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Tech in the North of England: The September 2017 roundup

Liverpool

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

One of the things people who move to the North to work in tech quickly realise is that the industry isn’t restricted to a few cities. Successful companies of all sizes are everywhere, from big conurbations to tiny villages.

So, it was good to see this recognised with the recent launch of WA Digital. The trade body represents the digital sector in the enormous Warrington postcode area, which covers a swathe of land between Liverpool and Manchester. It will focus on connecting, training and holding events for the sector, and follows similar organisations in cities across the North. If the Yorkshire Dales doesn’t have its own digital trade body soon, I’ll eat my hat with a side of Wensleydale.

Meanwhile, the Northern Powerhouse Partnership was busy promoting the idea of more investment in the North’s digital sector. It called for a ‘Digital North’ initiative to boost investment opportunities and promote economic growth.

In addition to a £30m fund for startups and improved connectivity, it also suggests a ‘Northern Centre of Excellence for Civic Computation.’ This would use AI, machine learning and data analytics to address social and economic inequality. The proposals are up for consideration for the government’s budget announcement next month.

From possible future investment to real, present-day deals. Manchester MedTech firm eLucid mHealth has received investment from the GM&C Life Sciences Fund. While the figure wasn’t made public, analysts Beauhurst have pegged it at £12.9m. eLucid’s smartphone-connected packaging for medication is due to launch next year.

Manchester was also home to the second-largest Northern deal of the month. Peak, which offers a data analytics platform for businesses, took £2.5m in a round led by MMC Ventures. This is notable as London VCs don’t tend to do deals ‘up North,’ despite them often telling me how much they’d like to. To its credit, MMC has been looking North for at least a couple of years, and has been talking to Peak for much of that time.

The local investment scene in the North is evolving to better serve the needs of the region. We have everything from student VCs, to a distributed accelerator. Now Liverpool firm Nova is addressing the problem of founders with a solid business idea but who can’t find a technical co-founder.

Nova could be described as ‘incubator meets co-founder.’ It uses a structured approach to develop businesses with first-time founders. Its investment comes in the form of building the tech in-house and helping shape the business. It takes a co-founder equity stake, and dilutes like a co-founder if other investors come on board at a later date.

The company has a promising track record, and while its approach isn’t a good fit for everyone, Nova is addressing a real gap in the market.

It’s always good to see successful companies give a leg up to those just starting out. That’s what we’ve seen in the North East, as accounting software giant Sage – born in Newcastle and still headquartered there – offered a trip to the US city of Atlanta for two local startups.

Web accessibility service Recite Me, and DroneOps (you get one guess what they’re involved with), were chosen by a judging panel to make the trip which will help them expand their businesses into the US market.

Speaking of opportunities for startups, at Tech North, our Northern Stars competition hit the road, with regional heats in Leeds and Liverpool. Synap and Ruler Analytics won on the nights, and both get fast-tracked to the grand final next month. There’s one more regional heat, taking place this Thursday, 5 October in Newcastle.

The tech workspace market in Manchester shows no sign of slowing down. And WeWork, which announced its first space in the city back in July, has already revealed plans for another.

It remains to be seen whether demand will catch up with supply in the city, but it seems to be getting there, as established businesses warm to a way of working that used to be the preserve of startups and freelancers. I recently looked at Colony, a lovely space that has recently opened and seems to be attracting more of a marketing and creative crowd, for example.

And finally, tech entrepreneurs will welcome the news that the government will invest £400m in improving rail connections in the North. But they’ll probably have one eye on a list Hyperloop One published in September of 10 prime routes around the world for future hyperloop development. Two of them ran through the North of England.

Anyone who’s ever spent four hours on a train from Newcastle to Liverpool will relish the idea of doing the journey in 26 minutes. Sadly there are no concrete plans for such a route, but we can dream…