Ten reasons why the West Midlands is lighting the way to a digital revolution

Birmingham revolution

Written by Josh Layton, Birmingham Live

To find the way to a digital revolution, look no further than Birmingham, Coventry and Leamington Spa.

Despite the uncertainty surrounding Brexit, the West Midlands is propelling the country into a new age of technology ranging from virtual reality to remote-controlled cranes. If that sounds like a grand claim, consider the thousands of visionary start-ups across the region, the gaming hub in Leamington Spa and the advent of high-speed 5G. There’s a wealth of dynamic talent among the entrepreneurs, small enterprises and multi-national companies in a pioneering region with a £128billion economy. In 2019, the Region in Renaissance networking event, Birmingham Tech Week and the Linn Academy at the ICC have all provided forums for innovators, adopters and disruptors to shape the future.

There’s much more to look forward to, including the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, which is expected to further drive business, skills and transport network growth as it brings more than a million visitors to state-of-the-art venues across the region.

Even setting aside HS2, which is facing questions over its viability, transport links including the Midland Metro are in for a major upgrade in future years, further enhancing a dynamic, fast-moving region.

Here are 10 reasons why the West Midlands is truly future-proof:

1 Enter 5G…

Superfast broadband and mobile coverage is one of the benefits of 5G.The West Midlands is the UK’s first large-scale 5G ‘test bed’ – paving the way for the roll-out of the high-speed network across the country.

The multi-million pound trial, announced by the government in September 2018, is driving a hotbed of innovation. Meaning Fifth Generation in full, the high-speed mobile networks are heralding a wave of new technology with speeds up to 10 times faster than 4G.

Artificial intelligence, virtual reality, the Internet of Things and autonomous vehicles are among the areas being pushed into the mainstream by the advance.
Some of the potentially game-changing uses were demonstrated by West Midlands 5G (WM5G) at Birmingham City University in September 2019, including virtual reality goggles that ‘see through walls’, an interactive sporting experience and autonomous robot arms.

WM5G was set up after the region’s successful bid to become the UK’s first test bid, with the organisation aiming to make the region the most advanced in the country. Many business and civic leaders regard 5G as the most profound step-change in communications ever – with the West Midlands in prime position to benefit when the 5G tech hits the mass market in 2020.

Huawei has opened a 5G training centre in Birmingham to bring local businesses and the education community together in driving the West Midlands forward. More than 150 5G-ready engineers have graduated from the centre, spreading innovation throughout the region.

2 Paradise Birmingham

Shape of things to come: An artist’s impression of the Paradise Birmingham development. (Image: Birmingham Post) A major new business and leisure district is being realised at Paradise Birmingham, luring some of the biggest and most dynamic companies to the region.

The new city centre area will include shops, restaurants, high-spec office buildings, public squares and a four-star hotel.  Being completed in phases, the £700million scheme is at the core of the city’s wider long-term regeneration. Once completed, it will be an entirely new urban neighbourhood attracting millions of visitors every year.

Tram route: Twilight view of Paradise from the pavement next to Paradise Street looking towards the Library of Birmingham in the distance (Image: Graham Young / Birmingham Live). PwC will be among the leading national employers taking up contemporary office space which spans 1.74 million square feet overall and includes open areas, terraces and intimate corners.

The professional services network, which regards being ‘tech enabled’ as a top priority, will move its regional headquarters to One Chamberlain Square, which is among 10 brand new, high-quality buildings that will eventually take shape within Paradise Birmingham.

3. Silicon Spa

(A still from a Formula One computer game created by Codemasters)

The Leamington Spa area has emerged as a global engine room for the computer gaming industry. The town’s prolific success has earned it the name ‘Silicon Spa’, which also includes Warwick and Southam, where Codemasters has its headquarters.

