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Tech in the North of England: The August roundup

Manchester Media City

Martin Bryant, community editor at Tech North and former editor at large for The Next Web, brings you a round up of the top tech news to come out of the North of England over the past month.

It’s customary for a roundup of technology news in the month of August to begin with a sentence like: “As usual, August brought with it quieter email inboxes and a slowdown in tech’s usually relentless events calendar.” And guess what? That’s 100% accurate. Luckily, there’s still plenty to share with you.

Cheshire-based ecommerce giant The Hut Group had a huge month. It sold a stake to Old Mutual Global Investors for £125m. According to Sky News, the deal values the company at a new high of £2.5bn.

Meanwhile, it acquired beauty product subscription service Glossybox from Berlin’s Rocket Internet, and Australian beauty site Little surprise that The Hut Group’s founder and chief executive, Matthew Moulding says the firm’s goal is to be “the number one in Health & Beauty globally.”


The Hut Group’s investment news dwarfed all other Northern tech deals announced in August. But one deal that caught my eye involved Innovation North East, an organisation that runs networks and events to support innovation activity among businesses in North East England. It has has ambitions to expand nationally, and a new £100,000 investment from Northstar Ventures’ Finance for Business North East Proof of Concept Fund will help it do just that.

Meanwhile, days may be numbered for the patchy distribution of angel investor activity across the North. At Tech North, we announced our Angel Network. This community will serve both new and seasoned angel investors alike. There will be events for people who want to get into tech investing for the first time, as well as experienced angels who want to start leading syndicates.

By increasing the number and visibility of angels, we aim to make it easier for early-stage entrepreneurs to find the right investors at the right time for their business.

Microsoft partnership

Liverpool startup Vtime had reason to celebrate when it was announced that its virtual reality ‘sociable network’ would be a launch partner for Microsoft’s new Mixed Reality family of devices in Q4 2017.

The company already boasts 700,000 downloads across Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR, Google Daydream, Google Cardboard, Android, and iOS.

Prison coders

It’s hardly breaking news that the world needs more coders. But Code4000 is a new initiative addressing one untapped group of potential future software developers – prisoners. After a several months of preparation, it began teaching its first students at HMP Humber near Hull, a few weeks ago.

Sweden-based Michael Taylor was inspired by a similar American initiative called The Last Mile, and found the prison services in the UK have been keen to take up the concept. The prisoners have begun by learning web development in HTML, JavaScript, and CSS. Later they’ll have the opportunity to learn to work with databases and frameworks like Ruby on Rails so they can write full web apps. Once they’re up to speed they’ll be doing work for real clients, income from which will help pay to sustain the programme.

Taylor says his focus is on making Code4000 work smoothly in one prison before expanding it further. He says that despite only one participant having any previous coding experience, the prisoners are taking to the course with enthusiasm.

Greater Manchester relocation

It wasn’t all good news for tech in the North in August. A report by the Centre for Cities said that the BBC’s move to Salford (which included a big chunk of the corporation’s tech team) had made a “negligible” impact on the wider region. However, the BBC and civic leaders kicked back against the report’s claims. Mike Blackburn, chairman of the Greater Manchester Local Enterprise Partnership, branded it “ridiculous”. Greater Manchester Combined Authority said the report ignored “the creative, digital revolution sparked by BBC relocation”.

That contentious report certainly doesn’t seem to have put Amazon off from investing in Greater Manchester. Gossip from the local property sector says the internet giant is eyeing office space in the city centre. What it will do inside that space, meanwhile, is the subject of much debate in the city’s tech community – with no informed conclusions to be found.

September brings with it busier calendars, faster replies to emails, and no doubt much more to report on from the world of Northern tech. I’ll catch up with you in a month’s time for the best of whatever the month holds.

For more tech news from the North of England, visit the North of England section of UKTN.