At last, and with Brexit brewing, I am poised to publish a study on Europe. In particular, this study looks at how Europe, this great continent, fares in the race to build out a digital economy that provides jobs for its people. And right now as I see it and my research proves, the UK is an integral part of Europe’s digital economy. As those around me will attest, this study has been a challenge from start to finish (not least its timing). The scope is huge— “so Euan, tell us, is Europe really doomed when it comes to creating digital jobs?” (The answer is “No” but there is some work to do.)
I realized early on that this couldn’t just be me donning my old Forrester analyst cap and pontificating on Europe’s digital ability. The study needed something else to answer the question. The usual C-suite survey wasn’t going to cut it because if we’re honest, the beleaguered C-Suite is preoccupied with more important things like, err, survival, rather than answering questions on whether old-school hackathons were still working and they’re succeeding in engaging the right start-ups (they’re not). This is why I chose “Tech Nation” as a different kind of research partner to help come up with the answer, and the results have been instructive.
Tech Nation is a UK government-backed start-up platform. I’ve watched them for a few years now, and I have been intrigued by the work they’ve done mapping out the UK’s tech ecosystem (by the way, last year’s report was phenomenal). I set them the bigger task of exploring the hidden underwiring of digital innovation beyond the UK, and across Europe. We ended up ploughing through publicly available sources of information, and we had country data mash-ups from Eurostat; insight from the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 fund; and topping it off was industry meetup statistics offered up through the commercial event platforms, like Eventbrite. Our analysis of the meetup data, in particular, offers leaders from both the corporate and public policy worlds insight on where specific digital capabilities are scaling across the region. If you haven’t been to a meet-up, then I would recommend you attend one (I guarantee there is one happening somewhere near you soon).
Meet-ups work by connecting passionate technologists, business leaders, early-stage start-ups and academics together around shared objectives. Because these events represent a convergence of talent and advanced thinking, I believe it’s essential for policymakers and business leaders to increase their awareness of the scale of meetup activity and understand how to tap into this rich source of potential insight. Because that is what it is, rich insight, and in my study, I give you a heat-map on where this stuff is happening across the continent. For example, our research reveals a high concentration of AI and machine learning communities active in and around Manchester, in Northern England (who knew?) Dig into it, and you will find Manchester University offering an advanced degree program in AI and is home to a thriving number of AI-related communities, with some groups running at over 1,000 members.
These participants could offer businesses not just insight on an emerging technology but also a strong pipeline of capable talent. I also found meetups in the Manchester region focusing on AI ethics, as well as its practical uses of machine learning technologies in an industry context. It appears that groups self-form around a hypothesis and work collaboratively through a shared platform. As a result, the technology can evolve at a rapid pace. For example, the Manchester Futurists assemble to showcase AI projects, allowing enthusiasts from multiple organizations to learn, share and collectively advance the AI agenda. Another example is in Estonia, where a virtual and augmented reality community, with 1,000 members, forges best-practice developer links across the Nordics. The meetup culminated in the world’s first virtual meetup held through an app.
What is clear from doing this study is that Europe is a mosaic of emerging technology clusters driven by entrepreneurial people, local talent and a European state eager to support new jobs and new industries of the future. It might be machine learning, Augmented Reality, Drones, the Internet of Things, Ad Tech, Fintech, HealthTech, InsureTech, etc. etc., the list does on, but whatever it is, this stuff is being built now across the region. The challenge for a leader is to splice this extended talent pool into the day-to-day operations of the business and unlock something special. And this is where it gets interesting for all of us who care about Europe as new ways of working and new jobs emerge on the back of an explosion of new technologies. Europe’s digital ecosystem, like any other, is innately human – it’s about people talking and connecting through a burgeoning network of meet-ups and start-ups. The region’s historical strengths—diversity, multiculturalism, ingenuity—underpin these eco-systems and are the watchwords for mastering the digital economy.
I look forward to sharing my study imminently.