10 questions everyone’s asking about Tech Nation

Vicki Shiel, November 17, 2017 6 min read

This article was originally posted on the Tech City UK website.

1. What is Tech Nation? Is it an incubator, an accelerator or a physical space?

No, it is none of those things. In April 2018, Tech Nation will be the new name for Tech City UK (which includes Tech North.) It is an independent, not for profit organisation, backed by public and private funding, that aims to transform this country from a collection of standalone tech clusters into a strong national network of digital excellence that is recognised internationally. In other words, we connect the dots between clusters; we don’t build clusters. We do this through programmes, research and events that raise the profile of the UK’s national tech network. Through our activities, we gather information, share knowledge and stories, raise the game of tech entrepreneurs across the country and feedback to policymakers about common impediments to digital growth.

2. Why did Tech City UK need to change?

Tech City was born six years ago with a mission to make London a tech destination. We connected the dots and created a flourishing ecosystem, helping to make London the global tech leader it is today. London is now Europe’s tech capital, and the envy of many tech hubs in helping entrepreneurs start and grow a digital business.

Three years ago we expanded our activities to the North and created a region of tech excellence across the North of England, with great success. Many of the pilots are now full-blown programmes we want to scale across key cities.

We are arguably the longest running and most successful ecosystem builder in Europe. We are connected, trusted by entrepreneurs, with unrivalled expertise in catalysing growth in tech companies at different stages of their growth

Now we are stepping up a gear. With the government’s backing – as announced by the Prime Minister – we will take this proven formula and build a national network across 11 regions, becoming Tech Nation.

3. Why now?

The digital tech sector has never been just about East London or the Northern hotspots, where Tech City UK and Tech North have their bases. Digital tech clusters have sprung up all over the country from Bristol and Bath in the West Country, to Edinburgh and Glasgow in Scotland. But if the UK is to retain its position as Europe’s centre for tech, we need to develop and strengthen these clusters into a nationwide network of digital excellence. It is time to transcend boundaries that limit growth by sharing knowledge and connecting companies and entrepreneurs across the whole country.

Now is the time to scale up and make the whole of the UK a global success. Now is the time to embrace the opportunities at home and elevate every part of our island nation onto the world stage. The UK is the place to come to nourish and grow a tech business. Now is the time to think and act as one Tech Nation.

4. What will you do on the ground?

We are going to do five things:

  • Build a national network of digital excellence – connect and catalyse growth in 11 regional tech clusters (including the current Northern regions and London) through scaling programmes for tech entrepreneurs. These programmes are suited to each stage of a company’s lifecycle, from regional meet-ups and pitching contests for early stage companies to national programmes that bring together mid and late stage companies.
  • Cultivate Sectors – help entrepreneurs in three emerging tech sectors (such as AI, Fintech, Cybersecurity) scale effectively by connecting them to peers and potential investors in clusters across the country with the same sector focus.
  • Scale Learning – equip ambitious and aspiring entrepreneurs with the skills they need to start, join and scale digital ventures by expanding the content and reach of the Digital Business Academy and the support for talent and skills we offer through our programmes.
  • Monitor, Inform and Champion –  publish regular insight and data on the UK’s burgeoning ecosystem
  • Attract more global tech tech talent to the UK – increase the number of applicants to the exceptional tech talent visa to take advantage of the higher 2,000 limit for all exceptional talent visas.

5. How have you chosen your selected regions?

Using the insights we gathered for our annual Tech Nation report, we identified a shortlist of tech clusters on a promising growth trajectory.

Factors that impacted our decision included quantitative data such as digital tech jobs, advertised digital salaries, digital business concentration, digital GVA, digital tech startup births, and the increase in digital tech businesses. Plus qualitative data on talent supply, quality of life, digital growth optimism and transport infrastructure.

The current list of regional cities is not the last word and the regions will be reviewed every year. If appropriate, Tech Nation will shift support to other emerging tech clusters as the data changes.

