‘Create a tech hub or we’ll leave Stowmarket,’ warns leading businessman

Peter Brady of Orbital Media. Picture: Jessica Hill

Peter Brady of Orbital Media. Picture: Jessica Hill - Credit: Archant

The chief executive of a company doing pioneering work in the realms of artificial intelligence and virtual reality has warned that companies like his will be forced to leave Stowmarket, unless a new ‘tech hub’ is created there.

Stowmarket town centre Picture: MARK LANGFORD

Stowmarket town centre Picture: MARK LANGFORD - Credit: Archant

Peter Brady has been running his company, Orbital Media, in the Suffolk town for the last ten years.

But the entrepreneur says he is prepared to consider relocating, due to a lack of the office space needed to grow his company.

And he warns that other tech companies based in Stowmarket are encountering the same problem.

“This is very important because those companies will leave Stowmarket if this tech hub doesn’t happen,” he warned. “That would affect all the professionals that feed off those businesses, ranging from the guy that arranges cocktail evenings for us to local lawyers, accountants, and retailers. All our employees go into town and spend up to £10 a day - we bring money into the area.

Charlie Jardine of EO Charging holding EO's genius smart charger. Picture: EO Charging

Charlie Jardine of EO Charging holding EO's genius smart charger. Picture: EO Charging - Credit: Archant

“Its absolutely critical that this tech hub does happen.”

Stowmarket has been shaking off its image as a sleepy rural backwater in recent years, thanks not only to the presence of Orbital Media, but also other local companies like EO Charging, which is innovating with its electric charging points, and Bosch, which is designing robotic garden mowers.

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“There are some amazing companies here doing world leading research on the commercialisation of AI technologies, VR and augmented reality and gamification, which can mitigate the local area from the impact of potential job losses resulting from automation in other industries,” explained Mr Brady.

Orbital Media currently has a £1m turnover and currently employs 25 people, but Mr Brady says they’re recruiting all the time now.

“We’re working with large companies globally - they are looking to us to lead the way with innovation and technology. We’re also connecting with some of the region’s top universities to bring cutting edge research to Stowmarket.”

On top of that, Mr Brady claims there are all manor of tech experts living in the local area who could collaborate with each other in a shared tech hotspot.

“I found a fantastic sound engineer half a mile down the road who we bought in who worked on one of our projects,” he said. “There are guys very senior in the gaming industry and former Silicon Valley journalists working down the road, also scriptwriters, programmers, very high level IT executives - there could be all kinds of opportunities for the town.”

Earlier this year, Mid Suffolk District Council released a survey to local people to seek their opinions on building a tech hotspot in the town.

This feasibility study has just been completed, and the data is now being compiled into a report. “That will guide us where to go from there,” explained Mr Brady.

Nautilus Associates, a business consultancy that specialises in technology, is looking to identify potential sites for the development.

“I really want local people to be behind it because I think its absolutely crucial for them and their children’s futures, as well as for our future as a company,” said Mr Brady. “We’ve got grand ambitions to be a very large company, and we want to stay in Stowmarket. But we need somewhere to do that.”

Forming a tech hub in Stowmarket has been Mr Brady’s pet project since he conceived of the idea three years ago, “The dearth of decent office space is problematic because we are trying to inspire larger companies to come and work with us,” explained Mr Brady. “I figured that we could either move to another tech hub - Cambridge, for example - or we could try to do something bigger and better and help not only ourselves, but other businesses too.

“This could be an amazing formula for regional prosperity. Entrepreneurial opportunities can emerge from a cluster, because shared hubs spark that entrepreneurial spirit.”

Mr Brady would like set up a Centre for Excellence for Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality as part of the tech hub.

He suggests that establishing a tech hub could also stem the ‘brain drain’ tide of tech graduates from University of Suffolk and University of Essex leaving the region upon completing their degrees.

“I want to establish an entrepreneurial pathway for kids coming out of university to have an opportunity to go create their own games companies, and they can learn from the experiences we have built up to have a crack at it themselves,” explained Mr Brady, who is also the enterprise adviser at Stowmarket High School.

“Entrepreneurialism is something I feel isn’t embedded in the curriculum at schools and universities in a big enough way, and I’m passionate about trying to improve that.”

While nothing has been decided yet about whether the tech hub will become a reality, Mr Brady claims there is a “firm level of agreement” that this is something Stowmarket needs. “If it doesn’t happen, I have concerns about Stowmarket’s future.

“Unfortunately, some companies will leave Stowmarket and that’s my big worry - that we will have to leave.”