Not a lot of cities have known such deep modifications as Birmingham in the past ten years. Its city centre has been completely changed and expanded, and numerous buildings have emerged. The flyovers which once dominated the city have been normalised, and its grey concrete Brutalist design has been reshaped towards the innovative millennial structures.
Birmingham’s main shopping area, the Bullring, was dismantled and rebuilt from scratch. It’s the same for its main library, railway stations and airport, that have all been rebuild or will soon be.
Birmingham’s “Big City Plan” wants to increase the city centre’s surface and is establishing a series of economic hubs for industries such as advanced manufacturing, life sciences, ICT and food industry. Both capital investors and business operators are looking positively on these initiatives.
Professional services are increasing, and executive spending power has bolstered local retail which is progressing in terms of premium offers. Birmingham now is home to four Michelin-starred restaurants, which would have been impossible before these changes. Yet Birmingham’s reputation is obviously better outside of the UK than inside. Investors from all around the world just designated it “Destination of the Future” admiring the scope of investment, skill pool and drive the city generates by its rejuvenation.
Entrepreneurs are not rare either. More than 16,000 new businesses were created in 2013, and some have huge ambitions. For example, startup Droplet wants to cut out the banks from the system, while London still tries not to acknowledge the “too big to fail” status of the City.
Birmingham Science Park Aston play hosts to the Innovation Birmingham complex, which welcomes 86 tech startups, that range from games to SaaS. The majority of firms are involved in the Entrepreneurs for the Future (E4F) programme, which offers free office spaces and communications with support and consulting services. The whole community organises events and meetings like “Tech Wednesday”,that takes place each month. Future projects will expand the scope of the programme by 120,000 sq ft in the coming years.
If there is one thing that Birmingham certainly has in abundance is space to grow since its ancient industrial areas are now being recalibrated for tomorrow’s industries. For example, the Custard Factory, Digbeth, home to the old Bird’s factory, will be able to host dozens of young startups in the near future.
The Oxygen Accelerator has really contributed to bolstering the Birmingham scene, with a collaboration with Google in London. But the most involved members, Simon Jenner, Mark Hales and Kath Preston are all Birmingham-based and are close to the city’s tech scene. Jenner has, for example, announced his goal to establish “100 tech startups in the city each year”. He added: “There’s something happening in Birmingham. You get that sense at the meet-ups that there’s a community growing and it’s going to reach a tipping point”.
The gaming industry is certainly the sector where the local tech startups attract worldwide attention, with international hits like Dojit in China. Another one, Soshi Games is working on entering the music business. Its Music Festival Game is at the heart of a new way of promoting and launching new bands and artists to a global audience, and the company has secured more than a million pounds worth of investment.
Another gaming company called Wewanaplay works on improving the multi-player gaming experience. Launch48, which is a local ‘Hackathon’ event in the city that promotes innovation, helped launch the startup.