London-based Barclays Bank smells money … money in the form of the maker space culture of shared space and tech expertise, and rapidly evolving 3-D printing technology.
American techpats know that in the United States, maker spaces and hacker spaces are a thing everywhere, from the most innovative tech markets such as Boston and Silicon Valley to smaller midwestern cities. In Europe, not so much. Hackers – engineers and experimenters – tend to work in university spaces. Ironically, the whole maker/hacker movement started in Germany back in the early 200os!
A decade later, Barclays executives are creating a cluster of Eagle Labs, maker spaces/hacker spaces/incubators in various British cities, with initial operations in Bournemouth, Cambridge and Brighton.
(How they’re choosing cities is a bit of a mystery. We get Cambridge – the university and all that. But Brighton? Which is sort of the Jersey Shore of the United Kingdom.)
Eagle Labs started last December with pilot projects in Cambridge and Bournemouth, and the bank is now rolling out operations to other cities, with plans for as many as 20, according to a news release and media reports. Now here’s where it gets hazy … the sites will have incubators open to “high-growth startups,” as well as maker spaces with 3D printers and laser cutters. “Digital Eagles” – apparently tech-savvy Barclays employees – will oversee the operations.
Eagle Labs include 3D printers, laser cutters, workshop spaces, meeting rooms with audio-visual equipment and whiteboards and, of course, Wi-Fi.
So, apparently the play is to identify tech startups … and then what? Invest in them? Lend them money, or a mix of equity and debt? It’s not clear.
From the news release:
Ashok Vaswani, CEO of Barclays UK said: “Technology is transforming the speed at which startups can grow and scale. Simply having access to a 3D printer can now help people turn a clever idea into a business success overnight, and by providing practical resources alongside our financial expertise we intend to help people succeed.”
Barclay’s Eagle Labs projects require you go through screening and training, and you can go here to select the city and time. There are fees to use the equipment – 6.25 pounds per half-hour for the laser printers, and 10 pounds per half-hour for the laser cutter. You can sign up here.
The Barclays Eagle Labs project is the first time we have seen a European bank sponsoring operations that provide actual hardware and engineering expertise. But it’s far from the first bank to move seriously into the startup arena. For exampl, Paris-based BNP Paribas is recruiting fintech startups to integrate into its operations. And Madrid-based BBVA is snapping up fintech startups as fast as it can, including Holvi, a Finnish startup providing online current accounts and other services for small businesses, startups, freelancers, and entrepreneurs.