The urban population is rising rapidly and the cities of the future are going to have to work in a very different way to how they work today. As Peter Clough from international law firm Osborne Clarke told us last Friday at the Future Cities Venturefest Bristol & Bath event, “By 2050 we’ll have to build 1 new city to house 1 million people every 5 days.”
Clearly, there is a very strong need for us to develop and embrace the technologies we’ll need to make our growing cities work efficiently if they are to be desirable places to live.
“There will be a £7tn market for Future Cities”
Peter also said: “There will be a £7tn market for Future Cities.” This obviously presents a huge opportunity for innovative technology businesses. This is especially true in the Bristol & Bath region, where the tech cluster is already recognised as being at the forefront of smart city tech with projects like smart city high-speed network Bristol is Open and the driverless vehicle project VENTURER being developed here.
In recognition of these business opportunities, inward investment agency Invest Bristol & Bath and the UK’s innovation agency InnovateUK collaborated to host the Venturefest Bristol & Bath event to bring together entrepreneurs, tech startups, smart city experts and investors at UWE’s new innovation science centre Future Space.
Its mission was to provide a platform to highlight the challenges and the amazing business opportunities the field of future cities offers the Bristol & Bath region.
Smart city networking and know-how
With experts on hand from the likes of Mastercard, Ordnance Survey, Innovate UK and Nokia providing talks to explain the ‘future cities’ business scene, and local smart city companies such as Bristol is Open, Zeetta Networks, the Robotics Innovation Facility (RIF@Bristol – pictured left) and Nova Modus showing off what is already possible, there was a real buzz as the scale of the opportunities in the sector were explored.
Ian Meikle, Director of Infrastructure Systems for InnovateUK (pictured right), told us “Bristol’s got a great tech hub. A couple of years ago we ran an Urban Living programme where 30 cities got £50,000 each to work up a feasibility study of what their smart city challenges were.
“On the back of that Bristol won further funding of £3million and since then, they’ve raised another £40 million in public and private money which is really driving forward progress in areas like smart energy in schools, homes and offices, community car share schemes with electric vehicles, open data platforms like Bristol is Open and the Bristol Data Dome, and trialling autonomous vehicles around the city as well.”
“Creating a citywide sandbox to try out new technologies is central to the opportunity to the region”
Paul Adams, Director of Customer Marketing UK and Europe, agreed that the region has a lot going for it: “We’re very excited by Bristol is Open. Creating a citywide sandbox to try out new technologies is central to the opportunity to the region. It’s a unique platform – we believe worldwide – and creates a fascinating opportunity I believe for us to really investigate what we can do in terms of applications and use cases to make lives better for people. ”
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It being a tech event, although the room the talks were held in was full, there was no need to miss out on what was being said. Wireless headphones allowed you to listen in as you wandered around the smart tech exhibitions or watched on a big screen in one of the exhibition areas.
Playing with Future City tech
Attendees were also encouraged to get their hands on the tech and to talk to the people who had created it.
With industrial robots occasionally serenading the exhibition visitors, the latest VR experiences to try out, companion robots roaming the halls (see left), and electric cars and Venturer self-driving cars on show outside, there was plenty to see and interact with, but the most important thing was the networking opportunities the event provided.
Indian-UK tech collaborations
The event also had an international flavour, with 12 competition-winning tech startups chosen from across India also present, looking to collaborate with UK businesses. Chris Vitali from Invest Bristol & Bath explains: “We exhibited some of the West of England’s key assets whilst facilitating them with the opportunities to network and gain an insight of not only how to do business in the South West, but what it would be like to relocate and grow their businesses here.”
Pitching for smart city success
Brand new UK startups were also able to show off their tech at a Venturefest Silicon Gorge pitching competition. 11 startups from across the South West were given the chance to pitch their wares to the investors and influencers present at Venturefest Bristol & Bath. Already whittled down from the 50 entrants, the pitchers had gone through a round of pitching events already to get the chance to appear.
“People pitched for investment of over £21 million and the 11 finalists had a fantastic offer to investors.”
Abby Frear, Partnerships and Business Manager here at TechSPARK who organised the competition (pictured right), told us: “Silicon Gorge is a really important competition to showcase to investors the companies that are building the next generation of amazing products and services.
“From horse-tracking wearables through unhackable quantum cyber security and underwater drones there was an awesome breadth of things on offer. People pitched for total investment of over £21 million and the 11 finalists had a fantastic offer to investors.”
You can get a flavour of all that was happening at Venturefest Bristol & Bath in the video below:
Has the event inspired you to look into getting involved with the development of smart city tech? Ian Meikle from Innovate UK has some advice for you: “The really critical thing is to start with the end in mind. Thinking about who’s going to buy this solution. And who is going to invest in it at the end of the day? And really trying to understand what the societal problem is that you are trying to solve.”
You can see more info on the upcoming Venturefest events at the Venturefest Bristol & Bath 2017 website, and you can keep up with the latest news from Venturefest by following them on Twitter here: @VenturefestBB
Image credit: Jon Craig
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