12 min read
Meet Vicky Hunter: our South West Entrepreneur Engagement Manager
Whether you’re a founder looking for connections or support, a stakeholder embedded in a local community or are simply interested in what’s going on in a region, our Entrepreneur Engagement Managers (or ‘EEMs’ for short) are on the ground in towns and cities and ready to help.
In this series of articles we’re telling you more about our EEMs’ roles and views about tech in the country. Here we speak to Vicky Hunter, our South West Entrepreneur Engagement Manager based in Bristol.
Tell us a bit about yourself
I’ve spent eight years working with tech startups in various engagement roles. I’m from the North East and that’s where it all started; I was invited along to a Thinking Digital event in Newcastle where I met some of the founders that were part of Ignite 100’s first cohort. I got involved with one of the startups, Givey, running an event alongside my Events Management Masters degree.
When I moved to London a year later it was Ignite contacts that got me a job with Central Working, based at Google Campus. I was absorbed by the amazing community of tech founders and entrepreneurs and became a part of the ecosystem, running events, facilitating introductions and supporting people in whatever way I could.
I joined 3beards, a well-loved grassroots events and community company responsible for many of the early day hackathons and networking events that took place in and around Old Street.
A real highlight was filling the warehouse that went on to become the now very smart Second Home, with 700 tech startups dressed up as Alice and Wonderland characters, for a huge tech party. I worked with many stakeholders in the ecosystem including Tech City before the expansion of Tech North and now of course a rebrand to Tech Nation.
I left London at the end of 2016 and tried my hand at the ‘digital ‘nomad’ lifestyle, working as a freelance marketing and community manager while travelling from India to Indonesia, China to Cuba and a lot of other wonderful places. I also set up my own company Little Red, supporting and running retreats to encourage wellness and personal development.
Other than that all you need to know is I’m a foodie and I love to sing! Since moving to the South West, I’ve been excited to try all the amazing restaurants and cafes on offer and have joined the Bristol Show Choir which I adore.
What wins have you had since starting? What impact have they made?
I moved to Bristol the day I started the job, so a lot of what I’ve been doing so far is trying to integrate myself into the existing community. What I have found is that everyone in the South West is incredibly generous with their time, the connections they make and the warmth with which I feel I’ve been welcomed.
I was recently in London for the Rising Stars finals and was incredibly proud when two South West companies – Metasonics (Bristol) and People Matter (Bournemouth) – were announced as winners. A few days later I was at the Impact Awards; not only did Margot James (Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries) mention the strengthening regional clusters, but Paul Miller, CEO of Bethnal Green Ventures, also used Bristol-based company Lettus Grow as his example of exciting technologies.
Day-to-day there are small wins from making valuable introductions, sign-posting entrepreneurs to relevant resources and giving feedback, advice and encouragement, and with time and an increased understanding of the South West tech ecosystem, we’ll see more and more value and impact from this role.
Have you met any exciting companies?
The South West is full of really exciting technology from robotics to quantum computing, cyber to silicon chips. There’s a bunch of cool green technology like Bristol’s most recent unicorn Ovo Energy and, as I previously mentioned, Lettus Grow delivers aeroponic solutions for indoor farming.
I’ve been incredibly impressed by the support companies are giving each other. For example I visited Steve, the CEO of Ultrahaptics which has raised £65m of investment for their mid-air touch technology. Earlier that day I had met Zara from Gap Square, tackling the issues of pay gap and diversity in business. Both companies spoke highly of each other and it transpired that Steve is on Zara’s board. There is a real sense of teogetherness here in the South West which for me is really exciting.
What challenges are founders facing in your region?
Like everywhere funding is a struggle but with the lure of incredibly intelligent tech coming out of the South West, I’m optimistic that that is changing.
Poor transport and infrastructure across what is a fairly rural dominated region makes it more difficult to access events, talent and funding. It seems a small thing but to get to an event such as the recent Pitch@Palace in Exeter, when there are bus replacement rail services from Taunton, “popping down” suddenly becomes four hours of commuting and for anyone with disabilities to deal with on top, travel can become not only time consuming but also very expensive.
Hiring relevant skills is a challenge I hear repeated again and again and it’s a symptom of the rapid growth of tech companies, competing for the best talent, in pools that can’t quite keep up. There are a lot of really great Universities in the South West but the concern is that graduates’ skills are too quickly outdated, and they aren’t “work-ready”, meaning that apprenticeships and high quality work experience placement are hugely important. To end on a positive note, some amazing organisations such Bath’s Mayden Academy and Rocket Makers provide training and support to companies in need of technical skills.