Last September, Rohan Silva, the British PM’s senior policy advisor, was sitting at a picnic table in the Google Campus garden, reeling off London Tech City’s achievements, two years after launch. One example he cited was the Google campus itself. The other was the arrival in the capital – last April – of General Assembly, the New York City-headquartered global education network for entrepreneurs, which offers courses and workshops in technology, business and design.
“As soon as I saw General Assembly launch in New York [in 2011], I called them up and said ‘Hey would you come to London?’” recalled Silva, who is widely credited with putting the Tech City initiative on the map. “They sent someone over, who said if you can help us raise some money, we’ll do it. So we helped them raise some money and [now they’re here].”
‘Here’ turns out to be 3,000 sq ft of warehouse-style office space in the well-heeled environs of Clerkenwell, a fair distance from the pigeons and kebab shops of Tech City’s Old Street roundabout epicentre. The building also houses the early stage start-up accelerator White Bear Yard and IDEO London.
Matt Cynamon, GA’s youthful – and diplomatic – director for the UK and Germany (pictured on Informilo's home page), says Downing Street and UKTI did not have to do much coaxing to get GA to London. “We knew we wanted to expand. We knew that London was a really great target and UKTI and Tech City did a fantastic job of helping us get sorted over here,” says Cynamon. “They were the conduit to making it happen.”
London was GA’s first outpost outside North America, bringing the organisation’s tally of cities around the world to ten – with more, almost certainly, to follow. So what does Cynamon, who hails from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., think General Assembly has to offer Europe and its tech scene?
“If you look across Europe and the UK, there are large amounts of unemployment, despite the fact that there are tons of companies out there struggling to find the right talent to build up their teams,” says Cynamon. “What we do is provide the relevant trainings in those contemporary skills, which a tech company is looking for.
“But what’s really interesting is we’ve also noticed that it extends way beyond tech too. Just about every major company, including banks, are looking for Ruby and Python developers and user experience (UX) designers. So the real value we have to offer is filling that gap [between] unemployment and the need for skilled labor.”
GA opened up shop in Berlin four months ago and is considering further expansion across Europe. Although Cynamon insists that “2013 is really about London and Berlin – and strengthening what we’re offering in those two cities”, he suggests that long term growth plans could include Moscow, Oslo, Amsterdam and Paris.
“There are lots of really interesting things going in those places and we would like to be supportive of those communities. But what matters is how we provide the greatest value to the most people,” says Cynamon. “It’s still unclear whether that’s expanding all over Europe or building a really powerful community in London.”