How Communities Power UK Tech
Tech meetups connect like-minded individuals and drive new ideas – but also underscore the continued importance of place to tech communities
When asked about the top strengths of their local tech scene, more than half of respondents to Tech Nation’s 2018 survey said, ‘a helpful tech community.’ Key components of any helpful community are events, informal networks and forums where participants share their ideas, knowledge and experiences. For many of those with an interest in tech, this is the role played by meetups.
Using data from Meetup.com, an online platform for organising events, JLL and Tech Nation analysed the makeup and topics of almost 2,400 tech meetup groups across the UK’s top tech clusters. The largest of these meetup groups encompass tens of thousands of members. The great majority of groups are open and free for anybody to join. Furthermore, as there’s nothing to stop members from joining multiple groups, the total number of meetup members in the clusters is larger than overall tech employment.
London, unsurprisingly, leads in both the number of meetups and size of the overall meetup community. The capital plays host to more than 1,600 meetup groups encompassing more than 1.1 million members. Given that tech employment in London dwarfs the other clusters however, the capital actually has a lower density of meetups per employee than other cities. Edinburgh, for instance, has more than eight meetup groups for every 1,000 tech sector employees, while Cardiff and Belfast each have around seven – compared with five for every 1,000 workers in London.
Looking forward, 82% of respondents believe the number of tech firms will increase over the next twelve months. We see no reason why this optimism should not be rewarded.
Tech meetups cover a huge range of topics. However, as shown in our visualisation of meetup communities, common themes connect the UK’s top tech clusters. Almost a quarter of meetup members across the UK’s top tech cities belong to meetups tagged with the phrase ‘open source’, while 21% belong to meetups tagged with ‘software development’.
The data also reflect the emergence of new tech topics. Around 11% of meetup members belong to a group tagged with the phrase ‘artificial intelligence,’ making it the fifth largest meetup community across the clusters. In Bristol alone, these AI meetups have more than 4,000 members.
Meetups and other events play a crucial role in connecting like-minded individuals, disseminating knowledge and fostering a sense of community. As one respondent to the Tech Nation 2018 survey said, ‘collaboration is the biggest strength of the digital tech sector in our area – with multiple meetup groups arranging regular events across the city.’ Another said that the meetup community made their cluster ‘an awesome place to live.’
Large networks of meetups also encourage cross-fertilisation of ideas across the broad spectrum of tech – a key historical driver of major technological breakthroughs. As one respondent in Bristol told us, ‘we have a clear focus on Creative Tech in Bristol, but our community also brings together a number of strengths in engineering and robotics that can be applied to TV and film production.’
Just as the UK’s tech meetups comprise the social networks that connect those with shared interests, property provides the crucial physical infrastructure that binds communities together. One of the reasons that so many tech start-ups and scale-ups base themselves in trendy co-working spaces and shared offices, for instance, is that these spaces actively market themselves as ‘physical social networks.’ Spaces like Codebase in Edinburgh, the Engine Shed in Bristol and The Trampery in London provide a host of meetups, events and get-togethers that support the local tech community.
Providing the physical places where can communities flourish, however, relies on participation from many different stakeholder groups – including property developers, local authorities and universities. The recently opened Bradfield Centre in Cambridge – which provides events and workspace for around sixty start-ups and scale-ups – is backed by local investor groups and the University of Cambridge’s Judge Business School. Elsewhere, Leeds City Council’s Tech Hub Fund is supporting the creation of a new tech incubator in Bruntwood’s Platform Building.
The size and breadth of meetup communities across the UK underscores their importance to the sharing of expertise and generation of new ideas. It also underscores, however, the continued importance of the property sector to UK tech in providing the physical spaces in which communities can grow.
This post was written by Owen King, Director of Occupier Research at JLL, and Michael Davis, Tech and Media Lead