Silicon Canal - The West Midlands First Tech Community

Silicon Canal - The West Midlands First Tech Community

Simon Jenner

Monday, 14 June 2021

This is the story of Birmingham's longest standing tech community and, possibly, the origin story of how Simon and Jof first met.

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Silicon Canal was created back in 2013 by a group of entrepreneurs in the Greater Birmingham region who wanted to promote, connect and support technology companies. Back then there were no incubators, accelerators, co-working spaces, Meetups or any of the other trappings of a buzzing tech cluster. Birmingham was lagging behind Manchester, Bristol and London in delivering for its local technologists.
Silicon Canal lobbied change through events (including the incredibly well attended 'Tech Drinks' and 'Tech Awards') and white papers. In 2015 the community grew through the involvement of ambassadors who support the creation of diversity programmes, resources for startups and networks that pulled together educators, businesses and founders.
Silicon Canal relied upon the support of sponsors to continue to drive its activities but, by being a voluntary organisation and having the broad promise at the heart of its charter to help everybody in the tech community, it could not hope to resource the demands put upon it by all of its beneficiaries. As I joked at the 2019 tech awards, "The only promise we can make is that we will disappoint [everyone] equally."
At its heart Silicon Canal always stood on its ability to bring people together. Events were often boozy affairs where new friends were made and partnerships were forged. However, as the local community started to gain new entities seeking to invigorate the regional cluster, Silicon Canal became less and less relevant and its role became marginalised.
In 2019 we appointed a new board of fresh faces with a plan to refocus the efforts of the community. We wanted to find the gaps that still remained in the local tech cluster and tackle them directly. However, no sooner had the new board convened than Covid19 hit. For an organisation that delivered most of its impact through events it was a killer blow. The new board never had a chance to effect change.
At the same time the remaining board members attention was elsewhere. Nick H had just sold Whisk to Samsung and myself (Jof) and Simon had just set up Million Labs. Where our work with Silicon Canal was provincial, frustrating, unrewarding and hampered by local rivalries and red tape, Million Labs was delivering actual outcomes. We were creating jobs, firms and growth Worldwide. Exactly the sort of thing a tech cluster should do.
So for now Silicon Canal is no more. It served its purpose and, for a time, was great fun. There are plenty of other local entities in the Midlands to fill the gap it leaves. If you want to learn about the region I suggest reaching out to or If you want to launch a startup... you're in the right place already.

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