Around 130 of the UK’s best gaming companies are based in the West Midlands, employing a total of around 3,500 people full-time. In the Silicon Spa cluster, around 75% of the digital media companies are in the gaming sector, employing around 10% of the total UK games development workforce. Playground Games, Ubisoft and Hardlight, a division of gaming giant Sega, also call the cluster home. Hit games that the town has been pivotal in creating include Sonic the Hedgehog, Formula One, Forza Horizon, Guitar Hero Live and Micro Machines.

Codemasters, makers of the award-winning Colin McRae rally series, has been at the heart of the success story after being set up by the Darling brothers more than 30 years ago.

One of the brothers, David, went on to found Kwalee, which specialises in apps and mobile gaming, creating games such as ‘Jetpack Jump’ and ‘Shootout 3D’. In September 2019, Codemasters announced two new partnerships with major Chinese company NetEase Inc, ensuring Silicon Spa remains part of global sector’s DNA.

4 The next generation

South and City College Birmingham launches drone tech course with demo used by rap megastar Drake for videoFlying drones, tackling cyber-crime and creating the next generation of advanced robots.

These are among the innovative courses for young people aspiring to be part of an exciting digital future – and they are being offered for the first time in the West Midlands at South and City College Birmingham (SCCB).

With a lack of digital skills expected to cost the UK economy as much as £145 billion over the next decade, such specialisms are in high demand.

SCCB is helping students to counter this shortage and win opportunities in their future careers by launching the first ever emerging technology courses in the West Midlands at its Digbeth campus.

A huge shortage of drone operators, in particular, has prompted a call out for talented students to master tech that has been used for everything from monitoring football crowds to filming rap superstar Drake’s music videos. The new generation of skilled workers is also being fostered at the Institute of Coding at Coventry University.

Tomorrow’s digital talents are being developed in the initiative involving 25 Higher Education Institutes and more than 60 industry partners.

5. Start-up heaven

David Hardman MBE, of Innovate Birmingham, believes Birmingham offers a wealth of opportunity. (Image: Birmingham Mail) Visionary digital businesses and entrepreneurs are hitting the ground running in the West Midlands.

The region is home to more than 13,000 tech companies, worth around £5billion to the local economy. The scene is rapidly growing, too, and the cluster of business in Birmingham have earned it a ‘Silicon Canal’ nickname. Many of the newcomers to the tech scene gather at the annual Birmingham Tech Week, where they consider everything from drone racing to space-age ways to power businesses. The next event is already slated for October 2020, with a promise to “demonstrate why Birmingham is at the heart of innovation”.

David Hardman MBE, of Innovation Birmingham, which supports the city’s tech and start-up community, told Region in Renaissance the region offers a wealth of exciting prospects, including blue chip companies relocating to the city.

He said: “The opportunity is in the city today as a consequence of timing. I’ve been here now 11 years and for the past five years it’s woken up. There is the inward investment with HSBC and the likes, all the building that’s going on and the skills and talent that are here.

“The start-up community is huge and I’m in digital space, and the digital community is growing. To me, the key thing is opportunity.”

6. Tech magnet

The ICC hosted Linn Academy 2019 and will stage our Tech Awards.Leading lights in the eCommerce world descended on Birmingham for the annual Linn Academy in 2019. The unique one-day event united entrepreneurs, innovators, start-ups and global online brands at the International Convention Centre.

Creating a thriving community where eCommerce businesses can share ideas, gain practical skills and speak with experts, the gathering put the spotlight on a world-class line up of speakers and business representatives, including Lady Karren Brady.

The talks were complemented by a varied program including ‘seller panels’ with entrepreneurs who have mastered eBay and Amazon, workshops with leading international businesses offering practical advice and face-to-face sessions with industry professionals.

More than 1,000 guests included PayPal, eBay and the Department of Trade and Industry. They joined a high-calibre roll of attendees in recent years also including ASOS, ShipStation and Shopify Plus. Founded in 2013 by Linnworks, an eCommerce platform, the academy banishes feelings of isolation and uncertainty among online traders, allowing them to connect offline and flourish in an industry worth more than £137 billion in the UK alone last year, according to the ONS. If you sell online, then you can’t afford to miss this unique eCommerce event.

