Posted on 11/09/18 by Matthew Snowden in

“Close your eyes…”

It’s 2021

TechTown finished 3 years ago. You developed an integrated action plan. You helped to see it delivered. It continues to evolve and be at the heart of your digital community and your local agenda.

3 years since the last conference –  the one where we all got a bit teary, said we’d keep working together, Daniel Gwen and Evija kept us all up until 5 am dancing and eating falafel and, as dawn broke, Alison invited us all to join her on a yoga retreat in India.

We keep in touch!

TechTown has become a banner we all work with, a badge of innovation and excellence. To be a TechTown is for a city to hold up their collective hand and say digital is in everything we do.

To be a TechTowner is to be an innovator, an agitator, a thinker and a doer.

David is working with Michelin and Duplo to help startups innovate new solutions for their production line – he’s still in touch with the Clermont Ferrand team as they all work collaboratively with these big corporates.

Anja is now talking to Elon Musk about replacing the recently opened Loop city rail link with a Hyperloop prototype Cesis just hosted the biggest coding retreat Europe has ever seen – it’s wall to wall hipster beards (still!) and super cool geek girls.

Everyone keeps seeing pictures of Alisa and Niksa on the TV celebrating the very first  Smart Old Town with talking fortified walls and hoverboard tours … and they’re jetting all over the world as there’s finally direct pilotless drone flights to Dubrovnik out of season!

Siracusa is sending its local startups and digital people to towns and cities all over Italy, sharing their hackathon and innovation techniques, connecting disconnected communities.

Limerick is the beating digital heart of west Ireland eclipsing capital of culture Galway’s 2020 celebrations with a festival of innovation, technology and robotics featuring the worlds first Irish dancing robot San Sebastián is a fully connected surf city using tide and city data to structure a pop up surfing destination each time the waves hit their peak.

Basingstoke has had to move the corporates out to make way for the burgeoning startup scene and Reading has been absorbed as a suburb of amazing stoke Gavle has transitioned from paper mills to data mills and is the Mecca for data … Big data small data open data… They’re at the heart of a new industrial revolution.

Barnsley is the snappy puppy in the tech startup scene. There are spin-outs from collaborations across industries and some award-winning digital healthcare and Internet of things startups. I’ve invested in them all and I’m living in a mansion on a hill.

Your job’s probably changed. Your life too – maybe new relationships, kids, life events.

You communicate by ever more diverse channels, there are people around you doing jobs there weren’t even names for five years ago. You’ve more time than ever before as data makes thing just, well, happen.

So visualise yourself. You’re at home alone. You’ve got a glass of wine or a cup of tea. You know the kids or your best friend will appear on your smartwatch for a quick video chat later, your delivery from the local organic produce collective is due in an hour.

All your favourite things from the farm to the door without you having to lift a finger as they’ve got a great system that knows exactly when the crops are ready.

how much will sell locally and how much they can wholesale without losing a single blueberry to waste?

Your partner is in let’s call it an Uber-Google self-driving pod heading off to the capital for a night out happy in the knowledge the same pod will bring them back safely no matter how much palinka they consume.

The house is just the right temperature and humidity, and the lights instinctively know you want to relax so they dim just a little. Your home knows you, your habits and your preferences.

You know the cat needs feeding as you checked your home can and its bowl has been empty since 4 pm as you forgot to fill the auto feeder.

Bad cat parent. Technology can’t help you with that. Because your house knows you want to chill, there’s a bit of slow Brazilian bossa nova playing through all the rooms and you sink into your sofa pondering whether to hit your Amazon dash holographic button for a dish of pad thai from that place the other side of town with the delivery drones, or whether the fish you bought two days ago is still good.

You ask the fridge and it says to use it tonight or lose it. Decision made.


This night isn’t remarkable. This is life in 2021.

These things have moved from innovation to just being part of what we do and how we live.

So … is your town part of this? Which part?

I want you to think of what a startup in your city could be in 2021. Give it a name. What is it doing? Where is it based? Is it solving a social problem? Is it helping a big corporate do things better? Is it making your life better, easier, quicker or smoother? What’s their biggest challenge – money? Space? Skills? Adoption? Scale? Testing? Awareness? Data? Loneliness? The draw of the big city? Open your eyes.

This is your startup. Hold it with you over the next two days. Remember it when we are thinking about all the challenges we have.

Start to make it feel real. Talk about it within your city teams. Think about it over dinner tonight. Don’t get hung up that it has to be the best idea, or that it definitely has to work. Just attach yourself to it and refer to it through all of these sessions.

We will keep coming back to this. Not in an in-depth way but just a little parallel journey to our meeting, but all the policy in the world isn’t going to help you if you don’t know where you need to get to and who you’re trying to help.

This is just a visualisation exercise but the startups in your city are real and they need you – so you need to understand them from the inside out.

Quickly go round the room, share an idea for the name of your startup and tell us whereabouts it’s based in your city – existing space? Somewhere not imagined yet? Within another business?”

When reflecting on the 2-day meeting as whole several TechTown cities and their ULG members picked out the visualisation exercise as a tool which had really helped them to understand the raison d’être for the network.


Each city was able to recognise themselves in the picture painted, to imagine how they might use it to grown digital jobs back home and to dream about where the TechTown journey might end up…. URBACT partners are invited to try this out in their local and transnational meetings. Dare to dream!