Technium: Spurring a cultural shift in the Welsh economy

By Basheera Khan

It’s been two years since the original Technium concept was launched. The businesses it supported have grown and expanded and are preparing to move on, making place for the next stream of Welsh technology companies which will benefit from the business ‘hothouse’ environment to be found in the form of Technium, the first building of its kind, and Technium 2, currently under construction at the Swansea Waterfront.

Also under construction in Swansea is the Digital Technium, 3,500 square metres on 3 floors, intended to house 13 incubator offices, specialist research laboratories and development laboratories geared to developing innovative, start-up companies.

There are five other satellite Technium projects on the go elsewhere in Wales; BioTechnium at the National Botanic Garden of Wales in Llanarthne, Energy Technium at the Baglan Bay Energy Park, AutoTechnium in Llanelli, Media Technium at Gelli Aur near Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire and the AquaTechnium, which will be distributed across various locations.

Professor Marc ClementThe man at the centre of the Technium concept is Professor Marc Clement, Chair of Innovation at the University of Wales Swansea. His vision for the concept was shared by Stephen Davies of the Welsh Development Agency; together they penned the bid for a project which has to date attracted close to £50m in investment in the Welsh economic infrastructure.

Professor Clement comments, “The truth is that we never foresaw the expansion of the network. We just felt that Wales needed to create an infrastructure to support the knowledge economy, to create an environment and a culture where people could create businesses or where existing knowledge businesses could develop effectively. And we did that – we wrote the bid in ’99, the building was completed in 2001, and virtually fully occupied almost immediately.”

Companies housed in the Technium are granted a two-year tenancy, after which they can move on to the next stage in the Technium concept, Technium 2.

“We always foresaw that we had to build Technium 2,” says Professor Clement, “to allow the expansion of the original companies from Technium. ”

The development of the satellite Techniums was prompted by the private sector in particular, which expressed the desire to see investment into research and development, to support specific sectors of the Welsh economy.

Professor Clement explains, “If you take the automotive industry for example, a lot of the 25,000 people I think it is in Wales, working in the automotive industry, are second and third tier manufacturers. But now they’re being asked to be R&D; people as well, to develop the technology for the main manufacturers, and that’s a bit of a change of lifestyle for them, so if we created an environment where we had state-of-the-art design tools, where we had skilled people, then we could help these companies consolidate, and even expand their positions as suppliers to the major manufacturers.”

Though there is only one Technium operational at the moment, the statistics paint a promising picture for the success of the rest of the developments within the Technium family.

The companies within Technium have grown, in terms of the number of employees, by 306%. Turnover is up by 39%, 75% of those employed are graduates, and 72% of people employed are actively engaged in R&D.;

“If we can replicate that time and time again, then hopefully we can achieve our goals. Of course, by the end of this year, 2003, Digital Technium, Bio Technium, Media Technium, and Technium 2 should also be operational, so we’re on the cusp of the take-off.”

And despite the fact that it is still early days for the Technium project, the levels of confidence and enthusiasm displayed by contributing partners is high. Essentially, the Technium project is the result of a partnership between public and private sectors, a higher education institution, various Local Authorities, the WDA and the Welsh Assembly Government.

The partnership is what makes it work, says Professor Clement.
“If we can retain that partnership spirit, the ‘can do’ spirit without anybody having their own vested interest then we have a real chance of making it succeed. We do have some of the biggest global buyers in technology participating, IBM, Sony, as well as quality local companies. It is exciting and promising, but it is early days.”

The project has certainly succeeded in putting Wales in the spotlight; it’s generated tremendous press interest internationally, says Professor Clement, with coverage most recently in The Economist and The Wall Street Journal.

“We’ve been in the Wall Street Journal previously and the Financial Times. We have hundreds of press cuttings from international journalists writing about the concept. I myself have travelled fairly extensively to speak about it and my colleagues from the WDA have gone to Singapore, New Zealand and of course the United States. They do think it’s a unique concept, our blue chip partners think it’s a unique concept. We don’t believe that anyone has done it this way before.”

As to the impact of Technium in the grand scheme of things, Professor Clement hopes it will encourage a cultural shift, to a point where people celebrate the success of others.

“Sometimes one feels that our culture is the opposite of that, somebody’s failure is something to be celebrated. I hope that the Technium can play a small part in changing that so that our glasses are half full and not half empty.

“I am a Welshman through and through and I hope that in some small way there is some contribution being made, because I genuinely believe that we are very gifted and exceptionally resilient people and we have many positive attributes. If we could just dilute some of the negative ones, I think we could build up a super economy.”