South West Tech Daily journalist and podcast host Feyaza Khan travelled to Cornwall this weekend to see what’s been getting the local tech scene so excited.
It’s an exciting time for tech in Cornwall.
Home to the South West’s fastest growing tech sector (with a forecasted CAGR of 18% by 2026, as revealed by the Tech South West Tech Analysis Report) and a booming aerospace industry, the county is fast shaking off its image as a place just for holidays in the rain.
A big milestone for the county came this weekend, with Cornwall hosting its first ever Techstars event, involving seven teams of up to seven members each aiming to find a business plan that would solve a problem in the region.
The event’s winning idea was an application to help landlords move away from the airbnb model. The team behind the Your Home Finder app was made up of a variety of people including coders, students, teachers and entrepreneurs.
Despite having never met before, this smorgasbord used their combined skills to solve what has long been a problematic issue in the county.
Like most coastal areas in the UK, Cornish locals have always complained they are not able to buy first homes due to an influx of “outsiders” buying second homes to rent out. This also means that there is no community during off-peak periods, which can also increase isolation within the county’s villages. According to Cornwall Housing, there are around 13,500 second homes in the county, which makes up 5% of Cornwall’s entire housing stock.
Another of the top three ideas was a payment gateway to connect fishermen to buyers - another hot topic in the county as the area’s fishermen have unexpectedly (or perhaps not) struggled since Brexit.
Techstars, which is a global organisation, sent its facilitator Roger Osorio from New York to help simplify the event’s processes for the organisers, Launchpad, which is an incubator hub part of Falmouth University.
Launchpad is based at the Penryn campus and builds startup teams over a year, providing financial and practical support as well as an MA in Entrepreneurship.
Steve Cox, Launchpad’s head, said he was keen to host a Techstars event to increase awareness around the Launchpad. He added that the event is just one of the programme’s plans to build community awareness over the coming months.
Steve grew up in Cornwall but spent his life travelling through Europe, Asia and America working for American multinationals. He returned to Cornwall and joined Falmouth University as a lecturer, before taking over from Nick Dixon as Launchpad’s head five months ago.
Steve recognises the potential of Launchpad to become commercially viable - as all the successful businesses are obligated to give a nominal amount of their earnings to Launchpad once they are in profit. Steve’s plan is to promote Launchpad’s benefits to the wider community in Cornwall, as he is passionate about solutions to help the region grow economically.
He told South West Tech Daily: “The greatest businesses come from random places and random ideas. For me, it’s about finding people with a passion and creating multiple opportunities for them to interact with each other.”
There is also a Launchpad summer school taking place in a few weeks, which Steve hopes will make it seem more accessible to people within Cornwall.
With his charming accent and waves of positivity radiating from him, it’s easy to see why Roger Osorio travels around the world for Techstars helping turn ideas into businesses.
Techstars weekends are quite successful - some teams go on to build on the ideas created from the three days, occasionally even turning them into unicorn companies.
Roger met the Launchpad team in Plymouth during the TechStars event there, and told South West Tech Daily he was very excited to be surrounded by the beauty of Plymouth during those events and was pleasantly surprised to find Cornwall’s beauty surpassed even that. But, he says, the county’s innovation is what really attracted him to the area.
Roger has facilitated more than 55 startup weekends around the world, so he’s worked with hundreds of teams working on startup ideas.
He said: “One of the things that really stood out for me for this event was the organisers wanted it to be really special. That gets me really excited. When you talk to people who are that passionate about bringing this kind of value to this area, I think it’s exciting.”
However, research in 2022 shows that 90 percent of startups fail - 75 percent of those are backed by venture capitalists and fewer than 50 percent make it to their fifth year.
In Cornwall, there has long been the drive to improve aspiration within the area, in the hope it might go some way to levelling up what has often been acknowledged as a historically forgotten county.
Roger advises that within the South West as a whole, there needs to be a space for people to take their ideas to test - with the knowledge that the majority will not make it, but the resilience and education to continue and move forward with a new idea.
His enthusiasm is infectious: “The ideas are here already and they’re good. I’ve had a few cab rides, and the drivers have shared their ideas with me - one even told me he hadn’t even shared this idea with his wife. What we need to do is to build an ecosystem to do something with those ideas.”
Steve already has big plans for the next TechStars event, which he’s planning for next year. If this year is anything to go by, this is certainly a space to watch.
To hear more from Roger and Steve, search for the South West Tech Daily Podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to your podcasts.