A Region On The Verge...of Missing Another Opportunity

We have offices in London and a small City in Wales called Newport. Newport isn't a fashionable city - in fact it has been blighted for years by the close of industry and the failed attempts of urban regeneration. Similar can be said about many parts of South Wales - the region to which I was born and where I still spend much of my time when not working from London. Here's a piece I wrote recently about South Wales and how it might just be about to carve its' niche... or not.

We don’t need another artists impression - this is a future we can’t draw.

It’s time that the region - Newport and South Wales as a whole - carved a niche in Social Media and New Technology. As the owner of a social software and new technology business, my views are admittedly those of an ‘insider’, but the fact is that technology is the future. No rational person can deny it.

The web, mobile, cloud computing, social data analysis, social media, big data, artificial intelligence and augmented reality are increasingly driving our personal lives and businesses. If you haven’t heard of some of these technologies yet, I promise that you will very soon.

Personally I’m both enthralled by the pace of change and fearful that we as a region will miss a great opportunity. Happily I’m not the only one. I have recently met with Lecturers, CEOs, University Chancellors, Mayors and Politicians who share the vision... and the nagging doubts.

The right noises are being made. Newport University has a number of great new media and computer gaming courses, not to mention their film department that has spawned bone-fide big screen Directors.

Glamorgan University has a Centre of Excellence in Mobile Applications and Services (CEMAS) - effectively a test bed for Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs) to design, develop, test and protect the creation of new mobile phone services and applications.

Cardiff Metropolitan University (formerly UWIC) has begun to deliver (in association with my company Coup Media) Social Media and new technology boot camps, courses and summits as part of a wider initiative called Social Mash (facebook.com/socialmash) Sir Terry Matthews (of Alcatel and Celtic Manor fame) has helped to establish The Alacrity Foundation on Newport’s Riverfront to support entrepreneurs and new tech start ups in the old Udex House.

Both Swansea and Newport have been named among 27 UK places which can join a race to share £50m to bring 'ultra-fast' broadband connections to the cities. Cardiff has already been allocated it’s share.

There are the loud mumblings about a ‘Super University’ in South Wales, driven by technology, and with a leaning towards entrepreneurship and a new remote, web and mobile based learning model.

There is indeed talk of Welsh digital cities powered by 4G and Super Fast broadband, and Monmouth recently (and rightly) gained global recognition in tech circles and beyond as a hub for technical innovation thanks to a collaboration with Wikipedia.

But isn’t this kind of ambition the reserve of Silicon Valley or the ever advancing Asian Cities like Singapore or Hong Kong? In a word... No.

Dublin is now the location of choice for international headquarters of companies such as Google, Facebook, LinkedIn and eBay.

East London’s Old street and surrounding areas is now recognised as the silicone valley of Europe (Silicon Roundabout) owing to the high number of tech businesses located there.

Bristol’s creative media industries employ 11,500 people and generating £727m (6%) of the city’s Gross Value Added.

And Cambridge is home to some of the most innovative and influential technology companies in the country. Having a world-class University in the city helps, but more importantly, those students often decide to stay in Cambridge when they graduate.

That doesn’t happen in Wales, and so we watch and wave as graduates disappear back across the bridge. But it doesn’t have to be like that, and if we can carve a niche that suggests ambition and foresight then things could be very different for the communities, economy and country. I believe that niche lies in technology.

Paul Shepherd

I've worked in digital communications for around 15 years, and specialised in social media for the past three. Passionate about new technologies, media, and the impact it has on businesses bottom line, I try to bring that passion to every campaign for every brand we work with.