Out of the Woods: why Brum’s edgelands are the hottest place for new tech start-ups
As Digbeth’s Silicon Canal flows slowly to the self-operated lock of recuperation, Jeyklan Hyde investigates new disruptive businesses and collectives coming out of the edgelands of Brum. From her hub of a boutique flat-roofed pub, she meets Brumtreprenuers taking traditionally working class culture and adding that 5G spin…
Birmingham’s social media scene, oh yes, you heard of it about ten years ago, and then nothing happened. Birmingham never made the app that banged its own drum or blew its own trumpet, apart from Dion Dublin’s Digital Dube, so we just stopped paying attention. You might think it’s not worth bothering, that the gig economy here just means UB40 tribute acts earning a bit to top up their dole, but if you actually go there…well, it’s worth it, I mean if you’re there already.
“These new shops they have where people do eco shopping by buying muesli from bins: it’s very trendy and expensive now but they used to have one of those on Bearwood high street. There’s nothing new, you just have to find a way to sell it.” says Andre De Jong the CEO of TwosUP, the start-up that is promising to do for half-smoked fags what AirB’n’B did for spare rooms.
That’s not the only sharing economy success that could take the déclassé parts of our major cities by storm. Crossbar is described as ‘Uber: but for backies on your mate’s pushbike’. Drivers are rated on speed, courtesy and if their trackie bottoms are so low slung they’re likely to get caught in the chain. Fire up the app and you can see how close they are to you and which small parade of shuttered shops they’re hanging out at the front of.
And after you’ve finished a hard day sweating your assets, you need BathNite, the service that answers the fundamental question of working class Sundays: ‘The water’s still hot, want me to leave the plug in?’.
All of these ideas are coming out of Birmingham right now, and not from ‘digital Digbeth’, ‘trendy Moseley’, or ‘argueing about Asda Stirchley’ but from the nether regions of places like Castle Vale. It’s complemented by sense of pride in local people working hard, not just to make lovely cupcakes or a sort of spicy stew on a paper plate outside but other things too. You’re as like to to see a message on the internet to support indie businesses that are tarmacing a road round the corner and have a bit left if you want your drive done as one for a pop-up cafe.
That said there is a pop-up cafe, where you get bread and butter with everything. And a trendy craft beer bar that has topless barmaids on Sunday lunch.
There are people keeping the old skills going, putting cars up on bricks on the lawn the artisan way, bespoke hooky cable boxes that unlock everything even the smut: your dad knows a guy from the line who sells them, but now he’s got an app. And alongside the Peaky Blinders hats there’s what’s called ‘faddidas’ car boot sportswear knock-offs as a fashion trend.
Later I meet Brum’s newest Insta-influencer. Tyson the pitbull with his own instagram account, showcasing the kids he’s given a little nip to in the park. His owner, Jase, is working on his laptop in Wetherspoons trying to get his disruptive start-up off the ground. It’s an agile operation, where stand up meetings are held up the bar, the idea is, he tells me: “Polish fags delivered to your door by kids on push bikes and minimum wage”.
“It’s like Deliveroo, yes”, he says, “I’m nicking the idea but with a twist. After all what is Deliveroo, but a posh version of pots of iffy cockles being brought round pubs about 9 on a Saturday?”
What goes around comes around, and this is where it’s coming around from right now. From the smart home system that automatically turns the lights off when the window cleaner comes round to get his money, to the app to tell you when it’s nice enough out to sit on dining chairs in your front yard. From the subscription service for Christmas lights to nail to your porch, all year round, to a new site that is Linkedin but for cash-in-hand casual Labour it’s no longer ‘Ask Jeeves’ but ‘I’ll ask our Terry if anyone’s looking’.
The metro city is now the home of disruption and not just to bus services. I’m off to invest in a Kickstarter for an artisan selling cheap VHS players from a pub car park. He admits that they’ll turn out only to be a brick in a box when he has gone, but that’s what the country needs right now.