The North’s tech sector is friendlier and more collaborative than its counterparts in London.
That was one of the conclusions of several entrepreneurs who spoke at BusinessCloud’s Best of North West Tech breakfast event on April 10.
Although London’s tech industry is undoubtedly bigger than the regions it can more insular than outside the capital.
Nick Black, co-founder and chief commercial officer of Apadmi, said there’s a ‘different way of life’ of being business in the North compared to the south.
“I do know some people who are looking to cash in their £1 million London flat to move here and buy a mansion,” he joked.
“There is definitely this friendliness in the North that you might not get down south. Businesses should help each other, work together and there is this community feeling in the North West and I see businesses helping each other in Manchester.”
Ben Chatfield is the co-founder of London-based disruptive tech recruitment platform Tempo, which is opening up a Manchester office.
He was one of 125 people to attend the event and said: “We saw Manchester as a natural next step as a thriving digital and tech community.
“There’s a real sense of community in the Manchester market which I think is hard to get to in London, I think London feels incredibly competitive and people say they will help each other out and then it doesn’t happen – but in Manchester it really does feel like everyone’s got each other’s back.”
Marketing director of UKFast Kristina McGuirk spoke passionately about the need to bridge the skills gap and how technology careers are not explored enough through the last years of a student’s school life.
“One of our approaches is investment in education. We’re really trying to focus on bridging the skills gap and how we’re making sure we’re encouraging, not only of just females but youth into the tech environment,” she said.
“I think we’re trying to change the perception of the tech industry as well. We work with small kids, we give them a tour and show them what it’s like to work within a tech environment, which gets them really excited.
“One thing we found was when we do these tours, they’ve all got these amazing ideas of apps they want to do, and then something seems to happen between 13 and 18 when they start making career choices, they seem to shift in direction in terms of what they want to do, so we’re really trying to invest in apprenticeships to be sure that we are creating choices for young people and showing that there’s different option to going to college or university.”
She also told the audience how parents returning to work need support to prioritise their families while continuing their career.
“The second part of our approach is towards tech returners,” she added. “I think something people don’t talk about a lot as much is really understanding if you’re a mum or dad and you’ve gone away for a while, tech evolves so quickly that it’s about supporting them back into the industry and creating an environment that supports young families.
“We have our crèche and flexible hours – it enables people to join the industry.”
Dawn Embry, head of strategy and planning at Cheshire-based Mobica, said the North West and UK was playing to its strengths.
“The UK has a very good vibrant technology sector,” she explained. “We have a lot of big names coming to the UK and the North West, I guess the difference is that we always have a bit of Britishness about us, so there’s a certain character that comes to our tech community which is very lovely.
“I think there’s a real sense of community, a sense of connecting and organisations linking. Also, over the last few years, we’ve seen a modernisation of those geographies, we’ve seen less of the ‘UK tech sector’ or ‘France tech sector’ but more of an ‘automated tech sector’ which may cross four or five different borders.”
She said Mobica’s presence in Europe meant it was better protected against the uncertainty of Brexit.
Andy Kent, CEO of Liverpool-based Angel Solutions said bigger tech companies were driving wage inflation.
“We’ve lost people to bigger brands because they pay £20,000 on top of a normal salary,” he said. ““We can’t compete with that and I wonder how many small businesses have been in Manchester trying to recruit people where you’ve got your larger companies who are desperate to recruit and can afford to pay that.”
A question which was asked to some members of the panels was whether being a woman had impacted on their career.
Chloe Barrett, CEO and co-founder of Digidentistry, shared her experience of being asked inappropriate questions during investment pitches.
“I have been asked inappropriate questions by investors before but I’ve been asked these by men and women,” she recalled.
“We need to be role models and lead the way and have the courage to stand up. I was asked ‘when are you going to have children?’
“That did make me open my eyes and think about who I want involved in the company. It questions their intentions with your ability and what you can bring to the table as a woman.”
The event was sponsored by Silicon Valley Bank and run in association with Harper James. Other speakers included Ryan Bryers, CarFinance247; Martin Cutbill, Alertacall; Sonya Iovieno, Silicon Valley Bank; Zoe Ross, Mind Moose; and Chris Haralambous, Laduma.