Roundabout Way: London's Tech City Sets Sights High

Can London Ever Be a Silicon Valley?
Can London Ever Become a Silicon Valley?   

London's Tech City is "uniquely" placed to become the next Silicon Valley, the woman who heads up the organization told CNBC on Thursday.

Tech City CEO Joanna Shields said the scheme, which is based in London and modeled on the home of Apple and Yahoo! in the U.S., has helped boost the U.K.'s economy, along with the rest of the technology sector.

"What's interesting in the U.K. is technology is leading in terms of the recovery. So we have 11 percent growth year-on-year in the technology sector and we're looking at that through 2016," she said.

She stressed that London is different to, for example, San Francisco, because the technological innovation is occurring in an urban cluster with direct access to government.

Westminster is "just down the road" from the Old Street hub, which is also close to the U.K.'s financial centre and creative talent of the advertising agencies based here, she added.

"So you almost have New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco all combined into one, which is a really powerful story," she said.

The U.K. government established Tech City to attract start-ups and entrepreneurs – who need support and early-stage funding from venture capital firms – as well as international blue-chip giants.

The scheme has been touted as the key to rebalancing the City's troubled financial sector, but its high profile has been criticized as little more than a marketing gimmick.

Shields – who moved from the U.S. to London to become the managing director for Google and later Facebook in the EMEA region – defended London as a one of the world's great technology centers.

"I've seen both Silicon Valley grow, and then I've spent the last 13 years here," she said, adding: "If you're developing a product, London is the perfect multi-cultural mix… the strongest market to lead and to look forward to other markets from here is definitely the way to go."

The Old Street roundabout, which has been dubbed 'Silicon Roundabout' due to the number of technology companies operating from the area in London.
Oli Scarff | Getty Images
The Old Street roundabout, which has been dubbed 'Silicon Roundabout' due to the number of technology companies operating from the area in London.

Shields highlighted 3D printing as one particular area of growth to come out of Tech City.

"In East London we're seeing this big boom in 3D printing," she said.

"Fleet Street… was where all the main newspapers used to publish. So originally printing and then digital printing is a heritage of that part of the country, so we're starting to see 3D printing emerge from there in a very strong way."

According to the Tech City Map, 1,364 companies are based in the tech city area, although half of them are PR, media and design agencies rather than technology companies.