Romilly Dennys, executive director at Coadec, looks at how Liverpool can become a leading tech hub.
Debbie Edwards is a founder on a mission: to create a world where the skills, career choices and life aspirations of girls and women are equally matched across every global sector – starting with tech.
I witnessed Debbie in action this week when she invited me to join a female disruptors hackathon in Liverpool. I left in no doubt that Debbie will help inspire a generation of young women to re-imagine their tech-driven future, even if it takes them down the road less traveled.
For the stats speak for themselves: only 17% of tech positions are taken by women. Over 45% of those leave mid career, and 80% of apps are built by men. But Debbie is breaking down stereotypes and stats to brilliant effect: to encourage the idea that digital technology is often simply an enabler to creating new and exciting opportunities: across all industries, sectors and regions.
Some 200 miles away, the chancellor was setting out his own economic-styled mission, where we “build on our strengths in tech innovation to ensure the next generation of discoveries is made, developed and produced in Britain.” Echoing the Prime Minister earlier in the week who said: “Britain will be the global go-to place for scientists, innovators and tech investors.”
Back in the present and the startup grind in Liverpool, I put this to entrepreneurs at Launch22, a co-working space at The Tempest Building and the Baltic Triangle district: located in the city’s oldest business sectors – the port – and now at the forefront of its newest: creative and digital industries.
How can Liverpool become a go-to place for scientists, innovators and tech investors? For if the government is committed to re-balancing the economy, we must re-imagine our approach through effective devolution and the ‘modern Industrial Strategy’ – and ensure that all our cities are punching at full capacity.
When the government speaks of new “tech corridors” from Oxford to Cambridge, why not Manchester to Liverpool as part of the Northern Powerhouse? It’s here that George Osborne will play a central role in making sure that his Northern Powerhouse Partnership focuses not only on traditional industry types and civic leaders, but so too, the entrepreneurs, startups and inspiring leaders that are re-imagining the future of Liverpool.
For digital innovation exists right across the city. From the young girls working with Debbie, to the startups at the Baltic Triangle, including Red Ninja, an Internet of Things startup that recently won a £1.1m contract on the Prime Minister’s trade trip to India.
To the emerging technologies and techniques that are being developed at the regions 3,000 manufacturing businesses. Sigmate, a weaver of carbon fibre and other industrial textiles was the first to install a 3D weaving machine in the world and is now advancing manufacturing techniques and simulation of 3D textiles, currently held back by a lack of analysis techniques.
But there is much to be done. Take the recent Nesta Digital European Index for digital entrepreneurship. London topped the list. But Liverpool? Out of 50 European cities it didn’t feature. While Liverpool keeps just 31% of graduates, ranking it 12th in the UK.
Against a backdrop of Brexit, there has never been a more important time for governments – national and local – to adopt the mission-led approach of founders like Debbie, and make sure that the skills, career choices and aspirations of our cities are matched across every region – starting with tech.