Hugh Campbell is Co-founder and Managing Partner at GP Bullhound. This piece first appeared in the newspaper we produced for the Northern Tech Awards, highlighting our Northern Tech 100 league table. The Northern Tech Awards takes in Scotland, larger than Tech North’s remit. That’s why you’ll see references to Edinburgh’s Skyscanner below.
The tech scene in the North is more robust than ever. Over the past twelve months we have seen high profile transactions as well as growth from key regional players.
Behind these private sector successes, there is a visible recognition from the public sector regarding the importance of technology to the Northern economy. Furthermore, there has been a flow of people and funding from corporates to the North as they seek to develop their technology platforms and offerings. The momentum is with the North when it comes to technology. The story we have all long believed is starting to become reality. Technology is coming home to the North.
Skyscanner stole the headlines with its sale to the Chinese travel firm Ctrip for £1.4 billion – a fantastic and pioneering journey for the Northern tech scene which saw a business go from back bedroom to global unicorn. Skyscanner is no ash-in-the- pan experience, as demonstrated by the likes of BooHoo.com, MoneySupermarket.com and AO.com which have all achieved ‘unicorn’ status. Critically, these business are all underpinned by strong revenues and have been able to show sustained growth over a number of years.
Rearing the ‘foals’
Beneath the ‘unicorns,’ there is a plethora of smaller, but no less ambitious companies, the ‘Northern Foals,’ with the aspiration, the ambitions, the capability and the products to become the next Unicorns.
It should be the aim of everyone involved in the tech scene in the North to help these businesses achieve their obvious potential. This includes companies like On the Beach, GB Group and Zuto which have used a digital platform to transform more traditional industries. Although based in the North, their scope is very much UK-wide and they are looking to roll out their models overseas too. Others like Performance Horizon and TheLADbible have already established a significant international footprint. Like SkyScanner before them, they too have caught the eye of international corporates and investors for the real innovation and value they can bring to their customers.
The success of these private sector companies has spurred on the policy makers in the region. This infrastructure is vital to support, maintain and grow the tech ecosystem. It is also recognition of how important technology is and will continue to be for the region. This support is focused on three key areas: funding, promotion and education.
There was been consistent feedback about funding gaps within the North, however this is slowly been addressed. Amongst other organisations, there has been the launch of the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund and Accelerated Digital Ventures which receive both private investment alongside funding from the British Business Bank.
Something to shout about
Across the North, there are now a number of organisations, particularly at a local government level, looking to shout about the achievements both locally and regionally. Tech North, Sunderland Software City, DotForge, Dynamo and Digital Union are all examples of organisations which are focused on developing and promoting the tech ecosystem in their specific regions. Crucially, as these ecosystems develop, it also encourages the skills developed in the region to remain.
Ultimately, tech in the North is about the people and equipping those people with the skills to create globally successful companies. We are lucky to have some of the best universities in the world which are producing highly skilled graduates. Nevertheless, there is still an identified shortage of key technology skills. A number of apprenticeship schemes are being promoted across the region to ensure the talent pool is available to ensure continued tech investment in the region.
Finally, we should not forget the North has a lot more to offer the tech community: an excellent transport infrastructure, good international airports, a relatively inexpensive standard of living, the opportunity to live and work in a city, yet have some of the most stunning countryside on your doorstep.
The reasons for the continued success of tech in the North are compelling.