weird IS wonderful
It is not uncommon to come across articles espousing this place or that as the next ‘Silicon Valley’. Over the years I seem to recall Silicon roundabouts, fens, forests, alleys and even, locally, a Silicon Gorge.
Certainly in Bristol it is something that comes up every 12 months or so. The city has a good foundation of a few well established tech companies, some interesting (and pretty successful startups), a couple of well respected universities and a reputation for a population of educated, creative, independently minded people.
I wonder though whether as a city we are looking in the wrong places for inspiration and maybe as a self-styled ‘city of festivals’ Bristol would be better off at looking at how Austin manages to make itself the centre of the digital world for one week every year and use that momentum to fuel a pretty healthy tech startup scene of its own.
The motto that unites the people of Austin is ‘Keep Austin Weird’ and it seems to me that a city that has zombie invasions, talking lampposts and water slides on main streets might find some common ground with the home of SXSW.
A few years ago I had one of those pub conversations that always stay with you, just in the back of your mind, with the much missed Pete Ferne. He had an idea for a very Bristol web conference, scattered in small venues around the city and associated in some way with one of the already established music festivals. We were going to call it the ‘Mild, Mild, West Festival’ as a little call back to SXSW and make the most of the Banksy hype at the time (as if that ever goes away!)
It was just pub talk after a few too many Doom Bars but it strikes me that rather than creating *another* incubator or contest it might be worth investing in creating a culture and make the city a destination for the kind of people who would thrive here. Something a little bit different.
I think Bristol has a lot of offer but it needs to be itself. Not try to channel some venture capitalist driven idea of what makes a city attractive for startups (and investments.) It needs to ‘stay weird’.