The AI cluster forming in London’s West End

London’s West End is best known for its restaurants, bars, and historic theatre district. Thanks to a growing number of high-growth artificial intelligence startups locating in the area, the West End may soon be considered the UK’s latest AI cluster and a global hub for the industry.

At first glance, the area within western central London is unlikely to be thought of as the centre of a movement for UK-based AI startups. Historically, digital startups in AI and beyond have been drawn to East London, which from the late 2000s and early 2010s became one of the most prominent centres for UK tech.

But a cluster of high-growth AI firms entering stage right into London’s West End may now be giving the East a run for its money.

“What you’ve got in London, is a nexus of a capital city with governance and legislation and world-class universities within a short ride, like Imperial [College London],” says Alex Burton, director at Rebellion Defence, an AI company working in the defence sector that was recently valued at $1bn.

Founded in 2019, Rebellion Defence has become a major player in the AI business, becoming a unicorn on the back of its $150m funding round in September 2021. The AI startup is by no being alone in locating in the tourist hub around the West End.

Based just off Soho, Synthesia – currently estimated by Dealroom to be valued at $286m – has developed an automated technology that converts written text into a video presented by a synthetic avatar.

And just two minutes from Synthesia’s London headquarters is Encord, an AI computer vision labelling firm and Y Combinator alumni.

Whether consciously on the part of the companies or not, a pattern appears to be forming of promising AI startups basing their operations in the West End.

“I think it’s because the talent is here, it’s very well positioned with respect to good universities and being able to get good European talent and also just global talent, people around the world come here,” says Encord co-founder and CEO Eric Landau.

“And the VCs are now recognising that, so the money is following. The talent was always here, but now the money is following. And as the money is coming, this tech hub is really blossoming and burgeoning.”

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