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How the West of England is taking the creative tech crown

Posted 12 Dec 2022

Move over Austin, Texas – a booming south-western tech hub is ready to stake its claim as a global centre for high-tech innovation, research and digital media.

From a legacy built on dreams of engineering and invention stretching back well over 200 years, the West of England is now recognised as one of the most innovative regions in the UK, with an award-winning reputation for creative media, film and television production.

Here are four reasons why Bristol is ready to snatch the crown. 

A internationally recognised centre for screen-based media 

Home of renowned institutions like the Bristol Old Vic and the BBC Natural History Unit, boundary pushing studios like Aardman, and The Bottle Yard Studios where Poldark and Broadchurch (amongst others) was filmed, the West of England is a hub for creative excellence on stage and screen. 

The MyWorld programme, led by the University of Bristol and funded by UKRI, involves 13 partners and is a major pillar of Digital Catapult’s work in the West of England. It will build new R&D facilities to pioneer new digital formats and technologies, including converting the Coal Shed and Retort House into a state-of-the-art research facility, and tapping into the Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus development to help evolve new experiences in fiction, documentary, games and live performance, bringing future training, job opportunities and investment to the area.

MyWorld has recently provided funding of £1 million to six technology trailblazers including the world’s first metaverse livestreaming studio, for live music performances in any virtual space, as well as a project that will produce tools to support the delivery of immersive location-based experiences to mass audiences across multiple sectors. 

A city of sustainability

Bristol was the first British city to be named European Green Capital (in 2015), and was named the UK’s most sustainable city in 2021.

One of the CR&D projects that received funding from MyWorld is from Celestial Labs which has roots in Somerset and Bath. Celestial Labs is already delivering spellbinding drone shows across the globe. Drone displays are increasingly popular, as they offer a more eco-friendly alternative to fireworks. The funding will allow Celestial Labs to develop outstanding new drone light shows by responding to performers in real time, expressing their music and dance through an immersive fusion of colour and movement. 

Home to some of the UK’s most innovative startups

Over centuries, the Bristol area has seen more than its fair share of innovators. The city proudly displays a rich heritage of creativity, from Brunel’s engineering genius to Banksy’s underground art, and high above the skies, Concorde, the supersonic aircraft built in Bristol. Boosted by connectivity and a thriving local economy, the area now attracts a growing network of 5G companies and inspiring tech startups. 

In 2021, a year of record investment in UK technology, Bristol was ranked one of the country’s top five tech hotspots in research for the Government’s Digital Economy Council. And in October 2022, Beauhurst revealed that tech companies in Bristol account for 36% of the city’s high-growth businesses, with 208 tech startups and scale-ups employing more than 13,000 people and reporting a combined turnover of £4.69 billion during their last fiscal year.

It’s not only MyWorld where startups form the backbone of the programme. Digital Catapult and partners collaborated on the 5G Smart Tourism programme, a year-long project which brought together a wide range of partners to trial the use of 5G infrastructure and immersive technologies to augment and extend the reach of outstanding immersive cultural experiences, including the Roman Baths, Bristol Pride and the Bristol Harbour Festival.

A region at the cutting edge of global createch research 

From innovation to the arts, the West of England has a proud international reputation – from the award-winning creations of Aardman Animations, to the University of Bristol’s Vision Institute and its pioneering work in science, engineering, arts and medicine, and CAMERA – the Centre for the Analysis of Motion, Entertainment Research and Applications at the University of Bath. 

The West of England is at the centre of efforts to kickstart the UK’s 5G revolution, as the University of Bristol, in partnership with Digital Catapult, works to progress the advanced technologies and 5G connectivity that will extend the capabilities of the manufacturing and creative industries on a global scale. 

Research organisations such as the University of the West of England and Bath Spa University, are connecting innovation of tomorrow, while the Smart Internet Lab at the University of Bristol works to advance the region’s 5G network infrastructure with projects that include:

  • 5G UK Test Networks: a large scale urban 5G test network, funded by the Industrial 5G Testbeds and Trials programme – and connecting three leading UK university testbeds, from the University of Bristol to the City of Bath 
  • 5G-ENCODE: A project to advance 5G applications and technology, including augmented and virtual reality, to strengthen the manufacturing industry; Digital Catapult has provided technical and innovation coordination for the project. 

The blazing Texas sun might take the createch limelight each March, but cast your eyes to the West of England and you’ll find innovative companies creating compelling and enriching experiences, products and services, more than worthy to compete on the global stage. 

Bristol’s time in the creative technology spotlight is now. 

If you want to know more about Digital Catapult’s work in the West of England, contact Sarah Addezio [email protected]