Who are the innovative tech startups making Leeds city region thrive? Part 2

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In the second part of our Leeds startup spotlight series, we catch up with two more innovative startups located at our Platform tech hub, Shift.ms and Other Things agency.

Shift.ms is a digital network that provides invaluable support to thousands of people living with multiple sclerosis. Its innovative approach of providing people with easily accessible online support has made a real difference to the lives of people with MS. Its work typifies the exciting and hugely valuable contributions being made by start-ups in Leeds.

Alternatively, Other Things is tapping into Leeds’ growing reputation as the UK’s gaming hub. Currently home to over 27 gaming companies, Leeds’ gaming sector contributes over £11m GVA to the economy, including Rockstar Leeds, developers of Grand Theft Auto. Other Things is a creative agency with an alternative approach to helping those in the gaming and entertainment industry.

So let’s delve deeper and hear from the digital innovators themselves who are part of the driving force behind Leeds’ thriving digital and tech sector...

Shift.ms

We caught up with Sophie DiMauro, Digital Manager at Shift.ms...

Tell us a bit more about what Shift.ms do?

Shift.ms is a charity and social network for people with multiple sclerosis (MSers). Founded by MSers, for MSers, Shift.ms supports thousands of recently diagnosed people across the world as they make sense of MS. It’s independent and it’s free. The Shift.ms website provides a space for people with MS to share their experiences and knowledge about MS while also offering support when it’s needed.

Over the years the Shift.ms community has been built on social connections and friendships and at the moment we have over 37,000 members. The aim of our community is to: reduce isolation, anxiety and depression, help those with MS come to terms with their diagnosis and adapt, and to gain greater knowledge and confidence to make positive choices about health, lifestyle and the future. The website is also used as a place to gather information about MS through the narrative films we create. By, for and about people with MS – our films tell compelling stories and connect MSers with world-leading experts.

What was the inspiration behind setting up Shift.ms?

What started out as a relatively normal day for our founder and CEO, George Pepper, in October 2004 quickly turned into a day that would flip his world upside down. George was 22 when he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. This left him emotionless, confused, numb. Recalling his experience, George said:

"The first couple of years following my diagnosis were tough. My MS was aggressive early on with regular relapses and it stopped me from doing the things I wanted to do. I struggled to find anyone like me, there was no one to talk to of the same age living with MS. I felt isolated at a time when I was crying out for help, support and a community to turn to.

"In 2006 I decided that it didn’t have to be that way. I wanted to turn something negative into something positive, and so alongside co-founder Freddie Yauner and a group of friends, Shift.ms was born.

"Whilst I believed there was a crucial gap in support for recently diagnosed MSers, I never expected Shift.ms to grow into what it is today. Never did I anticipate that the network would become a truly global community, growing faster now than it has ever done before."

How is Shift.ms dealing with the challenges brought by the pandemic, especially when it comes to keeping your community together?

As a service that aims to reduce isolation among people living with multiple sclerosis, it is more important than ever before that we are there to support the Shift.ms community. Since the start of the pandemic, we have seen heightened anxiety from members - a frequent symptom of MS that this situation is compounding. With an influx of questions and worry from the MS community about COVID-19, it has been crucial that we provide reliable and factually accurate information to inform and reassure where we can, and keep the community together and conversation open online. We also pride ourselves on being innovative and adaptive. We are a small organisation, so unlike many big organisations, we can be reactive and turnaround projects quickly.

Other Things Agency

Next we caught up with Matt Hitchcock, Managing Director at Other Things agency ..

Tell us a bit more about Other Things...

Other Things is an alternative creative agency that specialises in producing disruptive advertising and marketing solutions for the gaming and entertainment industries. As well as taking on full end-to-end marketing and brand campaigns, we do lots of video productions and motion graphics work, along with graphic design and website builds

We know that the gaming industry in Leeds is booming, what was the inspiration behind creating Other Things and why is it different to others?

Richy and I (Matt) have both worked for creative agencies and we’ve both worked for brands on the client side. Having been on both sides of the curtain, we’ve clocked the various shapes pulled by both parties. Those dance moves get pretty boring after a while.

I mean, imagine if everyone was still doing the macarena and presenting it as bleeding edge? We wanted to change the way the relationship functions, whilst producing great creative work. So we founded Other Things.

Our decisions and recommendations are not based purely on what makes the most profit for Other Things, but on what provides the most value and quality to our clients. Sometimes this means doing things that many other agencies would consider bonkers. For example, working directly with a client’s in-house creative team to collaboratively produce work, and thereby not charging agency fees for designers. A client may have some incredible designers or developers on staff, and we’re willing to identify the skills they have in-house and utilise them where possible.

This frees up the budget for our clients to spend on other creative specialisms that they don’t have covered in-house. More gets done, and the quality doesn’t suffer.

How has Other Things dealt with the challenges brought about by this pandemic?  

Many of our clients (such as King and Hutch Games) are based in London, so we were already in the habit of doing video calls and presenting work online and suchlike. We’re very fortunate to specialise in gaming and entertainment, as they’re sectors that have by-and-large seen a positive impact due to the effects of the pandemic. This means that we’ve kept very busy this year, despite everything.

That said, our business development efforts have been massively impacted. With conferences and networking events cancelled, we’ve had far fewer opportunities to meet new people who might be interested in working with us. We’re thankful that we have some great clients already and that they keep wanting to work with us.

Why do you love being located in Leeds?  

Leeds has just about everything that we could need. It really has been a great city in which to launch our business. Although we’ve largely been working remotely from home, Platform has also been more than just office space for us. The team there are excellent and can’t do enough to offer help and support in any way possible. 

Discover the home of tech in Leeds at Platform

Home to a cluster of over 80 of the region's most innovative and disruptive digital and tech start ups and scale ups, Platform offers access to the flexible workspace, specialist community and support your business needs to form, scale or grow.  Located right next door to Leeds train station, Platform provides a secure location, meeting rooms, lounge, roof terrace and high speed connectivity, as well as being part of the wider Bruntwood SciTech network across Manchester, Cheshire, Birmingham and Liverpool.

Visit the Platform website page here.

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