Thames Valley interconnectedness – a call for action

The Thames Valley is the UK base for many major technology companies including Oracle, Microsoft, Huawei, Cisco Systems and HP as well as being the global HQ for Vodafone. It is also home to many start-up and early stage high growth companies, not just those in the tech sector; we see around 20 new companies every quarter at Henley Business Angels ( from a variety of industries. The University of Reading, of which HBA is part, has been instrumental in encouraging tech companies and start-ups and supported the establishment of the Thames Valley Science Park in 2018. The Thames Valley, centred on Reading, has a major advantage over other tech hubs in the UK because of its proximity to London and easy access to Heathrow airport. The region is well served by various investment and support networks, including the Local Enterprise Partnerships, the Berkshire Business Growth Hub, Thames Valley Investment Network, Thames Valley Chamber of Commerce Group and others. Many leading professional services organisations are located here and even a few private equity and venture capital firms. But just how well are these tech and other companies, organisations and centres of academic and research excellence connected together? How frequently do they intermix with each other to share ideas, bounce off potential new initiatives (competition permitting) and work together to encourage continued growth in the region?

At a recent ICAEW Thames Valley Reading and Maidenhead Business Breakfast meeting I led a discussion on building global business ecosystems with specific focus on their interconnectedness. I referred to the recent research I had conducted into the differences in investment practices and wider environmental factors between UK, continental European and USA based venture capital firms as published in my book: “Venture Capital Performance – A comparative study of investment practices in Europe and the USA” (2020, Routledge). As part of this research I spent some time interviewing senior partners of VC firms in Silicon Valley, USA. The “uniqueness” of the Silicon Valley tech and venture capital environment was a common theme arising from these interviews and from those with VC firms based outside of the Valley. All Silicon Valley VC firms in my sample for which fund performance data were available were in the top performing category and only US VC funds had performance in excess of 50% pa. My research was investigating possible reasons for the historic poorer performance of VC funds in UK and Europe, though performance in now pretty much on a par with the US. A UK VC in my sample commented:

“The investments, the CEOs and their teams are just surrounded by a phenomenal ecosystem (in Silicon Valley). The connections are just phenomenal: connected advisers, connected partners. The Valley is just unique”: UK VC

This view was echoed by a UK limited partner investing in VC funds:

“US (West Coast) VCs use overwhelming force in supporting a project. And I don’t just mean dollars of overwhelming force, but connectivity and networks and relationships with big corporates. Europe is not able to efficiently filter the ones that will gain traction from those that won’t. The vast majority fail to gain traction”: UK LP

Silicon Valley is so supremely well interconnected amongst its various stakeholders, perhaps unlike anywhere else in the world. You can see this when you visit the favourite watering holes of the tech community in the Valley, such as Bucks Restaurant in Woodside, where you will see VCs mingling together with executives from big tech companies, entrepreneurs and advisers. They never stop networking 24/7 even at school soccer games at the weekend. It is truly a region that never sleeps. It also has, perhaps unexpectedly, a culture of sharing and helping each other:

“People feel they want to give back and that runs through the whole Valley. People are much more protective in Europe. “I’ve got here and I’m not necessarily going to help you””: US based UK entrepreneur / adviser.

And of course, their positive, upbeat approach helps to achieve the superior returns, perhaps summarised as a “How do I win?” versus a “How do I not lose?” approach in Europe: 

“This is a cultural thing, in California we ask the question, well if everything this guy says is true, how big can the outcome be? In Europe they ask the question, what are all the ways this guy could be lying to me?”: US Silicon Valley VC.

Thames Valley Business Breakfast meeting attendees agreed that there is more to be done to engender a spirit of real connectedness in the Thames Valley. The ICAEW can play its part here in encouraging discussion and debate on the issue and in linking stakeholders together. The University of Reading could also perhaps encourage stakeholder meetups at the Thames Valley Science Park or campus based Reading Enterprise Centre; we need a Bucks Restaurant for the Thames Valley!

Cambridge, another key tech ecosystem in the UK, centred on the University of Cambridge, has recently set up Cambridge& (Cambridge& – Cambridge& ( as a non-profit, joint initiative by the University of Cambridge, Cambridge Innovation Capital and the Greater Cambridge Partnership, to bring people together across the multiple networks that exist across Cambridge and to provide a “one-stop shop” to showcase Cambridge to the world. Maybe we also need a “Thames Valley&” here in the Thames Valley?

Keith Arundale  

(A version of this article appeared in the Spring 2022 issue of Chartam, a magazine for ICAEW Chartered Accountants in the Thames Valley)