Tech in the East of England: The October 2017 roundup


Tim Robinson, COO of TechEast, shares his monthly roundup of tech news from the East of England. This month, Robinson brings you an exciting funding opportunity for the region’s universities, and a Suffolk TravelTech startup making impressive partnerships.

As Autumn’s darker evenings and cooler days descend over the east of England, the region’s tech prowess continues to shine. At the start of the month, The University of Suffolk celebrated the first birthday of its Ipswich Waterfront Innovation Centre (IWIC) with the creation of its new Suffolk Centre for Female Entrepreneurship.

The Centre, located in close proximity to the up-and-coming Ipswich Waterfront, will support female entrepreneurs and innovators, as well as supporting and encouraging entrepreneurial spark among students and graduates. By championing diversity and inclusivity, the centre will support growth, innovation, and productivity in the East Anglian economy.

The rush of good news for Ipswich continues: according to Irwin Mitchell’s quarterly tech powerhouse report, the town had the UK’s 5th fastest year-on-year growth rate. Norwich placed just one spot below in the table, with a year-on-year growth rate of 2%. However, it was Cambridge that stole the show in quarter two. The report named Cambridge the UK’s second-fastest growing economy, with a 2.6% growth rate. With each out-performing the likes of London, Manchester, and Birmingham, it’s been a good quarter for the East!

East Anglian universities awarded £4.7m

Two of East Anglia’s top universities have received a share of £4.7m in government funding to encourage collaboration between universities and tech businesses.  

The funding – awarded to the University of East Anglia and the University of Essex by the Higher Education Funding Council for England – will be used to create a support network to encourage innovation in key strength areas such as artificial intelligence, agri-tech, and digital creative industries.

The Enabling Innovation: Research to Application (EIRA) network will build collaborations with businesses, providing partners with access to new funding, training, networking opportunities and collaborative working space.

A third member of the Eastern Academic Research Consortium, the University of Kent, will also benefit from a share of the funding. Other East Anglian universities not in the consortium will also benefit indirectly. Norwich University of the Arts, the University of Suffolk, Writtle University College, and Harlow College have been named education partners in the network.

A number of regional businesses and support organisations will also play a role in the network, including BT, TechEast and Agri-Tech East, South East LEP, New Anglia LEP and Digital Catapult.

Prof Fiona Lettice, UEA pro-vice-chancellor, said: “Universities play a key role in boosting creativity, productivity and economic growth through collaboration and innovation so that research can be effectively used and commercialised. Sharing of knowledge and good practice is vital to continue this economic advancement and we are delighted to receive this support from HEFCE to forge further working relationships and promote the benefits of collaboration across the east of England.”

SoftBank ‘raising larger tech investment fund’

As reported earlier this month, Japanese tech conglomerate SoftBank is allegedly planning to raise a second, and larger, tech investment fund. This is on top of a previous $93bn fund already raised by the company – SoftBank’s Vision Fund.

Though still in early stages, SoftBank’s plans are said to be “conceptual, but serious”.

Some of SoftBank’s existing fund comes, in part, from its purchase of Cambridge tech firm, Arm Holdings. Following the purchase, SoftBank then sold a $8bn stake in the company.

Since its acquisition, Cambridge-based Arm Holdings has remained independent. The tech firm is now on a mission to boost public security and prevent against cyber attacks with a new ‘industry framework’. Their Platform Security Architecture provides built-in security for its chips, and will also help to cut costs.

New Anglia LEP raises £9m fund 

The New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership has offered up £9m for infrastructure projects across Norfolk and Suffolk.  

The LEP has made the funding available following the launch of its new Economic Strategy for the region. The strategy’s targets include the creation of 88,00 new jobs, 30,00 new businesses, and growing the economy by £17.5bn by 2036.

To make these targets a reality, the LEP is inviting suggestions for infrastructure projects that will contribute to growth in the region. As well as infrastructure projects like roads, railways, and buildings, the LEP is also keen to invest in digital innovation infrastructure. In particular, they want to support projects that encourage connectivity and future-proofing, and high level skills.

This is a fast-paced initiative, demonstrating the LEP’s commitment to making fast but impactful changes in the region. The deadline for expressing an interest in a project is 30 November, and all projects funded through this call are intended to be completed by 31 March 2019.

Priority projects already allocated funding from the LEP include energy generation and infrastructure on the Norfolk and Suffolk coast, and development along the Norwich-Cambridge tech corridor alongside the A11.

Staylists partners with Mail Travel

Suffolk TravelTech startup, Staylists, has partnered with Mail Travel to power mailbreaks.co.uk – a new booking site for luxury UK getaways.

Hailing from Martlesham, near Ipswich, Staylists sell rooms for accommodation owners by connecting them to national brands and tourist organisations. Their customisable technology platform also allows their partners to create a branded booking site, while making a small commission on each booking.

Their recent partnership with Mail Travel is just one of a number of relationships to help small hoteliers reach a wider audience – mailbreaks.co.uk alone has over 300,000 unique visitors per month.

Not bad, considering Staylists was only born earlier this year!

ServiceTick bought by Davies Group

Digital solutions firm, Davies Group, has purchased Norwich-based customer experience and analysis firm, ServiceTick.

Founded in 2007, ServiceTick provide customer insights to its clients – primarily in insurance and other regulated markets – through surveys, analytics and consulting. The acquisition is intended to strengthen Davies’ digital capabilities and drive growth and efficiency.

Davies’ purchase of ServiceTick is the firm’s fourth since January 2017, when Silicon Valley investor HGGC took a majority stake in the business.

Jason Wolfe, managing director of ServiceTick said this was an “exciting opportunity” for the firm, and he looked forward to working with the Davies Group team to “develop and strengthen our customer experience solutions to the market”.