Brighton: UK TECH STARTUPS: Bohemian types, students and a vibrant arts scene all come together to produce a town with creative ideas: TECH STARS
(Observer (UK) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) It has been unexpectedly sunny in Brighton in the last few years - at least as far as its tech scene is concerned. After a long period of underperformance, the city's digital sector seems to have been galvanised by the recession.
According to a recent report conducted by Wired Sussex and local universities, the average digital firm in the area is growing by more than 14% a year, while the sector in Brighton is experiencing jobs growth at more than 10 times the rate of the wider UK economy.
Recent success stories such as Brandwatch (the analytics company profiled below) have shown local tech entrepreneurs that you don't have to move 50 miles north to London to make your business flourish: it can be done very nicely here on the south coast, in more laid-back circumstances with lower costs of living, a well-connected community and good creative energy.
The crossover between technology and Brighton's vibrant arts scene is part of what makes the city special, according to Wired Sussex's CEO, Phil Jones. "If you want to understand whether there's real value in bringing together learning from the arts and technology, then Brighton is the place to test that proposition."
Alex Vaidya co-founder and CEO
Neil Witten co-founder and CTO
Founded 2012 Headcount 14
What is it? An audience-driven storytelling platform for brands.
How did it come about? Vaidya worked at Porsche, where he created an online TV series for the brand, before founding StoryStream. "Brands are recognising the opportunity to bring together what the audience is saying and blend it with their own message," he says.
How does it work? The platform collects relevant content from social networks and across the web, curating it for brands so they can use it to create stories around their products.
How are they doing? Vaidya has maintained his connection with Porsche - "Using our technology, they were able to bring in instant audience reaction around their new car and build that into their microsite" - and the company is also working with Nokia and Getty Images.
Giles Palmer founder and CEO
Founded 2006 Headcount 160
What is it? A social media monitoring and analytics platform.
How did it come about? With the rise of social media in the mid-2000s, Palmer, who was running a tech agency in Brighton at the time, recognised the need for a search engine to help brands understand how they're being talked about online.
"We codenamed it Brandwatch and never came up with a better name," he laughs.
How are they doing? The company started out with the capacity to monitor 25,000 websites; now it has a reach of 80 million. Brandwatch has offices in Berlin and New York but is still headquartered in Brighton, where it employs nearly 100 people.
Jason Ryan co-founder and COO
Founded 2011 Headcount 19
What is it? A digital strategy and innovation agency.
How did it come about? The three co-founders were senior members of Spannerworks, a Brighton digital marketing company which was acquired by iCrossing in 2007. "At a certain point, we realised there was a huge opportunity for a strategic digital agency," says Ryan. "Hence Brilliant Noise."
How are they doing? "We expected it might take us a bit of time to get going, but within the first three months we were winning strategic work for global brands including Nokia and EDF," says Ryan.
FREEDOM OF THOUGHT
Arjo Ghosh mentor and investor
Founded 2011 Headcount one
What is it? Business planning and consultancy support to founder-managed organisations
Background: Ghosh moved from London to Brighton 17 years ago and co-founded the search marketing agency Spannerworks, which was bought by US agency iCrossing for more than pounds 10m in 2007. He stayed on at the company until 2010.
What is he doing now? Since leaving iCrossing, Ghosh has been investing in and mentoring startups in Brighton. He is non-executive director at Brilliant Noise and video production company FatSand, and sits on the enterprise panel at the University of Sussex.
Why Brighton? "It's a very open-minded, friendly scene. About half the startups I see here are aiming to be a social enterprise, they want to make the world a better place."
Paul Ayliffe co-founder and art director
Founded 2011 Headcount 26
What is it? A boutique games developer.
How did it come about? When Black Rock, a major Brighton games studio owned by Disney, closed down in 2011, a number of smaller companies formed out of the ashes. The original founder, Tony Beckwith, and three other senior Black Rock members joined forces to start Studio Gobo.
How are they doing? "Ironically, two years on we're working with Disney," says Ayliffe. "We developed the Pirates of the Caribbean playset for the Disney Infinity game. It's probably the biggest franchise we've ever worked on - it's great for a new company to be partnered on something so big."
Steve Kingswell COO
Founded 2010 Headcount 20
What is it? A for-profit social enterprise helping organisations engage with young people in Africa.
How does it work? The company, which also has an office in Cape Town, delivers information on topics such as education and health to 15-to 35-year-olds across Africa using mobile social networks.
"Our technology is designed to work with feature phones on WAP because the penetration of mobiles in Africa is much higher than smartphones or computers," says Kingswell. The company also helps brands engage with Africa's growing middle class.
How are they doing? The firm covers 20 African countries and attracts 3-4 million visits per month. Last June, the company raised $1.7m in angel investment.
Anna Lewis founder
Founded 2012 Headcount three
What is it? A site that lets you search ebooks online and pay as you read.
How does it work? "We are doing collaborations with publishers so we are adding features like gifting ebooks - we want to make ebooks as accessible as a web page because at the moment there is all this content but it is locked away," says Lewis. "You don't need a Kindle because we reflow all of the texts so that it matches the device you are on, whether that's an iPad or phone or computer."
