Rain drizzled down on the glass-domed roof of the ABC Building in Manchester city centre as Tech Nation CEO Gerard Grech delivered the growth network’s final report before its impending closure.
During a maximum capacity event on Thursday afternoon, Grech and the Tech Nation team unpacked the findings from its last report, which estimates that the UK’s tech ecosystem could quadruple in value to $4tn by 2032 – provided the conditions and support are right.
While the report was the main event, the subplot was difficult to ignore.
“It’s very, very sad to see Tech Nation go,” Patience Tucker, CEO of hospitality platform wi-Q Technologies, told UKTN.
After more than a decade supporting UK startups, Tech Nation announced in January that it will wind down on 31 March after it lost a bid for a £12m government grant.
Barclays Eagle Labs was successful in its application for the taxpayer funding, leaving Tech Nation unable to fill the significant gap in its finances.
As Tech Nation’s client engagement director Elizabeth Scott MBE and research director Dr George Windsor shared the report’s findings, there was a palpable sense of sadness and gratitude in a packed room of entrepreneurs and tech stakeholders.
Since it was launched by then-Prime Minister David Cameron in 2010, Tech Nation has had a hand in the development of some of the UK’s most well-known startups, including Revolut, Darktrace and Deliveroo.
Many other UK tech startups have participated in its programmes and events. One of those people is Sam Royle, whose business content platform SoSquared was a city winner in Tech Nation’s Rising Stars competition.
Royle told UKTN that “Tech Nation has been fundamental” for technology funding in the North of England. His company shares an office space with Tech Nation staff and said “they speak to founders all the time”.
He added that he was concerned that “bigger bureaucracies or bigger companies might not be able to move quickly” in supporting startups and have the same “boots on the ground” experience.
Emma-Louise Fusari, founder of In-House Health, said she had “mixed emotions” about the event and “the whole debacle around the funding”, adding that the room was full of “gratitude” from industry stakeholders.
Alice Pickersgill, head of Manchester’s early-stage tech support programme Exchange, said it will be sad to lose Tech Nation as a partner.
“Hopefully we can still have the individuals wherever they go, they will still want to be supporting the ecosystem,” she said.
What next for Tech Nation staff?
Many are now watching closely to see what the organisation’s outgoing staff will do next, particularly after UKTN revealed that Tech Nation and Barclays Eagle Labs could not reach an agreement to bring over dozens of staff under TUPE employee rules.
“Maybe we’ll achieve more in 85 different places than we did under one roof,” said Tech Nation’s Scott, teasing that there are “early conversations” happening about what might happen next and that there are “things that might bubble to the surface”.
Fusari said there’s scope for “spinouts” from Tech Nation’s team, while Ben Davies from Manchester-based VC firm Praetura Ventures said he is “excited to see what their team members do next”.
Davies added: “The right kind of capital needs to keep up with our ambitions and benefits of the tech industry need to be made accessible.”
“Another inspirational panel and a real ‘send off’ to the TN team. They’ve done amazing things for the North and the UK.”