Bristol and Seattle: The tale of two cities at the forefront of modern business

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In the first of the University of the West of England’s Distinguished Address Speaker Series event of the 2019/20 season, Deanna Oppenheimer, founder of CameoWorks and Chair at Hargreaves Lansdown spoke about the similarities and challenges facing the two cities she works in – Bristol and Seattle.

Oppenheimer began her lecture by acknowledging what it truly means to be a city in a modern world – having an evolving culture, being open to continuous development and having the ability to adapt to the demands of change in our world. And two cities that emphasise this are Bristol and Seattle.

Both are experiencing incredible change, mostly driven by openness and willingness to embrace technology, as we go through the fourth industrial revolution.

She said: “I firmly believe that Seattle and Bristol are ideally placed to help advance the rapid transformation that is happening in our world economy – and to benefit from it as we accept the growing demands of our time.”

Oppenheimer is perfectly placed to see the striking similarities between the two cities – her company CameoWorks is based in the Pacific Northwest city in the United States, and she has been a key member of the Hargreaves Lansdown team in Bristol for a number of years.

Silicon Gorge vs Silicon Valley

The comparisons between the two cities become obvious when looking at the geographical, economic and business characteristics of both Bristol and Seattle.

Bristol is the centre of ‘Silicon Gorge’ – a thriving tech hub, with close links to London. And Seattle is a short flight to San Francisco and tech mecca, Silicon Valley. Yet both have carved out their own identity as global tech destinations.

The ports, open green spaces, multi-cultural business communities, and embracing of green energy are just some of the ways the two cities are so important to the local and national economies.

Both benefit hugely from an abundance of intellectual capital – and a thriving entrepreneurial spirit that has led to the emergence of tech unicorns and global retail giants. From Graphcore to Starbucks, Ovo to Costco – the two cities have created a collective nest of ingenuity and ideas, that have shaped the business world – something they will continue to do so for many years.

The cities have hosted economic titans that have shaped global economies, but perhaps more importantly, they are the home to start-ups and scale-ups that will shape the future of the two countries.

Deanna said: “These start-ups are improving the lives of the people within them, and across the world. All of the assets they both have created an immense opportunity – the intellectual heft and fertile business environment that Bristol and Seattle enjoy have the potential to build these two cities into models for other cities for the next few decades.”

What might stop them?

However, it isn’t all positive for the two cities, who appear to be on the cusp of putting themselves at the global forefront of tech innovation – there are common issues that they are facing.

Limited infrastructure and societal impediments could derail the progress that has been hard earnt so far.

Tackling these issues, in the eyes of Oppenheimer, will be the key to future success. Government funding and understanding of modern business challenges are top of the list, but having the access to talent through universities, such as UWE, will be vital to succeeding through the current technological revolution we are experiencing.

Investment and encouraging connectivity will lead to a community of businesses and individuals who will drive change, something the two regions have become known for – with Amazon and Hargreaves Lansdown leading their respective sectors.

She said: “These two cities have the capability to show the world what a new model for a tech hub should look like. Though they are both often overlooked due to the shadow of their larger counterparts, Bristol and Seattle are hotbeds of tech innovation.”

What makes them so similar?

Due to their striking similarities, Bristol and Seattle can take stock of what is, and is not, working for them, in order to advance the tech hub they have created.

Their collective ability to draw tech innovators, world leading engineers and entrepreneurs from across the world has led to both of them playing a crucial role in the ongoing fourth industrial revolution.

She said: “These two cities will see a transformation, unapparelled in the scope of human history. If you look at the change the internet has brought to the world over the last 29 years, to the point where it is in almost every facet of everyday life – smartphones, AI and IoT are fundamentally changing the world we live in and economies all over the world.

“As this revolution rolls on, the lines between the physical, digital and biological worlds will blur. Companies in Bristol and Seattle are at the vanguard of this revolution. They are developing innovations that will change how we work, live and socialise in the coming decades.”

Bristol and Seattle have boundary-breaking robotics work that covers all sectors, and are at the spearhead of change for AI, VR/AR, cloud technologies, micro processing and aerospace engineering.

These innovations will change the world beyond our current comprehension – and so embracing that change and looking at advancing what we know is vital if they are going to maintain their competitive edge – something the two cities have done brilliantly since the introduction of the world wide web.

“As Bristol and Seattle stand at this precipice, there are a few key questions to tackle how we go forward – what makes a city a tech hub? How do the cities remain world-leading and relevant in an age of constant change? What obstacles stand in the way?”

Preparing for the future

Bristol and Seattle host huge companies both in and out of the tech sector – something that provides a solid foundation in order to build a thriving modern tech-focused city.

As tech becomes more ubiquitous in modern cities in an age of constant change, the line between a tech company and any other company is becoming increasingly blurred.

Across all sectors, these two cities have made the tech communities merge with all areas of the local business scene. Collaboration and uniting for the benefit of the city they call home is something that both cities have become known for across different sectors.

A lot of this has stemmed from the tech and manufacturing giants that are a part of the two cities. Whether it is Boeing or BAE, Microsoft or Rolls Royce, or Starbucks or Airbus – these giants have not only been at the forefront of innovation, but have embraced the city and helped many of its start-ups scale to new heights.

“The presence of these giants, offer benefits that go far beyond job creation – their presence is inspiring for entrepreneurs and graduates. They offer space and knowledge for small companies to hone their skills and improve themselves within larger environments, with bigger and global client-bases.

“These giants not only know where the game is played – but what opportunities it can provide.”

So, how do you create a modern city like Bristol or Seattle?

In the eyes of Oppenheimer – collaborations with universities, like UWE.

She said: “Silicon Valley and London may rest on their laurels, knowing that people will come, no matter what they do. They have the money and the attention of the world, and a bedrock of companies large and small that can maintain and grow the city. However, the world’s largest cities and business destinations are like tankers – they have a lot of inertia and power, but are slow to respond to changes and move in a different direction.

“Smaller cities – like Bristol and Seattle – function differently. They can build from the ground up, and create an incredible tech ecosystem. They are nimble and innovative enough to adapt to the changes that are happening in our modern world. These cities live off the back of two vital questions. Can you grow companies and can you convince them to stay there as they grow in the long term? And can you attract the talent?

“Companies will only be as successful as the top talent that they attract. They may come to university to learn, but they stay because they love it and it offers them what they want.”

Enticing companies to a city can be a very long and drawn out process, that can take away from what the city currently offers.

She continued: “One of the reasons why business can grow is down to places like where we are right now – a vibrant and thriving university system. This along with what the city and job environment offer can make a difference – and this is what Bristol and Seattle have over tech hubs from across the world.”

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