national infrastructure providers, accessed the wholesale gas market and developed bespoke systems based on the latest technology and Cloud Computing. The two founders, Andrew Cleveland and Tony Chester grew Zog by 400% in 2015.
Tony Chester, chief executive of Zog Energy said: “The big six energy companies rely on inertia to keep their customers but people can easily compare energy prices on uSwitch.com and other switching sites to make an informed choice.
“Our online customer interface and low prices were recognised during a televised Parliamentary Select Committee review and our growth rate shows that consumers really like our business model.
“We have seen how Amazon and ASOS have revolutionised retail
online and we are delighted to see our company recognised in Tech Nation 2016 as using technology in gas retail.”