What lessons Climate Tech can learn from the creation of Silicon Roundabout

Within four hours of travel from London lies a burgeoning ecosystem of climate talent, technology and investment that spans the UK, France, Belgium and the Netherlands.

This region is already home to over 3000 climate tech startups and scaleups, with the market worth over $1 trillion, and an incredible 46% of all European startup value has already emerged from this important geographical area.

There's a huge amount of potential, energy and enthusiasm running throughout this region, and London is already at the heart of it. But despite this excitement, and the importance of the issue this sector is trying to solve, in H1 of this year it experienced its first hurdle - climate tech funding in Europe dropped by 43%.

It’s a situation that reminds me in some ways of the early days of Silicon Roundabout in London in the late noughties. Despite economic challenges, there was so much unbridled enthusiasm from new tech founders filled with a desire to change the status quo. But at times this was channelled into the wrong places, or there wasn’t enough cooperation between different entities to channel the region's success in the right way. However, slowly but surely, Silicon Roundabout became the beating heart of tech start-ups here in the UK and Europe, it was the place to be and is now the #2 tech hub globally.

That period offers valuable lessons based upon many similar challenges, people and organisations, as well as a variety of important differences, not least the focus upon hardware development rather than software, and a much more geographically distributed ecosystem.

Having been part of this scene way back then, here are some of the key learnings I think we can learn from the early days of Silicon Roundabout.

Access to capital

This point is obvious, but it goes without saying that access to capital is key. We need our own version of SeedCamp, which, in 2007, saw Co-Founders Reshma Sohoni and Saul Klein lead investments into the likes of Wise, Revolut and UiPath.

For this region to fulfil its potential, climate tech needs to prioritise attracting both talent via venture builder programmes such as Zinc, Deep Science Ventures and Carbon13, and also a blend of investment from both public and private sources, and both equity and non-dilutive capital with organisations such as Brave New Earth, Innovate UK, Laudes Foundation and Local Globe.

Government support

From 2010, Rohan Silva, a senior policy advisor to the government, played a crucial role in supporting the tech sector's growth. We need similar advocates in policy who can lead the charge for climate tech. The likes of Chris Skidmore with his Independent Review of Net Zero and Ed Milliband on the other side of the house, have a deep understanding of the climate challenges and are both engaging with policymakers and industry leaders to drive the development of supportive policies, funding mechanisms, and regulatory frameworks. This is promising and will need to be supported by the likes of TechNation and the Startup Coalition, and the sooner these mechanisms become available to startups, the better.

Collaborative networks

From 2011-2016, Silicon Drinkabout brought together like-minded individuals. Organised by 3beards, it became the place to network and develop relationships across the entire tech industry. We need more events like this. Climate Connection are leading the charge here - but if we’re to really bolster this support across Europe, we need to foster collaborative networks that can transcend geographical boundaries. By leveraging digital platforms and virtual events, Climate Tech innovators can connect, share knowledge, and form partnerships across regions. This global collaboration is essential for addressing climate challenges collectively.

Incubate and accelerate

The experiences of the opening of Google Campus in 2012, led by Ezze Vidra and Sarah Drinkwater, highlights the importance of shared spaces for collaboration and resource sharing.

Climate Tech startups will benefit from dedicated hardware-focused incubators, co-working spaces, and maker spaces that provide access to specialised equipment, mentorship, and supportive spaces such as Sustainable Ventures and Undaunted, together with national and global initiatives such as Barclays Eagle Labs and Climate KIC. These physical and virtual communities can help navigate the fast growing and still quite fragmented sector we’re operating in, and will help to facilitate the knowledge exchange we need.

Unlocking insights through data

Increasingly the growth of the climate tech ecosystem is data driven with the likes of Icebreaker One, Climate Arc and Subak building libraries of climate data, and there appears to be a greater appetite for both competing and collaborating across multiple sectors and places, as part of a wider network of networks.

The cities and universities within this European region, which we have named collectively as the Climate Tech Supercluster, have the tech, talent and people needed to rise to the challenge, but they need a central hub to coordinate and drive this network.

London can accelerate this transformation into the new Palo Alto, by connecting and convening a thriving global hub for climate action, with access to everything and anybody we need to innovate at speed and scale. 

But this journey will need to be built upon collaborative networks, establishing dedicated spaces, and engaging visionary leadership.