Tech in the East of England: The November 2017 roundup

East of England

Tim Robinson, COO of TechEast, shares his monthly roundup of tech news from the East of England. 

East Anglia’s thriving tech scene is by no means a lucky coincidence. The region’s success is due, in part, to the many great universities based here. As well as providing a constant stream of talented graduates, the region’s universities are also heavily involved with their own activities to support their local tech scene – this month more than usual.

Norwich’s University of East Anglia has just appointed its first ever ‘entrepreneur in residence’ to support students and staff with entrepreneurial ventures. Jacyn Heavens, CEO of payment-tech firm Epos Now, will advise students on pitching, launching, and scaling their businesses. Not only that, but the university’s new Enterprise Centre has won yet another award for its high-tech environmentally friendly design – its 20th award so far.

After being awarded a share of £4.7m last month, Colchester’s University of Essex has again received a sizeable funding amount to use for tech innovation. Essex University is part of a consortium of eight institutions to receive £42m to fund the National Centre for Nuclear Robotics. The venture will develop robotics, high-tech sensors, and artificial intelligence solutions to negotiate the challenges posed by nuclear energy and environments.

And finally, construction work has begun on another new educational institution of the region. Stansted Airport College will specialise in STEM subjects, as well as areas like hospitality and events. The college, which will cost £11m to complete, will open for students in September 2018.

A £25m research group

Tech giants, BT and Huawei, have just announced a new five-year research initiative with the University of Cambridge.

The project, which is backed by up to £35m in funding, will research areas like photonics, digital infrastructure, media technologies, and the societal impacts of communications technology. It will also explore how these new technologies can unlock economic benefits for UK businesses. Research is expected to start in early 2018, with five to ten researchers from the BT Labs team and Huawei R&D department working alongside academics from the University of Cambridge.

This long-term project with Chinese firm, Huawei, helps reinforce the East’s position as a UK centre for telecommunications with global reach. The majority of BT’s research team is based at Adastral Park, on the outskirts of Ipswich. Huawei, a regular collaborator with BT, also has its own offices on the Adastral Park campus.

This is not the first time either Huawei or BT has collaborated with the University of Cambridge, but it is the first time all three have worked together. Ken Hu deputy chairman and Rotating CEO, Huawei, said: “No single organisation has all the answers. Partnership is the only way forward in a complex digital age. We look forward to working with BT and the University of Cambridge. Together, we will explore future technologies and help ensure a positive social impact.”

New skills plan to support tech sector

The New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership has just signed the region’s first Digital Tech Skills Plan. The plan, which was developed the LEP alongside voices from the tech sector and SkillsReach, sets out how the local tech sector will meet its demand for skills and talent.

The region’s tech sector is already a diverse and productive one, employing around 16,600 people (up 9% from 2010) with a GVA of £1.3bn. However, difficulty attracting skills and talent is often named as a key challenge for the region.

With the region’s tech sector predicted to grow considerably, the plan sets out a strategy to help the digital sector meet the demand for its services from both public and private sector organisations. The plan indicates that a further 10,000 tech roles are needed by 2024 to meet this demand.

The plan identifies three core themes that will help the region meet its full potential:

  • Skills development must be led by employers, in partnership with the region’s great universities, colleges, and schools
  • Creating alternative pathways into tech careers – including options like apprenticeships, internships, and e-learning
  • Re-skilling and up-skilling the existing tech workforce.

TechEast is collaborating with the LEP on the delivery of the plan to represent the voice of the tech sector in the region. TechEast will act as convenor to assemble a new Digital Tech Skills Taskforce. This will feature representatives of businesses of all sizes, universities, higher education colleges, schools and skills innovators, and will advance the plan from ‘green paper’ to ‘white paper’ stage over the coming year.

Neil Miles, chair of TechEast said: “I see this plan as the first key step to enabling local collaboration to ensure business growth and skills opportunities are maximised. We look forward to businesses and education providers coming even closer together to shape the future of a vibrant regional tech economy in the East of England.

Anglia Capital Group surpass £2m mark

In the two years since their first investment members of the Anglia Capital Group (ACG) announced this month that they have contributed over £2m to Norfolk and Suffolk based high growth SMEs.

ACG is a leading group of business angel investors in Norfolk and Suffolk and is supported by the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership’s (LEP) New Anglia Capital fund, which co-invests alongside business angels in Norfolk and Suffolk. The group was established in 2014 to support spinouts, new ventures and growth businesses in the region, with members consisting of leading entrepreneurs and experienced business people that are committed to developing the next generation of businesses in the East.

ACG’s Hannah Smith said: “To date members have invested in 16 companies, enabling businesses to grow and create jobs in sectors ranging from digital technology to fashion accessories.”

The LEP’s CEO Chris Starkie added: “We’re delighted that the LEP’s New Anglia Capital project has been able to support such a broad range of high-growth businesses in Suffolk and Norfolk. Early stage business investment has a significant role to play in our ambition to grow the economy of the East. These businesses are often at the leading edge of their industry, providing an environment of innovation and high productivity jobs for our two counties.

East Anglia’s biggest hackathon

Now in its fourth year, the annual Sync the City hackathon returned to Norwich from 23 – 25 November 2017. For the first time this year, the competition had a very special home – Norwich Cathedral.

Competing for a £3,000 prize, teams had just 54 hours to create and launch a startup to impress the panel of judges. As always, the competition featured input from some of the region’s biggest names in business. Judges this year included Ian Watson of Start-rite shoes, Juliana Meyer of SupaPass, and Kirsty Jarvis of Luminous PR. The region’s tech businesses also stepped up to provide mentorship for entrants, including support from Foolproof, Rainbird, Epos Now, and Aviva.

Winner of this year’s competition was Lone Safe  – an app designed to keep lone workers safe. However, they weren’t the only team to try to use tech to solve a social issue. John Fagan, co-organiser of Sync the City said: “The final pitch presentations were the best quality we have seen so far, but the difference this year was that a lot of the problems were to do with social issues – things like mental health, personal security, homelessness and loneliness.”