UK tech start-up scene boosted by new investments

Gree promotional image Japanese social gaming network Gree is adding a games development studio to its other UK operations

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The UK tech start-up scene has been boosted by a flurry of deals in London, Belfast, Milton Keynes and Sheffield.

The announcements include investments by Vodafone and Barclays designed to support start-ups; and the opening of a video games studio by one of Japan's richest businessmen.

The news was timed to coincide with the Olympics to maximise publicity.

It follows recent announcements from Google, Facebook, Amazon, Intel and Skype about new projects in London.

Tech City - a hub of digital and creative businesses located in East London - accounts for the bulk of the latest news, including:

  • Vodafone technology lab - a research and development centre that aims to identify promising start-ups, provide them with office space and bring in its own experts to co-develop, trial and market their products in return for a stake in the businesses.
  • Gree studio - the Tokyo-based app maker will develop titles for its social gaming platform out of the city. The firm's chief executive is a self-made billionaire and is rated Japan's fifth richest man by Forbes magazine.
  • Morning Boost - a new "accelerator" offering start-ups mentorship, a small amount of money and an introduction to potential investors in return for a minor stake in their business. It is backed by a group of Italians and should create about 50 jobs.
  • Central Working club - a centre offering meeting rooms, storage, stationary and networking opportunities in return for a monthly fee. It will be the firm's third UK club and has been backed by Barclays bank.
Vodafone Xone Vodafone's incubator centre is modelled on an operation it already runs in the US's Silicon Valley
Software and services

Elsewhere, Sophia Search - a University of Ulster spin-out which provides software tools to help firms catalogue and analyse their data - has secured $3.7m (£2.4m) of investment allowing it to hire new staff in both the UK and US.

Airwatch - a US company that helps companies manage what apps and content are installed on their employees' smartphones and tablets - has announced plans to hire 75 new staff, doubling the size of its European headquarters in Milton Keynes.

And Tribal - a British software service provider to the training industry - is creating 40 new posts in Sheffield after winning more than £32m worth of contracts from Australia and New Zealand.

Further details will be announced at a London event organised by the government's UK Trade and Investment department to take advantage of the fact the Olympics have attracted many foreign officials and business leaders to the city.

"The government is determined to make Britain the technology centre of Europe, with London's Tech City at its heart," said Chancellor George Osborne ahead of the event.

Big name news

London's tech ambitions face competition from elsewhere in Europe.

Berlin, Tallinn, Barcelona and Paris are among other cities with rising start-up scenes, while slightly further afield Israel's "Silicon Wadi" - based in and around Tel Aviv - has also benefited from its links to the Israeli military.

However, over recent months London has been able to claim several coups.

In April, Microsoft's Skype division announced it was creating about 100 posts to help upgrade its video chat program and work on a version for Xbox games consoles.

In May, chipmaker Intel said it was opening a centre in the capital to test "smart city" technologies using sensors to monitor and adjustment things such as water supplies, traffic flows and air pollution.

Tel Aviv tech centre Many big names in tech have set up research centres in and around Tel Aviv

Then in July, Amazon revealed plans to build a media development centre in the city to improve its on-demand TV and movie services, which include Lovefilm.

The same month Facebook said it was creating its first engineering team outside of the US. Although the team only involves 12 people, the firm said it intended to recruit more once they had settled in.

Google has also set up a "creator space" at its Soho office to help members of its YouTube service create professional-looking videos.

The facility includes a green screen to allow users to be superimposed over pre-filmed backdrops as well as professional editing suites and cameras.

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