2017: A year in review

Gerard Grech, December 22, 2017 8 min read

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

Tech City UK CEO, Gerard Grech, takes a look back at 2017

Looking back, it’s been a year that has moved at breakneck speed. Many challenges, unknowns, and breakthroughs. So I’d like to share Tech City UK’s year in review 2017.

As you may know, the UK Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in November that from April 2018 Tech City UK will be renamed Tech Nation – an evolved organisation with an evolved remit to connect the UK’s standalone tech clusters into one strong network of digital excellence, with an even greater international standing.

Such has been the pace and quality of our delivery in 2017 in Tech City UK and Tech North that barely a week goes by without a programme launch, pitch competition, insights report, editorial series, community event, groundbreaking initiative or a visit to anywhere from Newcastle to the Design Museum.

To refresh our memories, here’s a few of the things we’ve achieved this year…


To say it was a busy month is an understatement. We announced the second cohort of Upscale, our Series A growth programme, with 33 exciting scaleups including Monzo, Bulb, and Northern Stars alumni DueCourse and LivingLens joining for 2017. We finalised the Fintech Delivery Panel with 24 industry experts from banks, fintech startups and VC funds. We partnered with Innogy Innovation Hub and Seedcamp to understand startup investment needs, and Tech North kicked off a Crowdfunding Roadshow in Manchester, before heading on to Liverpool, Wakefield and Newcastle.

Future Fifty Going Global roundtable, discussing how to expand internationally

​Matthew Gould, MBE, Director General for Digital and Media at this year’s Upscale 2.0 launch event

Watch: Upscale 2.0 launch at Somerset House


26 new companies joined Future Fifty, including Onfido, Blis, and Upscale alumni Bloom & Wild, Kano, Thread and Receipt Bank. The 10 Northern Stars winners visited 10 Downing Street, followed by a prestigious pitch event at Bloomberg. Alongside all of this, we partnered with WSGR on an ‘Expansion to the US’ advice series to help scaleups go global.

​​The Rt. Honourable Greg Clark, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, at this year’s Future Fifty launch at the Design Museum, welcoming the new companies from all over the UK

Watch: Announcing the 26 Companies Joining Future Fifty in 2017


We trained 28 talented women in tech in public speaking as part of our Northern Voices initiative, to help promote the diversity of speakers at tech events and in the media. We launched the Northern Tech 100 League Table and newspaper ranking the top 100 tech companies in the North of England, held the Founders’ Network Summit in Sheffield for early-stage founders, and started the Tech North Investment Index, tracking quarterly venture capital investment in Northern startups, receiving coverage in the Sunday Times. Tech North collaborated with the UKBAA Conference pitch event, and brought the Northern Stars winners to SXSW in Austin and the Northern Tech Awards in Newcastle. Tech City UK took to the road too, taking Tech Nation 2017 on tour to Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Liverpool, London and Newcastle, in an action-packed two weeks. Tech Nation 2017, the most comprehensive report on the state of UK tech, was once again a huge hit, with over 200,000 views.

​​The panel discussion from the Tech Nation 3.0 report launch at the Royal Institution with the CEO of Innovate UK, Ruth McKernan; Stephen Kelly, CEO of Sage, Giles Palmer, CEO of Brandwatch; Saul Klein, partner at Local Globe; Wendy Tan White, partner at BGF Ventures and Editor at Large at Tech Crunch, Mike Butcher. This was after a keynote speech from The Rt. Honourable Karen Bradley, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Watch: Tech Nation 2017 in Numbers

12 Future Fifty companies attend a roundtable at Number 10, talking tech talent and GDPR​

April and May

The Tech Nation Visa Scheme entered its fourth year with quadruple the number of applications. The Digital Jobs Action Summit took place in Leeds with over 150 attendees, to define a Digital Jobs Strategy – coming soon. UpSkill was launched to accelerate the growth of Northern digital skills providers. We launched the ‘Founder to Founder’ knowledge-sharing video series with Future Fifty and Upscale founders, and the ‘Boomerangs’ video series, sharing the stories of skilled digital professionals who have moved back North from London to work in tech.

​Founders’ Network social event in Manchester​

June and July

The summer started with two of our own events at London Tech Week, including Tech Nation 2022 where we released the results of a survey on where the UK tech industry sees itself in five years’ time. Tech City UK became a founding member and contributor of Touchpaper, a free toolkit to help startups and corporates work together. The Tech Nation Visa Alumni network was launched, providing networking opportunities, support and advice for its members. Future Fifty companies attended a roundtable at Number 10 where they talked tech talent, investment and data. Tech North held Summer Showcases across the North, raising awareness for their initiatives, and launching the callouts for Founders’ Network and Northern Stars. UpSkill brought together 16 leading Northern digital skills providers to help them scale and diversify their training, and after six months of world-class, vital mentorship and networking events, the Upscale 2.0 cohort became alumni.

​Tech Nation Visa Alumni Network meetup, offering networking opportunities, support and advice


Before the dust had even settled on the Upscale closing event, we launched a knowledge-sharing series with Upscale alumni founders. Tech North’s Angel Network was announced, connecting startups with Angel investors in the North.

