Hunt begins to discover – and reward – the best tech in the West

The hunt to find the best tech in the West has begun with the launch of The SPARKies – the region’s annual event to recognise and reward the leading lights of the local technology sector.

The SPARKies showcases the leading people, products and companies that make up the tech industry across Somerset, Wiltshire and South Gloucester – including the cities of Bristol, Bath and Swindon.

Now in its third year, nominations for the West’s ‘tech Oscars’ open today (Tuesday 16th September) and close on Friday 3rd October. Due to rising interest in the event, the number of categories has been expanded to a record 14 – including ‘Best App’, ‘Best Start-up’, ‘Biggest Success Story’, ‘Start-up To Watch’ and the heralded ‘Founder / Entrepreneur Of The Year’.

“Shadowing the growth of the digital economy in the region, The SPARKies is going from strength to strength,” said David Maher Roberts – founder of The SPARKies and creative and digital media sector specialist for Invest Bristol & Bath. “When we first launched the awards in 2012, we had 100 nominations and 250 people attended the awards night – two years on and we’re expecting hundreds of nominations and we have had to increase the venue capacity to over 400 for the event.”

The increase in prominence of the Bristol and Bath tech cluster and the growing stature of the awards event have combined to attract much greater support from businesses across the UK. The SPARKies this year boasts a broad range of sponsors including international management consultants Deloitte Digital, crowd-funding startup CrowdBnk and Peter Gabriel’s music label Real World.

The key statistics for the region’s tech sector include:

– over 1,300 companies are involved, employing around 30,000 people

– the region hosts one of only six Science Cities in the UK

– it contributes £4.8b to national economy

– a recent report by international consultancy McKinsey identified the Bristol and Bath tech cluster as experiencing the fastest ‘internationally significant’ growth outside London

– a report from Nesta, the UK’s leading independent think tank on innovation, named Bristol and Bath as two out of the nine creative hotspots in the UK.

– the Sunday Times recently recognised Bristol as the best city to live in Britain.

– four of eight SMEs chosen to take part in a recent government-sponsored robotics trade mission to California were from the Bristol and Bath region.

– the Bristol Robotics Laboratory is one of Europe’s largest robotics labs.

– Bristol Games Hub is the largest independent co-working hub for games developers in the world, while Bristol-based social video company Yogscast is behind the world’s largest gaming YouTube channel.

“The region’s digital economy has been steadily growing, minding its own business and largely ignored by the rest of the UK,” said Bristol-based tech entrepreneur Nick Sturge, who is director at the Engine Shed and the Bristol SETsquared Centre, and one of the 30 judges involved in this year’s SPARKies awards. “But now our profile has stepped up massively to the point that we’re seen as a leader – an exemplar of how to grow a tech-based cluster.”

“As a judge I’m hoping to see some great, ambitious companies that are truly innovative and keen to scale. I hope there will be some established companies we have never heard of that realise the value of being a part of the local eco-system, even if their business is 100% export.”

The winners of this year’s SPARKies will be announced and celebrated at an awards ceremony on 30th October, compered by award-winning comedian Tom Craine. The ceremony is taking place during the Bath Digital Festival and is one of a number of tech events taking place between 27th October and 5th November.