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Time for Digital Britain to Look Beyond the Silicon Roundabout

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There's no doubt that London is now a burgeoning centre for technology start-ups and digital entrepreneurs, habitually mentioned in the same breath as Silicon Valley. The current government has consistently been banging the drum for Shoreditch's Tech City cluster, and invested a further £50m in its development only last December.

The roster of high-profile supporters and tech entrepreneurs linking themselves to the capital's tech scene is both long and impressive. Earlier this month, London's Mayor Boris Johnson opened trading at the London Stock Exchange, with a call for new investment in homegrown tech companies.

This is not something to be criticised; according to recent estimates, the 'Silicon Roundabout' now plays host to over 3000 high-growth tech businesses - but this is really only half the story.

If the UK economy is to get back on its feet again, digital will be a key growth sector not just for the capital, but the whole country. It's a sector we must nurture - something that will be achieved through broadening, rather than limiting, the scale of our ambitions.

Britain's answer to Silicon Valley should not be confined to London, but reflect the combined force of towns and cities up and down the country, supporting creative and digital entrepreneurship.

Look beyond Tech City for a minute, and up and down the country you'll find events, clusters and support infrastructures to shatter the illusion that digital business is a London baby.

Last week, the South East played host to one of the country's major gaming and digital innovation conferences: GEEK, which brings together developers, designers and gamers, returned for its second year to great acclaim. But it wasn't in Shoreditch, or even trendy Brighton - where the creative and digital sector is worth a fifth of the local economy.

Instead, GEEK's home is in the East Kent town of Margate. That may put you in mind of a weekend holiday destination, but Margate is in fact a burgeoning hub for creative and digital businesses and entrepreneurs.

They are being supported with dedicated facilities and infrastructure - the Margate Media Centre, for instance, providing a dedicated centre for media and tech start-ups.

And Margate is merely the symptom of a much wider trend towards digital entrepreneurship in the East Kent area. Canterbury, stuck in the minds of many as a historic cathedral city, now has a blossoming and influential digital community.

It has produced a number of innovative tech companies - notably Whosoff, the market-leading app for managing staff holiday, which was a finalist in last year's National Business Awards.

Elizabeth Hodgson, CEO of digital content sharing platform Civicboom, was able to found her business using graduate developers from the University of Kent, and affordable office space - dedicated to high-growth start-ups - in the University's Enterprise Hub.

In Folkestone, whose Creative Quarter houses over 200 creative and digital small businesses, you have innovative businesses such as Cognitive Media - who use animation to illustrate corporate conferences - and search marketing agency, Sleeping Giant Media.

Whitstable, where I live, is another seaside town that is reinventing itself as a thriving digital community. It all goes to show that the coast is as conducive to innovative thinking, and digital entrepreneurship - as the capital. Perhaps even more so.

The facilities, value and lifestyle on offer in towns like Margate, Canterbury and Whitstable provide a significant attraction to creative and digital entrepreneurs. After all, why toil away in a poky London office when you could find the space to grow, for less?

By definition, digital is portable, and as its importance to the UK economy grows, so too will its entrepreneurs branch out into new areas which offer fresh opportunity.

Next time the Prime Minister gets up to talk about the importance of Tech City, he should give a thought to the digital potential across the whole of the UK. And East Kent - or should that be Tech Kent - is one place that's leading the way.

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London's high-tech start-ups: Silicon Roundabout | The Economist