Why I chose South West tech sector over California
Six years ago, Henry Nurser was driving through the dry and dusty valleys of California, and found himself at a crossroads.
He was presented with a choice: The West Coast or the West Country.
Take a well-paid senior position in the USA’s hotbed of tech innovation; or stay in the UK, form a start-up and spend a year-and-a-half without a salary.
Speaking to BusinessCloud, Nurser recalled: “It was April. I was over on the West Coast and it was dry - San Jose is not the most attractive of places. And then I came back to Bristol and drove around the Downs, it was sunny and there were flowers everywhere.
“[Moving to the US] was a big change. I like Bristol, and I want to do something innovative and different.
“I thought ‘50 is a young age so I’ll form a start-up’. Although moving across to a position where I had no salary for a year-and-a-half was a hard sell to family.”
Perhaps Blu Wireless Technology’s MD was unfortunate to be driving through the West Country on a rare sunny spring day.
However Nurser is forthright about why he saw Bristol as a great place to start a business: it has a high concentration of digital companies and growth in the sector grew 87 per cent between 2011-15 to £8.1 billion – the UK’s third-highest.
According to the Tech Nation 2017 report, 17.4 per cent of those firms are classed as high-growth, and provide more than 35,000 jobs.
“Bristol is a nice place to live,” he said. “Because of that you’ve got very loyal employees, and nobody wants to leave.
“It’s known to be a sticky city, so if you’re given interesting things to do and give out exciting jobs, you can do very, very well.”
His 4G and 5G network firm now employs around 55 people and has raised around £8m in funding to date. Despite Nurser’s love-letter to the South West, starting out in the UK rather than the US can be difficult: money over here is not “patient money”.
“It was extremely difficult. The investment community in the UK, unlike the US, is technically ignorant,” he said.
“I’ll be explicit: you go along to VCs in banking and things like that and you have to simplify your message so they understand what you’re attempting to do.
“There are always risks associated with any project, in technology or any venture. And if you try and explain some of those risks, as you think is a responsible thing to do, they get frightened and run away.
“Technical risks are seen as being frightening when actually for most engineers it’s seen as being a big positive. If there’s a risk, it’s difficult to do and you can generate a barrier to entry for others.
“So, we need to build difficult things to generate real stickiness in the market.”
Nurser was speaking on a BusinessCloud roundtable at KPMG in Bristol
It is an adage among some that on the other side of the Atlantic there is more shame attached to a VC not investing in a business and it being a success, than investing and it being a failure – or even 10 businesses and them all losing money.
Nurser added: “That promotes a gambling mentality in the VC world because they’re all looking for the home run so they can then shuffle the others under the carpet.
“That means they are always being encouraged to look for something that can give you the 20, 30, 40 times return rather than something which is slightly less risky, a little bit more stable but will give you a five times return.”
BELOW: Flick through the Q2 2017 edition of BusinessCloud's interactive digital magazine