Angel Network roundtable in Wakefield


The Fintech For All competition opened, supported by the Treasury, searching for fintech startups making financial services work for everyone. Northern Stars regional pitch events were held in Leeds and Liverpool, and the Angel Network launched with a series of sold out events across the North. The Founders’ Network Facebook platform went live for its members.

​Fintech For All final at the Bishopsgate Institute

Watch: Meet the Fintech For All finalists


We launched the Tech Nation Talks series, focussing on topics of key importance to the tech industry, such as failure, culture and mental health, starting with ‘Bad VCs’, which prompted a lively discussion. Applications were opened for Upscale 3.0, quickly attracting 94 applications of an unprecedented high standard. The Fintech Delivery Panel set out its guiding principles. A Northern Stars regional pitch event was held in Newcastle. The Northern Ecosystem Map was released, displaying coworking spaces, incubators, accelerators and digital businesses across the North.  We also published the first of four Tech Nation Talent reports in partnership with Nesta. The series of research reports looks at talent and skills in the UK tech sector, with the first report focussing on the nationality of tech workers in the UK. From October to December Founders’ Network delivered webinar content and numerous breakfast events in cities across the North.

Hello Tech Nation​


A very big month for everyone in the tech industry and at Tech City UK and Tech North, with the announcement by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of £21m in funding over four years to support our expansion and rebranding to Tech Nation. In addition the Home Office increased the number of Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visas from 1,000 to 2,000. A strong vote of confidence for the UK tech industry.

​​Tech Nation Talks with Eric Ries at CASS Business School

If we weren’t busy enough with that though, the Future Fifty callout started, and the Digital Business Academy was relaunched in a new bitesize format. The relaunched DBA also sees us collaborating with the Libraries Taskforce and British Library Business and IP Centre to expand the learning reach to the digitally excluded. The second Tech Nation Talks event was held with The Lean Startup author Eric Ries, hosted in London, with livestream events in Manchester, Leeds, Hull and Liverpool. The Fintech For All competition concluded with a brilliant pitch event final in the heart of the City. From 85 applications, six startups pitched for prizes, and all the finalists ended up at Number 10 a few weeks later talking all things fintech and financial inclusion. The Northern Stars Grand Final in Manchester was bigger and better than ever, and crowned the the 10 most promising startups from the North of England, perhaps the strongest Northern Stars to date. And Founders’ Network announced the addition of Entrepreneurs in Residence to the programme.

​​​Northern Stars winners 2017, The Stoller Hall, Chetham’s School of Music, Manchester

Watch: Meet the 10 Northern Stars winners


Tech North took the Northern Stars to TechCrunch Disrupt in Berlin, and the third Tech Nation Talks event was held in London on Failure. The Fintech For All report was released, Founders’ Network Christmas parties were celebrated and Tech Nation Talent: Part Two was launched in Birmingham at a summit with the new Mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street.

​​Tech North with the Northern Stars winners at Tech Crunch Disrupt, Berlin

Tech Nation Talent part two: Exploring Digital Skills in the UK, in partnership with Linkedin, launched at iCentrum, Innovation Birmingham, with Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street; Sue Duke, Senior Director of Public Policy at LinkedIn; Faye Pressly, COO of Vanti, and Chris Meah, CEO of School of Code

Finally, it is worth stressing what a privilege it is to interact with digital companies at every stage from seed to IPO, enabling us to truly understand what support is required from Tech City UK and government policy-makers. The UK’s tech sector is now maturing rapidly and the results are clear for everyone to see.

Some highlights from the year in the industry include:

  • UK Government’s announcement of the Digital Strategy and spending £75M on Artificial Intelligence
  • UK Government’s announcement of increasing its Tier 1 visa caps and Tech City UK into Tech Nation
  • UK Government’s commitment to spending 2.4% of its GDP on Research and Development over the next 10 years
  • Improbable (Upscale Alumni) raised $502m
  • Deliveroo (Future Fifty Alumni) raised $480m
  • Farfetch (Future Fifty Alumni) raised $397m
  • TransferWise (Future Fifty company) raised $280m
  • Funding Circle (Future Fifty Alumni) raised $100m
  • Monzo (Upscale Alumni) raised $93m
  • Matches Fashion (Future Fifty Alumni) acquired for $1bn
  • Shazam (Future Fifty Alumni) acquired by Apple for $400m

These are all role model companies, inspiring the next generation of tech entrepreneurs, making the UK’s digital economy ever stronger.

With that, I’d like to thank all those who’ve supported us in the last year, our partners and sponsors, including Accelerate Places, AWS, Barclays, Blue Sky, Brabners, Cooley, EY, Experian, Founders Keepers, Founders Pledge, Fragomen, FTI Consulting, Hays, LinkedIn, Macfarlanes, Money Advice Service, Oracle, SVB, Ward Hadaway and WSGR.

A special thank you to our chair and board of directors, the Minister for Digital, the Rt Hon Matthew Hancock and the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport for all their support throughout the year.

Here’s to 2017 and wishing you the very best 2018

Gerard Grech and Team Tech City UK & Tech North

Data & research, insights, Yorkshire