How Silicon Roundabout Can Be more like Silicon Valley

by Leon Tong on 19 Dec, 2012

We were one of the first technology companies to move into Silicon Roundabout in London. Whilst on a visit to Mountain View, San Francisco last year I could not help but make the comparisons between Silicon Valley, California and Old Street, London. Apart from the weather, there were a couple of other differences… Can Silicon Roundabout ever become like Silicon Valley? 

Silicon Roundabout

In 2008, Dopplr’s Matt Biddulph christened the area surrounding Old Street tube station in London “Silicon Roundabout” as a direct reference to Silicon Valley. At the time there were a fair few technology companies in the area including BrightLemonDopplrLast.fmMooPokeSongkick, and TweetDeck.

Tech City UK

Fast forward to October 2010: Prime Minister David Cameron and the London Mayor Boris Johnson visited Old Street to launch the initiative known as “Tech City”. Planning to leverage the legacy of the London 2012 Olympics, and investment or in-kind input from government and corporations, the idea is to create a hub for technology and creative companies to thrive in Old Street and the surrounding region of East London.

BrightLemon’s project manager was invited along to attend. (Whilst the briefing was taking place PatriciaCarmen, Keith and Bob (Schukai) from the Tech City team were on the Digital Mission to New York which I was fortunate enough to be a part of).

Silicon Valley

In July this year, I visited Google headquarters (GooglePlex) in Mountain View in the heart of Silicon Valley, San Francisco. My girlfriend’s friend has worked at Google since they had 2,000 employees there. They now have over 20,000. The “GooglePlex” headquarters dominates the Mountain View skyline:



Pictures from Google including a “You are here” map indicating the scale of the huge Google “campus”; a multi-coloured Google bicycle – the place is so large that these bikes are used to shuttle between buildings.

Silicon Roundabout vs. Silicon Valley – a comparison

Brief History

Silicon Valley has been host to technology companies for over 100 years. In 1910, Lee De Forest, inventor of the triode (a key component of the telephone, the radio, TV and radar), moved his business to the Valley. The expanding hub of companies was funded by large contracts during both World Wars.


In the 1950s, General Electric and Eastman Kodak leased space in Stanford Industrial Park. William Shockley, the inventor of the semiconductor triode – the transistor – founded the company that spawned Intel

Academic Institutions in neighbouring Silicon Valley including Stanford and Berkeley universities have played a major role in both the birth of the Silicon Valley and the continued development of the area. Frederick Terman; Stanford’s dean of engineering during the 1940’s, encouraged his students to start their own technology companies. Stanford and Berkley Universities to this day have strong links with companies which occupy the Silicon Valley and continue to encourage their graduates to provide for computer industries.

Silicon Roundabout vs. Silicon Valley – a comparison


Silicon Valley

Silicon Roundabout



pre-1910s – The San Francisco Bay Area is a major site for United States Navy research and technology. America’s first radio station is launched in the area in 1909. 

The 1940s – Two students of Stanford dean of engineering Frederick Termn; Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard establish Hewlett-Packard.

1969 – ARPAnet the world’s first packet switching network is created (a predecessor to the internet as we know it today). Just 2 years later the first e-mail is sent.

2008 – Dopplr CEO first coined “Silicon Roundabout”  


2010 – Tech City Investment Organisation is established 


2011 – Google builds “Google Campus” education centre

Infrastructure and Scale

See here for the size of  Silicon Valley

approx 90 metres circumference


Stanford University and Berkeley University closely linked with Silicon Valley

In theory; London UCL, King’s College, LSE, Royal Holloway


1/3 of all venture capital investment in the US occurs in Silicon Valley

The city of London is just a stone’s throw away from Old Street Roundabout (down City Road)


Favourable to startups: Ban on non-compete clauses (California)

UK has VISA restrictions

Supporting services

Extensive professional networks for new firms

Limited specialist Tech finance and advice.

Major Players

Google, Apple, eBay, Adobe, Hewlett Packard, Yahoo!

Google, Last.

, Songkick, TweetDeck, BrightLemon

Six things we need in Silicon Roundabout to become like Silicon Valley:


Better supporting services; Government and Greater London Authority to review and clarify the objectives of Tech City strategy.


Better access to funding, physical relocation of angels and venture capital firms into Inner East London. Introducing finance desks in shared workspaces. Government to develop a second digital focussed Enterprise Capital Fund and increase public investment into.


Create solid links between Silicon Roundabout businesses and London universities to attract talented graduates. Expand Silicon Milk Roundabout and other digital economy recruitment fairs.


The government should develop a clear legal framework for equity crowd-funding, drawing on US legislation.


Local authorities to ensure local plans explicitly encourage the provision of an affordable and shared workspace. Local and central government to explore the potential for converting empty buildings that they own in East London into workspaces, tendering the management to professional shared space providers.

Tax Breaks

Tech City to continue working on financial incentives and tax breaks.