The Government-funded initiative, Tech North, launched in September 2015. When it was first announced back in October 2014, the then Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, reported: “We’ve listened to local business leaders and there is a clear need for us to seize an opportunity to capitalise on existing tech talent by creating a Northern tech hub to rival Berlin, New York, or Shanghai.”
Now that Tech North has finally come to fruition (its launch was delayed six months), the organisation – which is part of Tech City UK – looks to accelerate the development of the North’s digital economy through the promotion and support of digital entrepreneurship across the seven cities of Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Hull, Sunderland and Newcastle.
The small team – including three members of staff based in the North East – will be funded by the Government for the next three years, by which time the aim is to see more digital businesses in the North of England, more start-ups and more scale-ups, additional employment and more investment in the North from overseas, from venture capitals and from angel investors.
Short term Tech North’s focus is on profiling the strengths of the region’s digital sector on a national and international stage.
One of its first initiatives has been the Northern Stars project where Tech North visited the seven key cities to identify the most promising tech start-ups. After a grand final event, which took place in November, ten companies were named as Tech North’s Northern Stars.
Three were from the North East: EvaluAgent from Middlesbrough, which offers a workforce optimisation platform; Geek Talent, from Sunderland, which is developing a digital recruitment search engine; and Newcastle’s Leaf.fm, which delivers personalised streamed music for free.
Tech North will be taking these ten companies to a number of investor events in 2016, including South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in Austin, Texas, where they will have access to early stage investors and mentors from around the world.
The organisation will also be holding regular events across the North to support more collaboration between digital entrepreneurs, encouraging them to work together, create close-knit networks and share ideas.
Longer term, Tech North’s focus will be on skills and working with Northern-based businesses, universities, training providers and Local Enterprise Partnerships to ensure young people in the North have the opportunities to develop digital skills.
Tech North may echo much of the Northern Powerhouse ethos – collaboration, skills and international investment – but the first six months of Tech North have been challenging.
A delay in the launch of Tech North from April to September, 2015, garnered criticism from The Labour Party with Chuka Umunna, shadow business secretary, accusing the Government of ignoring its ‘pet project’.
Further questions about Tech North’s output and tangible results have followed – which have since been spectacularly fuelled with the shock resignation of the organisation’s chief executive, Claire Braithwaite, on January 22, just nine months into the role.
In a joint statement, Herb Kim, executive chairman of Tech North and Gerard Grech, CEO of Tech City UK said: “As we wish Claire well in her future endeavours, we want to take this opportunity to stress that Tech City UK’s support for Tech North remains completely unchanged by Claire’s departure.
“Tech North is a crucial priority for us and the UK Government and we have every faith that her awesome team will carry on the work so effectively initiated by Claire. We have so much to be proud of, but even more to look forward to.”