Inside Hackney: Gerard Grech
After working in digital media in London, Paris and New York, Gerard made the switch to Tech City to help ensure the right skills and infrastructure were in place to support the growth of the UK tech sector.
‘The digital start-up scene is booming in east London. In 2010 there were around two hundred tech start-ups in this area: now there are more than three thousand. How did it happen so quickly?
Initially, low rents attracted an influx of talented people; designers, programmers, entrepreneurs and developers. Then a range of government incentives helped push it all forward. There’s a new hunger for autonomy and for managing your own destiny.
Many people don’t want to climb the old corporate ladder any more. There’s an appetite for collective workspaces, where you can ditch the suit and just be yourself.
Digital industry feeds into all of this. Tech allows you to set up a company in a very short space of time, and to start doing business globally very fast.
It can be challenging but it’s immensely liberating. East London has set the pace with tech start-ups. There are some big names; many of them homegrown, like Transferwise, Unruly, Busuu and OneFineStay.
Google has an innovation campus here and lots of young entrepreneurs have flocked to it. What’s exciting is seeing the ripples spread from east London across the UK.
The first wave of digital entrepreneurs were largely self-taught. But now we’re skilling-up as a country. We set up the Digital Business Academy to help people from any background start their own digital business. It’s free, and thousands have signed up over the past six months alone.
I love Hackney’s spirit; it’s pioneering and ambitious, but it’s generous too. There’s a sense in the tech space that it’s important to give back, and connect with the larger community. There are regular ‘hackathons’, where talented developers give everything they’ve got to cracking specific problems, such as improving flood warnings in Britain.
Hackney’s digital industry has many beating hearts. Internet of Things start-ups have opened in Haggerston, and there’s a thriving tech hub in the Olympic Village, at the Here East project.
The landscape is constantly changing. In Old Street I see construction sites and cranes everywhere. But I think Hackney’s underlying ethos will endure.
It’s maverick and adventurous. Who knows what it will produce next?’