25th March 2014 San Francisco, USA

How GREAT is Innovation?

Earlier this month, the best and brightest minds in innovation, creative media, and tech landed in Austin for the annual SxSW conference and trade show.  Every year I am impressed by the UK companies that attend SxSW, and this year was no different. My colleagues at the British Consulate in Houston support loads of UK companies who are introducing themselves to a US audience.

As I followed various Twitter streams chronicling the activities, I was envious of those enjoying not only of the warm Austin weather (and amazing food), but also the exciting atmosphere that brings all of these tech-startups together for a week of brainstorming and product launches. In particular, I was struck by an Edinburgh-based organisation, Speech Graphics, which analyses recorded speech to move an animated character’s face in synchrony with audio in video games, and it works in all languages. This is just the latest reminder of the importance of British technology in Hollywood—if you watched the Academy Awards earlier this year you should recognize another  (Gravity, anyone?).

The UK has a culture of innovation, which is strengthened through collaboration with the strong science and technology scene in the Bay Area. Earlier this month, a few key players who are making a real difference in innovation stopped by an event hosted by the British Consulate in San Francisco for a fire-side chat on what is new in the industry.

Andy McLoughlin, co-founder of Huddle, a cloud-based collaboration and content company founded and based in London, moderated the discussion with these innovators. The first was Eben Upton, co-founder of Raspberry Pi. If you’re a frequent reader of this blog (and hopefully you are), you should be familiar with Raspberry Pi. And if you’re not, rest assured I did not mean “raspberry pie.” Raspberry Pi is a UK-based foundation which develops credit card-sized single-board computers with the intention of encouraging and promoting the teaching of basic computer science in schools. The second British innovator on the panel was Simon Segars, CEO of ARM. This company, based in Cambridge, is the world’s leading semiconductor intellectual property supplier. You know that phone in your lap? Chances are it has an ARM chip in it. Just to give you an idea for how impressive this UK-based company is, to date over 20 billion ARM based chips have been shipped and 800 processor licences have been sold to more than 250 companies around the world.

Needless to say, the discussion between these three innovators was energetic  Andy, Eben and Simon were all able to share the stories of how their organisations came to be and showcased the UK as a leading innovative nation. These British entrepreneurs discussed some of the obstacles they had to overcome to reach the point where they are today.

This sparked conversations about the innovation ecosystem in Silicon Valley and how it can be recreated and fostered in other parts of the world. Naturally I thought of Tech City, a development in London’s East End that is quickly becoming a digital capital in Europe, with companies like Google and Facebook opening up their European headquarters there. But smaller start-ups from around the UK have also gained knowledge and skills by opening their offices in the vibrant atmosphere. Tech City is thriving and is one of the most welcoming places to open up a creative or digital media company in Europe, much like Silicon Valley is in the US.

By showcasing these great innovators and the UK during the event, we were able to show leading entrepreneurs and other attendees the strength and power of innovation in the UK, a GREAT country known for “punching above its weight.”

About Emily Keir

Emily joined the San Francisco S&I team in May 2012 after graduating from the University of California, Los Angeles with an honours degree in Environmental Studies/Geography and Environmental Systems and…

Emily joined the San Francisco S&I team in May 2012 after graduating from the University of California, Los Angeles with an honours degree in Environmental Studies/Geography and Environmental Systems and Society. While working towards her degree at UCLA, she conducted primary remote sensing research and spent time abroad studying ecology, economics, and biology at Cambridge University. She started her work with the British Consulate as an intern for the Science and Innovation team in Los Angeles before becoming an officer in San Francisco.

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