Entrepreneurship: Camden named London’s startup capital as investor dubs it the ‘new Palo Alto’

·4-min read
Camden Lock bridge  (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Camden Lock bridge (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Camden’s burgeoning tech and fintech cluster has been dubbed the “new Palo Alto” after the borough was named the most entrepreneurial part of London, home to more new start-ups per capita in the past year than any other area.

Research exclusive to the Evening Standard found a total of 1055 new small businesses were created in Camden between 2020 and 2021 — more businesses per capita than anywhere else in London. The level of new business creation stands in contrast to a national decline in SME start-ups across the UK.

As Covid-struck firms shut up shop, the number of small businesses in Britain fell by 369,000 between 2020 and 2021, according to the Federation for Small Businesses.

But Camden saw a 3.3% increase in new companies in the borough between 2020 and 2021, according to data analysed by specialist SME insurer Superscript. The start-ups join the neighbourhood’s tech titans including newly-listed car giant Cazoo, Google in King’s Cross and fashion powerhouse ASOS, a Camden veteran.

The north-west borough has become a tech cluster, with recent Government employment figures showing tech roles make up more than 11% of available vacancies. Tech firms established in Camden during 2020 and 2021 include tenancy deposit app Fronted and Causal, which raised $4.2 million earlier this year for its data-focused rival to Microsoft’s Excel.

Former Tech Nation chair Eileen Burbidge identified Camden’s potential early, basing her venture capital firm Passion Capital (one of the first backers of online bank Monzo) in Clerkenwell, Camden in 2009.

“The environment is far more relaxed than the City — more trainers and casual attire than business shirts — and more dynamic, diverse and inclusive than other parts of the Capital,” she says. “The area has an unbeatable buzz and the energy is infectious.

“Even when we first set up what would eventually become Passion Capital in 2009, we knew we wanted to be based in Clerkenwell to be amongst creative and developer minds. More than 10 years on and we’ve been joined by investment firms such as LocalGlobe, Balderton and GV [Google Ventures] in the area.”

A close second place in the race for the title of London’s most entrepreneurial borough was Hackney, where 935 new firms were set up. Unicorns founded in the area include Wise (formerly TransferWise) in Shoreditch’s Tea Building and GoCardless in Goswell Road.

High flier: Eileen Burbidge at her Clerkenwell HQ (Rebecca Reid)
High flier: Eileen Burbidge at her Clerkenwell HQ (Rebecca Reid)

Hackney business founders created 4.2% more firms in the pandemic-struck 12 months than the previous year.

Barnet in north London ranked third, with 1230 new companies established.

Superscript compared the number of small businesses with up to 49 employees between 2020 and 2021 with the government’s latest population data to generate a ‘businesses per capita’ score for each location. The higher the score, the higher the density of small businesses in the area. The year to year change shows the number of new businesses created.

Camden has 0.38% small businesses per capita, with Hackney, number two in the ranking of the Capital’s most start-ups, is closely behind with 0.33%. Barnet has 0.31%.

“Given the spike we saw in young companies from London looking for flexible and bespoke insurance cover over lockdown, and an entrepreneurial spirit seemingly spiking in the capital, we wanted to identify the London boroughs that have seen the highest growth in small businesses,” said Ben Rose, co-founder of Superscript.

Serial entrepreneur Saul Klein, founder of LocalGlobe venture capital firm, calls the Camden-Kings Cross-Somers Town area where his firm is based “the new Palo Alto.”

He says: “In Camden, the research and talent base is there with UCL, the University of the Arts, LSE, and the London Business School. We have one of the world’s top financing systems, whether you need access to early stage capital, growth stage capital, or the public markets. There are millions of consumers. We can walk to Whitehall in 10 minutes, or get on a train to Brussels in 90 minutes, with regulators willing to work with start-ups.

“[Camden] is a much more diverse, multicultural environment than either of the world’s bigger tech areas, the Bay Area or Beijing. It’s one of the best places in the world to start a business.”

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