Tech North: the time is now

Tech North: the time is now

The new Tech North director, Richard Gregory, has had a lot on his plate in his six weeks in post. He’s used that time to identify the opportunities offered in the Tech North offer for Northern businesses, detailing how and why firms should get involved now.

Since I was offered the role of Director of Tech North on the 15th of June, a lot has changed in the world. The EU referendum result has brought Brexit onto the horizon, there’s been a change of Prime Minister and cabinet, not to mention Chris Evans quitting Top Gear – there’s been a lot to adjust to.

I’ve not been deterred though, because there’s more need than ever for Tech North. Businesses naturally have concerns over trade with Europe and bringing the best talent from the continent to work in the UK. However, entrepreneurs tend to thrive in a changing and challenging environment. For example, there’s an opportunity for exporters to thrive right now, and it’s an encouraging sign that key investors still have an appetite for UK companies.

The UK digital economy is growing 32% faster than the wider economy and is creating jobs 2.8 times faster. I joined Tech North because there’s a huge opportunity in bringing the North of England together as a joined-up offering that’s stronger together.

Here’s what we’re working on to make an impact on the Northern tech sector.

Trade and investment

Tech North’s trade and investment activity, led by Jennifer Hartley, is all about raising the profile of the North of England as a preferred business location for tech companies from elsewhere in the UK and overseas. We also promote export opportunities for the tech products and services created here.

We work with UKTI and seven key Tech North cities (Hull, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield and Sunderland) to tell a single narrative. It’s about promoting ourselves as a collective rather than as rival cities. We’re not competing against London but on a global stage against hubs like Berlin, Tel Aviv and San Francisco.

This work has seen us create marketing tools such as ‘curator platform’ apps which are currently available for iOS on the App Store. These apps cover opportunities in three key sectors. Take a look at Heath tech (in partnership with NHSA), Education tech (in partnership with Ed Tech UK), and Digital media and entertainment.

Trade missions are an important part of the mix. We’re organising targeted overseas missions to events like SXSW in Austin, Dreamforce in San Francisco and Kidscreen in Miami.

The Tech Nation Visa scheme is key in attracting talent to the North of England. Supported by Ward Hadaway, we’ll be organising a number of events to promote the scheme and provide advice.

Northern Stars

Our Northern Stars competition is back for 2016. Just like last year, we want to raise profile of the best tech startups in the North and provide them with high value connections. A great example of the impact it can have is Peak. They raised £1 million thanks in part to an investor they met on the first programme.

We’re looking to raise the bar this year in terms of scale, the number of companies applying and attendees. Companies involved in all areas of tech can apply, whether that’s virtual reality, medtech, artificial intelligence, drones or anything else.

The 10 winners after the grand final will receive this year’s prize package. This includes trips to TechCrunch Disrupt London, a Bloomberg investor pitch event, the GP Bullhound Northern Tech Awards, The Next Web Conference Europe in Amsterdam, plus the option to be involved in our trade missions, such as to SXSW in Texas.

Founders’ Network

Founders’ Network is a six-month bespoke programme of tailored learning from world-class delivery partners, delivered across three regions in the North. In addition to hearing from experts, founders will be able to provide support to each other. This is a valuable chance to compare your experiences in a safe environment that isn’t about pitches or selling.

Think of it as the flip side of the coin to Northern Stars – helping to develop you business from the inside rather than promote it to the world. It offers free, accelerator-style education, without the intensive time commitment – you just need to attend one afternoon a month. It’s chance for startup founders to work ontheir business rather than in their business

The co-investment fund

Accessing finance is a key issue facing Northern tech companies. Investment is hard to access and it’s even difficult just to work out where to go to find out about it. Investors don’t often operate right across the North. There are no tier-one VCs, and there are fewer SEIS and EIS funds and angel syndicates than are found in London.

The co-investment fund that Tech North is planning would co-ordinate investors, leading to the creation of more SEISEIS funds. It would put more capital into the ecosystem and act as a ‘hub’ for tech investment activity.

Co-investment funds have been successful elsewhere, from Tel Aviv to London. This fund would address the North’s issues around access to finance and have a tangible impact on the technology sector.

The fund would be between £20m and £30m and invest in rounds of between £150,000 and either £1.5m or £2m, depending on the fund’s eventual size. Around 50% of the funding would be set aside for ‘follow-on’ investment in portfolio companies.

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The blog was published in full on the Tech North website.