The first ever direct Manchester to San Francisco flight will take off this morning, packed with more than 30 tech leaders ready to bang the Northern Powerhouse drum in Silicon Valley.
Entrepreneurs attending Virgin Atlantic’s launch dinner last night say the service will deliver a major boost to the industry across the North, giving them access to funding and know-how from the home of tech giants like Facebook, Uber, Eventbrite and Apple.
Some of the area’s tech leaders have outlined what they hope to gain from this trade mission – and what it will take to make a long term business link work (see video below).
It is the first ever direct service from the North to San Francisco and the only route outside of London in the UK.
The 30-strong delegation was waved off by Trade and Investment Minister Greg Hands MP, and senior representatives from Manchester Airport and Virgin Atlantic.
Despite being MP for Chelsea, Hands revealed he had been interested in the Northern Powerhouse for some time, and hailed the three-times weekly route as ‘a boost for ambitious tech and digital companies as they take advantage of new markets and trading opportunities’.
He added: “The Northern Powerhouse, like Silicon Valley, is a leading centre of creativity and innovation.
“A direct link between the home of the industrial revolution, and the home of the digital revolution, will be a boost for both regions, and for the Northern Powerhouse’s ambitious tech and digital companies as they take advantage of new markets and trading opportunities across the world.”
The trip was coordinated by MC2, a Northern Powerhouse partner with offices in Manchester and San Francisco, in partnership with Manchester Airport and Virgin Atlantic, and supported by the Department for International Trade and the Institute of Directors.
Mike Perls, Chair of IOD North West and CEO at MC2 said: “We’ve turned a typical trade mission on its head.
Mylo Kaye of Dreamr
“This has been created by the private sector, for the private sector – with government backing. We’ve set our own objectives and will deliver genuine outcomes.
“For the Northern Powerhouse initiative to succeed we need a coherent vision, and that involves individual sectors coming together for genuine collaboration around shared goals.
“This trade mission kicks starts the technology cluster group and the bonds we’ll create between delegates – and the learnings we’ll bring back – will stand the whole sector in great stead for the future.”
Silicon Valley is the world’s leading hub for the tech sector, with an estimated 25% of all start-up funding still originating in the San Francisco area.
The North of England currently has 283,000 tech sector jobs, worth £10bn.
It is hoped the direct service will drive large-scale growth by linking businesses across the patch with funding and talent from Northern California.
One of the delegation, Luke Massie, founder of Vibe Tickets, said: “Lancaster has impressive credentials around technology and innovation, and I’m proud to be representing the city and Vibe Tickets in San Francisco.
Tangerine PR founder Sandy Lindsay
“For the Northern Powerhouse initiative to be a success we need true collaboration across cities and organisations, and this mission is a great example of that.
“I’ve no doubt we’ll not only bring back learnings but also show the West Coast what the North has to offer.”
Hugh Campbell, managing partner of GP Bullhound which has an office in San Francisco, added: “The tech community in the North has been lobbying for some time for a direct route to San Francisco.
“We are now on a par with other tech hubs in Europe such as London, Berlin, Paris and Stockholm.
“This access to the Valley should allow the tech community here grow faster and increase our chances of building the next Unicorn.”
The new flights will also be a boost to the Northern firms that already have links to Silicon Valley. Shaving hours off the journey, the direct services will take approximately 11 hours from Manchester.
Currently 97,735 people from Manchester Airport’s catchment fly to San Francisco every year but have to travel indirectly via London or other overseas hubs.
The group is being led by two serial technology investors and entrepreneurs, Scott Fletcher, founder of cloud services provider ANS Group, Manchester and Dr Adam Beaumont, founder of telecoms platform business aql, Leeds.
The delegation includes a mix of Northern corporates such as Sage, of Newcastle, CoOp Digital, of Manchester, as well as a host of early and mid-stage tech firms like Hull-based Vis Vr, Vibe Tickets and One Iota, from Lancashire, and Manchester-based Wakelet.
It is also being supported by the University of Central Lancashire and Manchester Metropolitan University.