Google Campus – making waves in the start-up world

Silicon Way sign

Google Campus: showing the way. Photograph: Anjum Quayyum

Google Campus launched on 29 March 2012 with the ambitious goal of ‘filling this town with start-ups’. Nearly a year on on, it has established itself as a high profile gateway into the technology community, opening its doors to talks and events about the latest trends and encouraging a culture of collaboration.

Ask any aspiring entrepreneur about why they use Google Campus, and you will get a varied response. “This is our office,” says Ben Holt, sub editor of Planet Ivy Magazine. “I want to start a new project and build a team,” says Nirmal Laddha Technical Director of Entireflow IT Services. “I make presentations and go there to gain knowledge” replies Ian Dowson Principal of William Garrity Consulting.

All of this is made possible with Google Campus, located five minutes’ walk away from Silicon Roundabout. Part campus, part library, part meeting place, how does Google Campus actually work?

Its four founding partners aim to be a window to the technology world, hosting topical events and debates. Events are open to members, who generate ideas and create new spin-offs and start-ups.  The start-ups may grow initially on the Campus before moving to nearby premises, creating space for the next wave of ideas and business creation.

Anyone with an interest in technology and entrepreneurship can become a member of Google Campus and participate in the community.  In addition, members can access free co-working space to develop ideas. It has proved popular. Over the last eight months, Google Campus has generated 20 million hits online and attracted 23,000 Twitter followers, showcasing over 170 events during last November and December alone.

“It has opened its doors and let the energy flow in,” explains Ian Dowson, a regular speaker on digital media and innovation at the Campus. “But Google Campus is only a small part of it, maybe 5 per cent.” The rest of the ‘technology ecosystem’ encompasses similar networks, tech hubs, creatives, investors and researchers. In total, there are 250 other meet-ups with over 120,000 participants.

He believes this has helped create a rich arc of innovation running from West London, the home of Apple, across Silicon Roundabout and out to Hackney Wick and iCity, the future hub for creative and digital media.

For entrepreneurs using the Campus, it’s an inspiring place to be and offers an alternative business model for the future. “A ready made location [at Google Campus] is a good opportunity to grow your company. You are surrounded by similar people. It just inspires you,” says Ben Holt.

An industry study by the Centre for London estimates that the digital economy in 2010 had over 3,200 firms, providing 48,000 jobs in Inner East London. The study found that the greatest growth came from digital content firms.

Regarding Google Campus, there are no published figures available on the number of start-ups created by its collaborative community. However, operating in partnership with Seedcamp, a seed investor, and Springboard, which runs a 13-week business accelerator programme, Google Campus has directly supported 14 new start-ups in London since its launch.

These figures suggest the start up process is a slow one. The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) believes it is important that entrepreneurs look beyond the ‘tech bubble’ and do the right things from a business perspective. This includes developing the necessary skills to acquire finance, protect intellectual property and secure major contracts. Getting this right will make a lasting impact to start-up growth.

Matthew Jaffa, the FSB London Senior Development Manager, adds: “We want to see these businesses not only staying in Google Campus, but getting premises and staying in the area. Hiring locally, hiring from abroad as need be, and making a genuine contribution to developing the economy.”

Nirmal Laddha, a current member, believes something bigger is taking place on Campus: “The culture of giving is definitely in a start-up. And Google is doing this with the Campus.”  He hopes this culture of giving spreads across all start-ups that benefit from the experience, creating a new and sustainable way to build business.

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