7. Going driverless

Tests for Jaguar Land Rover’s project to develop driverless cars in the West Midlands. (Image: Coventry Telegraph)Autonomous vehicles are being made a reality in labs, workshops and test circuits across the West Midlands.

The largest, most diverse testing environment in the UK can be found in Birmingham and Coventry, with a consortium of organisations developing more than 60 miles of roads.

The project was made possible by the West Midlands being awarded £51million by the Government in October 2017 to fully test the technology.

It brings the prospect of the Midlands Engine being a leading global player as driverless cars go mainstream in an industry estimated to have a UK worth of £3billion by 2035.

Cutting edge research into connected, ‘intelligent’ vehicles is also harnessing 5G networks and 3D simulators, with key players including the Warwick Manufacturing Group at the University of Warwick, Black Country car manufacturer Westfield and Jaguar Land Rover.

Public road testing is expected to take place in mid-2020.

8. Battery power

The new UK Battery Industrialisation Centre in Coventry. The West Midlands’ emergence as a pace-setter in the future generation of intelligent vehicles has been further boosted through investment in battery research.

The UK Battery Industrialisation Centre (UK BIC) in Coventry received a repayable £18million grant in September 2019 from the West Midlands Combined Authority to help it pioneer the latest technology and work towards a cleaner automotive industry.

Strides already being made in the emerging market for ‘driverless’ and electric vehicles are being further supported by the new centre, which will join a regional electric vehicle cluster also including JLR’s Castle Bromwich plant where the new all-electric XJ is being built.

A consortium comprising Coventry City Council, Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership and the Warwick Manufacturing Group was originally awarded £80million by the Government towards the UK BIC in November 2017, before then Business Secretary Greg Clark announced a £28m boost in May 2019 as his department launched the first Local Industrial Strategy in the West Midlands.

The UK BIC will work to propel the West Midlands towards the centre of global battery research, replacing traditional polluting fuels with greener technology.
The 18,000 metre-square facility, which is due for completion in March 2020, will initially employ an estimated 100 people once fully operational. Additional jobs will also be generated in the supply chain, and further employment and training opportunities will be created in the future.

9. Enterprise Wharf

CGI of plans for Enterprise Wharf on Innovation Birmingham Campus (Image: Associated Architects) Birmingham is on course to have a digital and tech star-ship in the form of Enterprise Wharf.

Scheduled to opening in 2021, the 11-storey leandmark is intended as a hub of innovation for tomorrow’s businesses.

Designed to accommodate different sized businesses across 120,000 square feet of office space, the Wharf is intended as a focal point for the Birmingham’s growing digital and technology economy.

It would be located at Innovation Birmingham, the Midlands’ leading digital campus to the east of the city centre. Plans have been submitted to Birmingham City Council by Bruntwood SciTech, a joint venture between property group Bruntwood and Legal & General.

Entrepreneurs, start-ups and large-scale businesses will enjoy open plan surroundings and a roof garden with views across the city under the plans. Innovation Birmingham is already home to more than 200 digital tech companies.

10. Digital Digbeth

Maryan Mohammed, apprentice at Digital Glue in BirminghamDigbeth has always been slightly ahead of the curve, and the digital industries are no exception.
Birmingham’s evolution into a heaving industrial powerhouse in the 18th Century stemmed from an initial flush of endeavour in Deritend.

The shadows of Digbeth’s industrial heritage remain defined by the area’s architecture and old brick buildings. But the suburb is being reborn a creative and digital hub, branching out into fields such as holographics, 3D printing, virtual reality and mobile technology.

Leading digital names in Digbeth include creative agency Digital Glue and Fazeley Studios, a community of tech businesses. Part of the iconic Custard Factory, Fazeley Studios joined fellow Digbeth venues Millennium Point and STEAMhouse lab to host a BBC digital skills day in September 2019. Among the innovators, free spirits and disruptors is Maryan Mohammed.


Originally published here.

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