As Director of Tech North, one of the first things that jumped out at me from the Northern Tech 100 league table was the diversity of the sectors. In the largest six companies alone, there’s everything from ecommerce and transport, to telecoms and gaming.
Something that’s really exciting is the age of some of these companies. Twenty-six of them have been created in the last five years. TheLADbible, for example, is a really fast-growing, young business with impressive revenues, who have used social media in exciting new ways; so that’s an interesting trend to watch.
Of course, you can’t help but get drawn into some of the things that are still holding companies back. One of the challenges we find in the North is that there’s relatively less access to funding at early stages. It is disproportionately hard in the North of England to get funding. There’s a real job to increase awareness with angel investors in the region that tech is a good opportunity.
68 percent of the businesses on this table have had no VC backing; they’re still growing at a phenomenal rate — which of course, is a wonderful thing. Imagine how great that list could be if we had more access to funding?
We’re seeing more connectivity between Liverpool and Manchester in the Northwest and Sheffield, Leeds and Hull in Yorkshire; but we’ve still got a challenge to get people thinking cross-region. There are still very few pan-Northern organisations on the list; something I find odd. A lot of the companies are very big in one location.
One of the big challenges in the tech space is procuring more talent. I think SkyBet is a good example of how pan-northern growth can help resolve this issue. They launched in Leeds and grew to the point where they had over 1,000 employees. When they realised there’s only so much in the talent pool, they opened a second office in Sheffield, where they employ another 150 to 200 people. I absolutely expect them to open another office in the North at some point. With a pan-Northern mindset, they’ll continue to grow.
It’s extremely important to acknowledge the lack of gender diversity in this table. I think the best that you can extrapolate is that 23 of the companies on the list have female shareholders. They’re not predominantly the owners, founders or majority shareholders; I think only 10 of them are at least co-owners so they have at least 50 percent shareholding. That’s got to change; we’ve got a lot more work to do in this space.
That’s one of the areas the whole industry has to focus on, so that this table is much more representative in years to come. Historically, the league table has been a top 50, so the fact that we’ve extended it to 100 this year — that there are so many opportunities to talk about — is really reassuring. We’re talking about a growth market that feels really sustainable.