How is it doing? They have a catalogue of 15,000 books and 10,000 signed-up users.
Why Brighton? "There's a good mix of creative and technical expertise here, with a bit more space than London," says Lewis.
Phil Jones CEO
Founded 2013 Headcount six
What is it? A startup to support startups. "We have a space where businesses can come and work and build their products but also a series of support mechanisms to help them do that. We get contributions from the public sector but also the startups themselves," says Jones, who runs Wired Sussex.
Why Brighton? "The tech scene here is incredibly vibrant and they tend to be ones that marry technology and creativity," explains Jones, who says that a lot of people have come down from London to start their businesses in the city. "It's got a strong arts and bohemian scene and bringing that together with a digital scene is what gives Brighton its edge. Plus there are lots of students and that keeps the ideas fresh."
Ian Wakeman founder
Founded 2013 Headcount four
What is it? An app that provides solutions for situations where smartphones have limited connectivity.
How does it work? "When you go to a football stadium you normally can't get a signal for love nor money," says Wakeman. "This app builds the network directly between all the other phones within the stadium, and then whoever has got connectivity pulls down the current live scores and Twitter feeds and travel news and distributes it directly to everyone in the stadium."
How did it come about? Wakeman has been a lecturer in computer science at the University of Sussex for more than 18 years. "The idea came about from going to football matches and looking at my phone for signal and realising there wasn't any," says Wakeman. "When Brighton built a stadium next the university it seemed like a good time to do it."
Future plans "We want to work with other football clubs and we're also talking to people in rugby union, rugby league and horse racing."
Ian Byrne founder
Founded 2013 Headcount three
What is it? Portable 3D body scanning and printing.
How does it work? People walk into a giant body scanner, which takes a 3D capture of them. They can then buy 3D figures of themselves for around pounds 30. "We want it to be a very immersive experience," says Byrne.
Future plans To make a robust portable scanner (like a photo booth). "There is a huge call for it in galleries but we would like to take it further than that and we are also looking into using recycled materials."
Darren Fell co-founder
Founded 2009 Headcount 100
What is it? Online accounting software for small businesses, contractors and freelancers.
How did it come about? "I wanted to challenge the world of accountancy because of my bad experiences," says Fell.
"I quickly realised that we needed software that automates as much as possible the running of your accounts, so that you can send your invoices out to your clients and you can record your receipts. It's like having your own accountant on the end of the phone."
How are they doing? They now have more than 4,500 customers and have attracted investment from the chairmen of Bebo anbnd Skype.
Who is using it? "Freelancers, contractors, locums, anyone operating up to a 14-person business. That is perfect to be done online," says Fell.
Danielle Barnetche and Alex McGregor Stewart co-directors
Founded 2012 Headcount five
What is it? Apps that are based around learning geometry, designed primarily for primary school children.
How are they doing? "We have released two apps and our next step is to expand the topics we cover to include maths and a whole range of other subjects," says McGregor Stewart.
Why Brighton? "The main thing is it has a thriving digital community and there are a lot of entrepreneurial events," says Barnetche.
"On a personal level, it's a great place to be. I'm from San Francisco and there's something a bit more interesting about Brighton because it's up and coming and you don't have that intense startup atmosphere."
Jess Stephens director and co-founder
Founded 2012 Headcount seven
What is it? A mobile phone loyalty app that enables retailers to send messages and offers to the customers' mobile phones based on their location, previous spend and online purchases.
How did it come about? "We saw there was a divide between shopping centres and digital offerings and we thought someone needs to close that gap and a mobile app can do just that," says Stephens.
How are they doing? Nine shopping centres are using it in the UK and the firm is now working on deals in the US and in the UAE.
Why Brighton? "Brighton is becoming a tech hub and there is a nice mix between technical talent and creativity. There is a real strong network of tech savvy, friendly people. It's perfect."
Oliver West founder and director
Founded 2012 Headcount three
What is it? A conference-call service that offers its customers gifts for using it.
How does it work? "Everyone pays for their own calls, as opposed to paying a monthly fee," says West.
"You earn points that can be redeemed for iPads and restaurant vouchers and with this reward scheme you can really earn in a matter of months."
How did it come about? "I'd been using conference calling for a long time and found that there were problems with them all, from the quality of the line not being up to scratch to the cost. Plus we found there was no real loyalty to any brand so we thought, let's set one up ourselves that is better."
Continued on page 18
Photographed in front of West Pier
on Brighton Beach
1 Ian Byrne 3Dify
2 Phil Jones The FuseBox
3 Darren Fell Crunch
4 Giles Palmer Brandwatch
5 Alex McGregor Stewart Lighthouse Learning
6 Danielle Barnetche Lighthouse Learning
7 Jason Ryan Brilliant Noise
8 Jess Stephens TagPoints
9 Alex Vaidya Storystream
10 Neil Witten Storystream
11 Arjo Ghosh Freedom of Thought
12 Paul Ayliffe Studio Gobo
13 Anna Lewis ValoBox
14 Ian Wakeman TribeHive
15 Oliver West Minglur
16 Steve Kingswell Every1Mobile
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