The current list is:

  • Midlands = Birmingham
  • Scotland = Edinburgh/Glasgow
  • Northern Ireland = Belfast
  • Wales = Cardiff
  • Greater London = London
  • North West = Manchester
  • North East = Newcastle
  • Yorkshire & Humberside = Leeds/Sheffield
  • East = Cambridge
  • West = Bristol/Bath
  • M4 Corridor = Reading

6. What do I get if I’m in one of the 11 regional cities selected?

As stated above, Tech Nation is about connecting the dots, not creating new tech clusters or replicating the good work being done already by dozens of local organisations.  From our experience in London and the North, we’ve learned how to create connections in a very lean way. In each of the regional cities, we will have one Community Engagement Manager (and perhaps one intern) who will work in local co-working spaces. While the cities cited will be their base, their overall remit will build connections to create a national network of digital excellence. They will help local tech founders engage on research and insights, engage with our programs, share knowledge and raise profile within a national and international narrative, where relevant/possible.

Their role will be to…

  • engage with the community in the new clusters
  • facilitate our early-stage programmes in the region (similar to Founders’ Network and Northern Stars that operate today in the North.)
  • promote other Tech Nation programmes, such as our free online Digital Business Academy courses, and our later stage programmes of Future Fifty and Upscale and sector programmes.
  • connect regional tech entrepreneurs with opportunities across the country
  • gather intelligence, share learnings and distribute research about the national and regional tech ecosystem.

7. What if my city wasn’t included in those 11 regional cities announced?

Our activities go much further than the network of regional community engagement managers. We have staff who will be engaged in the national activities from our current bases in London and Manchester and several other locations.

Across the country, Tech Nation will:

  • Teach those who want to start, join or grow a digital business the key skills they need in bite-size chunks online through its Digital Business Academy. We are promoting the use of this through libraries, banks and other learning organisations.
  • Run scaling programmes for tech entrepreneurs that are open to anyone who meets the criteria and is selected. We aren’t placing boundaries on where applicants come from for any of our entrepreneurial programmes. We expect that many people will be prepared to travel to events and workshops, but hopefully they will be able to find events within a reasonable distance.
  • Our Tech Nation research covers the whole country, and we wish to continue to work with our community partners to gather the views and data from every corner of the UK. This will ensure we are always placing our efforts on the most promising areas
  • We often run large events that are live streamed. Anyone, from any part of the country, can participate through our live streams if they can’t attend in person.
  • There are no doors closed to those who don’t reside in the named regional cities. We hope that those who live outside the named cities can still plug into that network of tech excellence.

8. How will you work with other organisations such as Local Enterprise Partnerships?

Our aim is complement what is already being delivered locally and drive connections between existing hubs to create a strong national network. We are used to working with lots of different stakeholders, whether community organisations, local councils, LEPs, educational institutions and industry groups. It takes efforts from many quarters to build a successful tech ecosystem. We look forward to continuing the work we have begun with existing community partners and to starting a fruitful relationship with new partners right across the country.

9. When am I going to see the impact?

We are an agile organisation, and live by the creed of small, quick iterations is better than one, slow big bang. We’ll stick to this incremental scaling approach as we extend our activities across new regions and new sectors. In our first year (starting April 2018), we expect to add three or four new regions to our existing four regions of London, Northeast, Northwest and Yorkshire & Humberside. In our second year, we’ll roll out the remaining regions so we have 11 fully operational by March 2020. We will also be adding one new sector programme (such as an AI focused programme) every year for the next two years. This approach means we can adapt to the special needs of each region and sector we work in, and learn from each roll out before embarking on the next one.

We do not yet know the order of the regional expansion. In January, we are engaging with key stakeholders in the regions to understand their unique challenges and help us shape our expansion plan.

10. Are you Tech Nation now?

Officially, we plan to become Tech Nation when the new financial year starts in April 2018. We are currently preparing for that rebrand and the expansion of our activities across the country while also delivering against our objectives for this financial year as Tech City UK and Tech North.