Tech in the North of England: The July roundup
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.
Tech aside, the biggest story of all from the North in the past month was the scaling back of rail electrification projects. But the response from the region’s leaders showed that they’re finding a collective voice. While some may fear that the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ has taken a back seat on the government’s agenda, leaders up here seem more willing now to speak up for what they want.
Case in point: July saw Greater Manchester’s mayor, Andy Burnham, stage a digital summit. The aim was to thrash out a plan to make Manchester the UK’s leading digital city, and top five in Europe. Set aside how you might practically rank digital cities, and the ambition here was admirable. People with an interest in digital engagement from across the public and private sectors and beyond convened to discuss boosting things like skills provision and connectivity in the city.
It was a collaborative, grassroots approach to policy making. Burnham will hold a follow-up event in December to nail down the details. This seems more about setting a strategy to deliver, rather than saying ‘wouldn’t it be nice’ in endless meetings over and over. Refreshing.
Manchester certainly seems to have hit its stride as a ‘tech city’ of late. This month, global coworking giant WeWork announced its first space in the city, which will open in a few months’ time. It joins a now competitive market for tech-focused office space in the city. As something of a ‘premium’ brand, can it make a mark? Still, WeWork’s presence is a vote of confidence for the city’s growing and buoyantly optimistic tech sector.
Meanwhile, Liverpool’s Sensor City development, which pitches itself as a global hub for sensor technologies, has welcomed a trio of new companies to call it home. They include Terry Nelson, a former Liverpool FC player and paratrooper who has created the Aqua Running body suit for working out in water. Wales’ Uplec Industries, meanwhile, will use Sensor City’s labs to test remote physiotherapy treatments.
Staying with facilities, there was celebration in Leeds as £850,000 from the £3.7m Leeds Tech Hub Fund was awarded to Duke Studios and FutureLabs. The money comes from funds allocated by George Osborne in the spring 2015 budget at the same time as similar amounts went to projects in Sheffield and Manchester. The funds ended up with local authorities who have taken their time picking tech-focused properties deserving of the cash.
Sky and the BBC have been in something of a trans-Pennine competition for tech-focused staff over the past couple of years. It’s not uncommon to hear of people making a career leap between the Beeb’s Salford base and Sky’s in Leeds, or vice-versa. That seems unlikely to calm down with the news that Sky is expanding its Northern headcount as part of a drive to boost its streaming offering. The news came just weeks after the BBC announced 200 new digital jobs in Salford to develop new products in partnership with content teams.
One thing entrepreneurs often say about the Northern investment scene is that it’s difficult to find angels unless you happen to already know one. There’s plenty of money around, but finding the right person to put theirs in your bank account can be tough. So, it’s encouraging to hear that Warrington-based business advisory firm Dow Schofield Watts announced last week that its new Angel Network attracted more than 50 investors in its first month.
DSW Angels connects startups with suitable angels. It’s a bid to replicate the success of similar networks in cities like Edinburgh and Cambridge. If you’re interested in hearing more, the firm will be holding events in Leeds and Manchester early this autumn.
An underdeveloped angel scene doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of investments going in the North. Tech North’s latest quarterly Investment Index, out this week, shows a total of £63.7m of investment took place across the North between April and June. The largest deal of the quarter was Altrincham-based afforditNOW, which raised £24.5m.
In July, the North’s biggest reported tech investment was Push Doctor’s $26.1m Series B round, led by Accelerated Digital Ventures and Draper Esprit. The Manchester-based startup is one of several players in the market that connects GPs with patients for online consultations. Founder and CEO Eren Ozagir says Push Doctor has “been able to scope and create a data-driven digital health platform that will treat the whole person”. Look out for a new product from the company before the end of the year.
Initial Coin Offerings, where startups raise money via their own cryptocurrencies, are a hot topic in the USA at the moment. You can argue that they’re faddy, potentially scammy and only popular because UK-style crowdfunding is illegal in the States, but ICOs are certainly intriguing. The first potential ICO I’m aware of in the North doesn’t come from a startup per se, but from an unusual community initiative, HullCoin.
HullCoin is a form of currency that, when launched, will offer discounts in local stores in exchange for acts of good in the community. Now its founders are planning a full-on bitcoin-style cryptocurrency that they believe could be a way for Hull to offer Universal Basic Income to its residents in the future.
Finally, we at Tech North opened applications for our Northern Stars startup competition and our Founders Network support community for tech entrepreneurs. They’re both great opportunities for Northern entrepreneurs.
For the latest news and information on tech firms in th North of England, visit the North of England section on UKTN.