It’s an exciting time to be involved with the tech industry in Leeds. The city is fast becoming a top location for digital innovators and its digital/tech sector is expanding at a rapid rate. Home to around 3,500 digital and tech companies, with an estimated workforce of 45,000 making up approximately 10 per cent of all jobs in the city, Leeds’ digital economy shows no signs of slowing.
As one of six companies to have won backing from the Leeds Tech Hub Fund to support start-up and growing tech businesses in the region, Bruntwood is in the driving seat of the city’s tech revolution and the recent launch of our tech incubator at Platform presented us with the ideal opportunity to gather some of the leading lights of the Leeds tech community together to explore how growth in the sector can be accelerated.
Coinciding with the first day of the Leeds Digital Festival, the round table discussion had a real sense of energy and timeliness about it. And, encouragingly, all of the participants – including myself, possessed a shared optimism for the future of Leeds as a tech centre of excellence.
As a tech hub, Leeds is progressing quickly but can it move faster still? According to our round-table experts the answer was a resounding ‘yes’. But what does the formula for success when it comes to making Leeds a top tech city look like? Some key themes are certainly apparent…
Access to Investment
Access to investment for tech businesses in Leeds is a critical part of the mix. A lot of the key elements in the funding landscape are already here and getting stronger – we have Mercia Fund Managers based at Platform, for instance, who are now able to invest significant capital in the region, including equity and loans from the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund (NPIF), on behalf of the British Business Bank. As a result we’ve already seen a number of tech-focused deals turned around.
The Business Growth Fund - the UK and Ireland’s most active investor in small and medium-sized companies is also located at Platform and NorthInvest has just established the Leeds Angel Hub in partnership with the UK Business Angels Association.
So there’s plenty of support in place, but we still need to do more to attract investors from London and the South East to the Northern cities. Years ago, convincing London-based venture capitalists to come up North was challenging to say the least, but things are starting to change and there is a lot more interest now from the big London and South- Eastern based venture capitalists. Leeds needs to take advantage of this by communicating the excellent investment opportunities available in its tech sector.
Nearly £3billion was invested in the UK tech sector in 2017 but 80% of that spend went to London so rebalancing that investment and making sure Northern cities, like Leeds, benefit from a greater share is essential.
Access to Skills
The future of the tech sector in Leeds relies on having a rich pool of regionally-based talent to tap into. Across the tech industry in general, access to talent and being able to recruit people at the right level is a perennial challenge and the sector needs to approach it in a robust and strategic manner.
It’s about effective communication of what the digital tech sector has to offer here in Leeds - the high value jobs, the variety of really good career prospects and opportunities, and the broad array of digital companies doing exciting, cutting-edge things. If we articulate what’s on offer here the people will follow.
Communicating these assets, as well as promoting Leeds and Yorkshire as a great place to live, will attract talent from across the UK and help to keep the region’s graduate cohort here, once they finish university.
At the same time, we need to ensure that universities are anticipating market needs and adapting accordingly. Some fantastic things are already happening on this front, with The University of Leeds having recently launched a tech degree apprenticeship with PwC to help people fund themselves through study, as well as creating tech specific masters programmes designed to bridge the skills gap.
A booming tech sector needs a strong support network behind it. It’s vital to provide the spaces and services that will help digital businesses in Leeds to grow. That’s exactly what we’re doing at Platform, with our business support services including access to finance, talent and markets.
We know that flexibility and collaboration are major priorities for tech businesses and this is why Platform has been created to support connectivity of all kinds, physical, digital and social. Alongside access to professional advice and support businesses at Platform can also take part in regular social, networking and wellbeing events. It’s all part of nurturing a mutually beneficial eco-system that will stimulate sector growth.
A Cohesive Approach to Marketing/Identity
It’s clear that Leeds has much to shout about when it comes to the health of its tech sector and the promise it holds for the future. But we’re not shouting loudly enough yet. Members on our speaker panel agreed unanimously that more needs to be done to take Leeds and Yorkshire to the world.
Having a consistent approach to marketing and a clear identity to promote was the proffered solution; taking learning from cities like Madrid – known as a tech start-up hotbed, which reinforce business location messages with messages around quality of life and culture.
Closer to home, communicating how the Leeds digital hub could benefit the wider Yorkshire economy was also identified as a priority by our round-table representatives. How could digital creative skills be taken to traditional businesses in manufacturing and logistics, for instance, to help underpin growth there?
Overall, the message coming out of our discussions was that Leeds holds boundless potential as a tech centre. And, with the right conditions in place, we can help secure growth for many generations to come. At Platform, we’re already harnessing future promise – working with Leeds City Council and partners to deliver a centre of excellence that will help Leeds to secure its rightful place, firmly on the global tech map.