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5 UK-Based Tech Companies To Watch In 2015

03/13/2015 12:00 am ET | Updated Mar 20, 2015
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The tech scene is a competitive market right now -- especially in Europe. Does a budding digital business base itself in Holland? Germany? Ireland?

With its large and diverse talent pool, central location, and business-friendly tax policies, we’d argue that the U.K. has emerged as Europe’s premier tech hub.

But which U.K.-based shops are making the tech world buzz? And where are they located? After all, the U.K.’s digital economy expands far beyond London.

We’ve partnered with the HQ-UK team to introduce you to 5 dynamic, U.K.-based tech firms to watch in 2015:

1. Skyscanner

Founders: Bonamy Grimes, Gareth Williams and Barry Smith
Launched: 2010
Location: Edinburgh, Scotland

What it does: Skyscanner is a global travel search engine that compares prices on flights, hotels and car rentals. Its goal, says co-founder and CEO Gareth Williams, is to “make travel search simple and inspirational with … no added fees and no fuss.”

Why Edinburgh: In the past few years, Williams has seen “the emergence of a vibrant startup community” in Edinburgh, he notes. Because of the high quality of life in the city, many students stay in the area after graduating -- which has created a wealth of local talent. “We're fortunate to be located a stone’s throw from Edinburgh University’s world-class School of Informatics,” says Williams. Skyscanner’s proximity to the school has helped them to recruit “really strong engineering talent.”

Why we’re watching: The travel industry is booming, and Skyscanner is right in the thick of it. In 2014, its revenue increased by 42 percent to £93 million (approximately $142 million). “Eighty percent of our visitors now come from outside our home market, and in greater China alone we saw a 61 percent increase in unique monthly visitors in 2014,” Williams says. They’ve gone mobile, too; users worldwide have now downloaded Skyscanner’s apps more than 35 million times.

2. Brewbot

Founders: Chris McClelland, Jonny Campbell, Kieran Graham and Ali Sisk
Launched: 2013
Location: Belfast, Northern Ireland

What it does: Brewbot is a “smart brewing appliance” controlled with a smartphone. By monitoring the temperature, time and progress of the homebrewing environment, it allows users to focus on their ingredients. The mobile app also offers recipes and prompts that guide aspiring home brewers through the entire beer-making process.

Why Belfast: In a nutshell, the people. “There is a strong emphasis on the skills we need at local universities, with world-class electronic engineers pouring out of Queen’s [University],” Brewbot co-founder and communications director Jonny Campbell says. The “tight-knit and really supportive community” is also a big factor, he adds, with a growing number of startups, meet-ups, coding groups, hacker spaces and conferences both emerging in and flocking to Belfast. Added to the “lively social scene,” low cost of living and abundance of space, Campbell calls Belfast a “great place to live.”

Why we’re watching: Brewbot started its journey with a successful Kickstarter campaign and has since landed $1.5 million of funding. “It's an exciting time for us, as we are weeks away from getting the first Brewbot into the hands of our Kickstarter backers,” Campbell says. “We are not only changing how beer is brewed but we are changing how it is distributed and ultimately consumed. We are returning the power to the drinkers of beer to determine what kind of beer they want to drink. We want to democratize brewing.”

3. Frontier Developments

Founder: David Braben
Launched: 1994
Location: Cambridge, England

What it does: Frontier Developments is a game developer most famous for the “Elite” series. Frontier’s strengths are “immersive, fun gameplay design and unparalleled artistic quality underpinned and enabled by cutting-edge technology development and a talent for getting the best out of hardware and UI,” according to its website.

Why Cambridge: Cambridge is one of the U.K.’s most well-known tech clusters, with more than 21,000 residents employed in the digital sector. That it’s home to esteemed and historic Cambridge University has created an entrepreneurial local culture and unparalleled access to high-quality recruits. And we mean high quality: Cambridge has the sixth best engineering and technology program in the world, according to the Times Higher Education World University Ratings. Simply put, “There is a great talent pool,” explains Frontier’s founder and CEO, David Braben. “It is also a great place to live.”

Why we’re watching: Though the company has been “making successful games for publishers like Microsoft and Atari for many years,” Braben says, Frontier has recently started to publish its own games, too. "I'm very pleased with our progress,” he says. “We are in a great position to take advantage of the industry move toward online selling, which is really gaining momentum, as we now add Xbox One to the platforms we are supporting with ‘Elite: Dangerous.’"

4. Fatsoma

Founders: Ben Taylor, Paul Stacey and Chris Pearson
Launched: 2006
Location: Manchester, England

What it does: Fatsoma is a digital ticketing platform aimed at organizers who want to use both technology and people to promote their events. With the software, users can do everything from share their event through email and social media, to sell and manage tickets. You can even recruit “reps” to promote an event in return for a commission through the platform.

Why Manchester: When asked why the Fatsoma team chose to base themselves in Manchester, co-founder and CEO Chris Pearson had an abundance of reasons -- with the people being most important. “There is no other city in the U.K. with a better history of producing innovative, hardworking and creative individuals,” Pearson says. “It’s a city that produces a lot with a little.” (Case in point: legendary codebreaker Alan Turing was a member of Manchester University’s Computing Laboratory staff in the 1940s and ‘50s.) Plus, considering the “vibrant live music and creative arts scene,” and the “number of world class universities,” Pearson says, “there really wasn’t any other choice.”

Why we’re watching: A lot of things have been going on behind-the-scenes at Fatsoma in the past year. Not only did they rebuild their web platform, but they also launched multiple mobile applications. “We’ve recently taken on a round of investment that means we’re able to catalyse our growth into markets that we were beginning to see emerging organically,” Pearson says. “Treading [on] new ground is always exciting -- and scary. We can’t wait.”

5. TransferWise

Founders: Kristo Käärmann and Taavet Hinrikus
Launched: 2011
Location: London, England

What it does: TransferWise is a peer-to-peer money transfer network. When its users want to send money to a foreign country, the service matches them with users sending money in the other direction. By bypassing traditional banks, TransferWise saves its customers money on currency conversion and transfer fees.

Why London: Though startups are popping up all over the U.K., London remains the heart of the country’s tech scene. The numbers speak for themselves: within the city, there are more than 36 business accelerators, 70 co-working spaces and 45 higher education institutions. TransferWise co-founders Taavet Hinrikus and Kristo Käärmann are Estonian, yet they decided that London was the right home base for their company headquarters. “It’s one of the few places in the world that brings together both tech and financial talent in the same place,” explains Hinrikus, who’s also the firm’s executive chairman. “We’re growing 15 to 20 percent month on month,” he adds. “With that level of growth I can’t stress enough how important it is to be surrounded by awesome people and to hire the right talent. London makes that easier.”

Why we’re watching: TransferWise is growing fast, and people are taking notice: in January, the company won a $58 million investment from U.S. venture capital firm Andreesen Horowitz. As Hinrikus exclaims, “We’re going global!” The plan for the funds is to open offices in New York, Florida, Berlin and Australia. “We’re dedicated to providing a service that is transparent, fair and fast -- we’re excited about sharing it with the world,” he says.

The U.K. has created the best conditions for business-builders anywhere in the world. The number of people starting digital businesses here is greater than ever – and the number of companies choosing the U.K. for their international headquarters is also unprecedented. Locating your digital business in the U.K. means that you won’t find it hard to get people with the skills you need. If you are a tech company considering international expansion, HQ-UK can help you every step of the way. Visit www.techcityuk.com/hquk for more information.

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