Its not all stovepipe hats and clay dogs in Bristol, these days its more location aware gaming, mobile media and building businesses. As a relative newcomer to the city (5yrs and loving it) this is a quick peek around some start-ups.
The Watershed, a digital media & arts complex in the heart of the city, has been mixing up creativity and technology for over 20 years.The place for start-ups is their new Pervasive Media Studio, headed by Clare in partnership with HP Labs & with heavy involvement from both Bristol University & UWE. The Studio launched with it’s Media Sandbox competition. Several of the projects came from larger established companies (including Aardman, HMC, BDH, Plot, etc) but the winning project brought together two startup companies, Thought Den (Dan) and Mobile Pie (Richard), to create Happy Packages. After some early PR from the Guardian, Mobile Pie have knuckled down to turn out a number of games and have picked up some awards along the way. They’ve also since been confirmed as one of the first 4,000 iPhone developers and are working with Futurelab to find funding for an exciting e-learning project.
Another Sandbox success is the Comfort of Strangers from the eponymous Simon + Simon. Using a heavily modified mscapes platform, two teams have to ‘discover’ matched players while avoiding opponents. A soft voice in your ear is all that alerts you to the fact that ‘a dancer is nearby, you have lost a life point…’ This ARG team game has been showcased at New York’s Come Out & Play. They now organise the monthly igLab to explore collaborative and social gaming developments. 19-21 Sept they’re turning Bristol into one giant playground… everyone is playing – running, hiding, seeking, finding, escaping, tagging…. igFest.
Just north of the M5, Chris & Craig at BexMedia have been developing a video platform for mobile devices, recently expanding into interactive video after developing a mobile map & video experience for freshers to quickly acquaint themselves with Anglia Ruskin University. On a slightly bigger scale is the Visualise project from 3C Research to bring unprecedented levels of personalised streaming data & video to mobile devices at live sports events. Currently with the World Rally Championships, Nigel’s actively spinning out new startups to commercialise the software & services.
Round the beck end, The Web People started up coding websites like everyone else but Tom quickly developed a web-services management system that made it simple for him to manage lots of websites, with lots of different services, for lots of clients all in parallel. Co-founder Mark saw the opportunity, they’ve just launched an open beta, and on track for some stellar growth (clients are already beating a path to their door). Also working behind the scenes to spread and gather the word virally is Team Rubber with Andy at the helm. Though not strictly a startup, having survived the dot-com boom, Andy’s a staunch supporter and is actively helping the ‘new guys’ get off the ground.
Behind all these successes lies a growing entrepreneurial ecosystem mixing startups, future clients, partners and investors. This mixing covers everything from the fun & interesting (Dorkbot / igLab), learning & technical (Skillswap / BathCamp), business & sectoral (OpenCoffee / Media Tuesday) to University sponsored (BEN). Its not just the geeks & designers either, lawyers, accountants and exec recruiters are getting behind the start-up scene in Bristol like never before.
Update – following the TCUK comments, I’ve added some more thoughts below – Update
Matt Jukes pointed out the education leadership that Bristol has shown with the work of Futurelab and JISC in the region. He also got a name drop in for Beanbag Learning (where he’s based) and pointed up Science TV. BeanBag are getting more attention from Jemima Kiss at the Guardian’s tech blog which is great news.
Perhaps this is another focus area for Bristol to consider? There have been a couple posts on the education start-up scene including another guest post from Al Briggs on TCUK. The comments section of that post goes into some discussion on the UK education sector, including a great mini-post by David McAll from sums.co.uk. One of David’s points is the need to build relationships slowly which probably reflects most ‘real world’ applications but makes it harder to justify the hockey stick returns beloved of VCs.
I also advise Heliotrope, a start-up in the education sector. They’re based in Toronto, Canada and have been doing this slow burn relationship building for over 3 yrs (during the last 18 months we’ve been actively seeking investment). The first real success is just now beginning to take hold with a School Board in Quebec adopting Prelude for multi-school roll-out. It’ll be tight (and we’d still like the investment) but it looks like there’s a sustainable revenue model from this approach.
Bristol has a strong democracy and participatory culture, good technology and software development, and track record in educational innovation. Perhaps it would be a good primary focus for some of the city’s digital innovators? In the fields of informal learning, games as learning, soft skills, etc (i.e. non-curriculum examined subjects that translate well between geographies and school systems) there are opportunities.
With a global focus and patient investment, might this be the next big thing…?