Sailing on the Silicon Canal in Birmingham

Sailing on the Silicon Canal in Birmingham

Simon Jenner

Monday, 3 February 2020

Silicon Canal is a not for profit organisation that supports the tech ecosystem in Birmingham UK. Simon and Jof are proud supporters of their work.

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Simon and I are both huge supporters of Birmingham’s tech community. We show that support through our ongoing roles as directors of a thing called ‘Silicon Canal’.

Silicon Canal was formed back in 2013 by a group of like-minded tech startup CEO’s. The initial activities of the group involved meet-ups, meals and events that sought to bring together people in the community and engender discussion and knowledge sharing. In 2015 Silicon Canal became a C.I.C and hired its first full time employees that would allow it to lobby, write white papers and to deliver on its promise to support, promote and connect anyone in Birmingham’s tech community. 

As Birmingham changes and grows Silicon Canal needs to evolve with it - and we are calling that evolution ‘Re-Ignition’. To define and execute the Re-Ignition agenda for 2020 and beyond Silicon Canal recruited a new leadership team (a finer group of individuals would be hard to find). That team met for the first time on Thursday night. One of the actions we all took away was to publicly state what Silicon Canal means to us. 

For me Silicon Canal has always been the first port of call for founders, developers and technologists that come to Birmingham. Silicon Canal Tech Drinks is the most well attended Meet-Up and Silicon Canal ranks highly in organic searches. While we seek to support all aspects of the community our heart has always been with the founders, developers and entrepreneurs that are just starting out in our eco-system.

For me this group represents our best chances of making a difference. Working with local government and larger companies to support the development of new businesses is critical to the future of the ecosystem. As yet we do not have our own ‘Unicorn’, we have many smaller success stories but no major brand to call our own (at least not since World War 2!).

Birmingham worries a lot about its focus and identity. Should we be a fintech focussed city? Or perhaps we should remain ‘The city of a thousand trades’? I think this is a moot point. The identity of a city is pulled towards its major successes. Accelerating and supporting those startups that have a chance of becoming that success with no bias towards any trade or industry is our best hope of fostering growth (INHO). 

This is a numbers game. We are building the infrastructure to incubate and accelerate businesses in Birmingham. Sure we could use more investors, but everywhere (except London) needs more investors. Currently those incubators and accelerators are undersubscribed and to me that means we need more founders and the best place to find them… is Tech Drinks.

A couple of months back I spent an hour or so at Tech Drinks talking to a wild and woolly chap about technologies I barely understand. Like all good founders he went ahead and assumed I have a full working knowledge of the obscure language he uses to implement smart devices and have them gather information autonomously through artificial intelligence to deliver better services to his customers. After a brain melting hour he apologised for taking up so much of my time and ‘ranting’ at me. I assured him he needn’t apologise because he’s exactly what Birmingham needs.

My only regret is that Silicon Canal can’t do enough for people like my friend at Tech Drinks. There’s a strong possibility that his ideas will go un-supported and he will end up as a well paid engineer in a business operating out of London. Another body lost to the 6 O’clock train from Birmingham International. 

Keeping talent in Birmingham is what Silicon Canal means to me. Trying to foster new business, get it into our incubators and accelerators, trying to fund it with what little investment Birmingham has and give it the best chance of creating jobs for our young developers, designers and business people. That’s what I would like to achieve. 

Of course we are just at the start of our journey to deliver ‘Re-Ignite’ and Silicon Canal means so much to so many people. You can find out more about Silicon Canal and how our strategy is developing at

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