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Wales is open for business

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Simon Renault, Innovation Point’s Head of Special Projects & Wales’ Digital Leader

Wales is open for business

Having worked in Government ICT policy and technology driven service delivery transformation my whole career, I’ve naturally had a keen eye on our country’s digital journey over the past 15 years – and what a journey it’s been! Thanks to superfast broadband, a clear cut strategy for a thriving digital nation, and home-grown digital innovators on tap, Wales is firmly in the midst of a digital renaissance that’s caught the attention of entrepreneurs and investors the world over.

Out of the countless countries on offer, Next Generation Data (NGD) is based here in Wales, boasting Europe’s largest data centre with a 50-acre campus and a 100% renewable energy provision to match. Meanwhile, the entrepreneurial team behind the hugely successful DashHound app cut their teeth in Silicon Valley but chose to launch and nurture their business in the digital Welsh valleys.

Having considered everywhere from San Francisco to Beijing, Amplyfi, the artificial intelligence start-up for the business intelligence sector, also opted to make Wales its home due to agreeable costs, a pool of untapped local graduates ripe for the hiring, and supportive funding opportunities and incentives offered by the Welsh Government – all whilst being less than two hours away from London. It’s no wonder that our nation’s capital is already home to a number of start-ups battling to become Wales’ first unicorn.

As entrepreneurs and their start-ups have cropped up throughout the land so too have the incubators, accelerators and co-working spaces needed to nurture, equip and empower them. The ingenious IndyCube has taken the country by storm, providing hot desks and collaborative networks and spaces to start-ups and established businesses alike – and is now setting its sights on the rest of the UK. Welsh ICE has also had a huge impact on Wales, housing a huge community of entrepreneurs and tech start-ups and having an incredible impact on the economy of Caerphilly and the surrounding areas in the process. Elsewhere, movements such as Cardiff Start and Digital Tuesday have quickly developed thriving communities through their shared vision of a truly digital Wales.

A common thorn in the side of UK businesses is the difficulties they face in recruiting from a pipeline of highly-skilled, work-ready technology graduates - particularly when it comes to finding software engineers, cyber security specialists and network architects. While they may have the skills on paper, they lack the hands-on experience needed to fully inhabit these roles.

To address this, Cardiff University, in collaboration with the Alacrity Foundation, Welsh Government, and us here at Innovation Point, developed a radical new undergraduate model for the software engineers of tomorrow; the National Software Academy (NSA). This innovative scheme supports students to ‘learn-by-doing’; immersing them in real-life software projects with real clients for a real insight into the working world. The results speak for themselves, with over 150 Welsh businesses directly engaging with the NSA in its first two years. Many of the businesses working with the undergraduates will go on to hire them as soon as they finish their degree, due to them having up-to-date knowledge and, most importantly, significant experience in a real-world business environment.

Building on the success of the NSA, Innovation Point has since led a collaboration with University of South Wales and cyber security businesses in the design and delivery of the National Cyber Security Academy (NCSA) which will take its first cohort of undergraduate students studying for a BSc in Applied Cyber Security this coming academic year. This proof-in-the-pudding approach of delivering an undergraduate curriculum designed by the industry and taught through real-life projects is now being explored by other Welsh Universities across other academic disciplines, such as Big Data and data analytics.

This digital renaissance has oozed into every aspect of Welsh life, driving digital innovation and creating a truly digital community in the process. All of this has helped our small but fierce country quickly establish itself as a playground for budding entrepreneurs, start-ups and scale-ups alike - so come and play!

Here’s to the next 15 years.