Google Campus London closes to start-ups post-Covid

Resident works with desktops and laptops on the Google Inc. tech campus in Tech City, East London.

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LONDON – Google is closing its own start-up space in London known as Campus.

The Silicon Valley tech giant announced Monday that it had decided not to “reopen” its East London campus after being forced to close by the coronavirus pandemic.

“We are closing campuses to support startups across the UK,” the company said, claiming it can support startups across the country with no physical space.

Campus London, one of several campus locations worldwide, was opened by Israeli tech veteran and Google employee Eze Vidra in 2012 when the London start-up scene began.

Vidra told CNBC on Monday that the campus closure was emotional and bittersweet. “The sweet part is that it succeeded and the bitter part is that an era is coming to an end,” he said.

“Personally, I’m very excited to see the UK startup ecosystem grow,” said Vidra, adding that Campus is “not so much needed” now that the London startup scene is well established.

Located in the gentrified Shoreditch neighborhood – just a few hundred yards from the Old Street roundabout known as the “Silicon Roundabout” – the campus has often been viewed as the epicenter of London’s Tech City, which some technicians say will never do that same again.

The campus included a co-working space, a café and an event room. It has been used by a variety of accelerators and start-up programs including Seedcamp, Entrepreneur First, Code First Girls, and Silicon Drinkabout. Thousands of events have been held there over the years, and Google employees have come and offered startups free mentoring.

Campus has been operating at a loss since its inception, Vidra said, adding that it was never intended to generate revenue. “It was a pretty big investment,” said Vidra, who is now a managing partner at Remagine Ventures.

According to Google, the UK startup community “needs less access to a single shared physical space, but rather access to resources, mentors and programs that are available everywhere”.

“When I set foot on the London campus for the first time in 2012, it felt like magic,” said Marta Krupinska, head of Google for startups UK, on ​​Twitter. “It played a crucial role in making London such a successful start-up ecosystem and after almost 10 years a new chapter is opening. There is so much to celebrate and so much to do. “

Traffic flows around the Old Street roundabout, also known as the “Silicon Roundabout”, in the area known as “Tech City” in London, UK

Chris Ratcliffe | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Sarah Drinkwater, who ran Campus from 2014 to 2018, said on a blog Monday: “It is right that Campus will not reopen after the Covid shutdown. The scenes are changing and you have to play it as it is. “

Drinkwater, who worked on Google Maps before joining Campus, said there are now hundreds of coworking spaces in London and dozens of accelerators across the UK.

“That one seedy place on Bonhill Street provided the container for many different subcommunities to start or get together, and a path for incredibly diverse profiles trying to find out what this ‘tech’ thing was,” wrote Drinkwater.

“Repeatedly, I met an insecure early founder at the cafe trying to figure it out, and then ran into them a year later with a team and funding and a clear path forward,” said Drinkwater. “Sometimes these companies flew, sometimes they didn’t and there were great people in the market again.”

Tech entrepreneurs, developers, and investors remembered their days on campus on social media and blog posts.

“There were so many great memories and good friends met,” wrote Amandine Flachs, CEO and co-founder of Wild Meta AI, which aims to help video game developers create smarter, more human-like AIs with machine learning.

Hannah Blake, CEO and co-founder of the podcast app Entale, told CNBC it was a “great loss” and “the heart and soul of the London startup scene”.

Andrew Eland, who worked at Google for over 11 years, including leading teams in Silicon Valley that worked on Google Maps, among other things, said Campus expanded the people in London’s tech scene and the type of problems they were working on.

“I think the idea for all campus locations was to help incubate early tech communities, and London is clearly well past that stage now,” Eland told CNBC.

With thousands of startups, London is now one of the most important tech hubs in Europe, but the city has yet to grow a tech giant on the scale of Google.

“While we still haven’t made Google or Facebook, we’ve made 100 unicorns (businesses worth $ 1 billion or more),” Vidra said. “Many of them had their first public pitch or appearance on campus, including TransferWise and Revolut.”

Google has additional locations in Madrid, Sao Paulo, Seoul, Tel Aviv, Tokyo and Warsaw.

A Google spokesman told CNBC that all other global campuses will reopen “if circumstances permit.”

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