Wednesday, 16 May 2012

3D Printing from London's 'Silicon Roundabout'

Silicon Roundabout is London's claim to be a Silicon Valley. It is claimed to be  fast becoming a major hub for media agencies and tech firms with a digital edge, in an area encompassing Shoreditch, Hoxton and particularly Old Street. That may be the case, but Silicon Roundabout is very different from Silicon Valley. 

Wired's directory of Silicon Roundabout companies reveals that its startups are mostly users of the Web and related technology, developing the 'froth' of applications that sit atop the shoulders of companies in other parts of the world who have developed foundation technologies, based on decades of deep dive R+D and university/research labs collaboration. There may be a few important companies in London's Silicon Roundabout, but the UK should not over-estimate the importance of this cluster. The Cambridge cluster is more significant, but even it is a pale shadow of Silicon Valley, California. Despite this, there are of course some very interesting tech companies in London. Since this is a blog about 3D Printing, lets start there. 

MakieLab is a 3D Printing start up with ambition. 
MakieLab is a new toys and games company based in Shoreditch, London.  They are making a new kind of future-smashing toy: customisable, 3D-printed, locally made, and game-enabled.

Alice Taylor founded Makielab in February 2011 after nearly four years commissioning games, apps and web TV shows for Channel 4 Education. Previous to Channel 4 Alice was VP Digital for BBC Worldwide (LA), and previous to that, the brains behind another start up producing Java entertainment software – avatars, forums, chat apps. 

We wish MakieLab well, genuinely, but one cannot help thinking that the UK needs to shoot considerably higher than solely being a 'user' of technology in order to create niche toy on demand services. To boost UK competitiveness, to attract investors and to increase the national equivalent of "Market Capitalization", the UK desperately 
needs to restore its engineering and science prowess in core technology development and R+D. That's not to decry entrepreneurs working in London's Silicon Roundabout .... but all UK Governments of the last thirty years have been curiously willing to believe that the SME sector will be the UK's salvation. They will not. What we need are the Google's, Apple's and GE's of the emerging 'digital space' .... and those companies seed developments from the real Silicon Valley, not Old Street, London. Agreed?

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