For the UK’s fastest growing digital and technology businesses, look North
It might come as a surprise, but the highest growth in UK technology businesses isn’t found in London, but Yorkshire. Over the past three years, Yorkshire’s digital sector has grown by 48 per cent, thanks largely to the thriving tech hub of Leeds.
So what makes Leeds – and the wider Yorkshire region – so special when it comes to growing digital businesses? It’s all thanks to a few key ingredients: investment, infrastructure, and a diverse business ecosystem.
According to Craig Burrow, Director of Bruntwood in Leeds, the city has a vibrant mix of technology businesses in all specialities and sizes, including data science, fintech, legaltech, and AI. They are supported by strong financial backing, with Leeds-based digital businesses receiving over £100m VC investment in 2019 alone.
“The city has a good mix of early stage startups and scaleups, plus large institutions, universities and organisations including Channel 4, Sky and NHS Digital,” he says. “This combines the most exciting, disruptive and cutting edge technologies with the talent attracted by the potential to work with big brand names.”
Muz Mumtaz, Head of Digital Enterprise – a support programme which helps businesses in the Leeds city region to scale through digital transformation – agrees.
“There’s a strong and varied range of digital businesses in the region,” he says. “They’re not just startups, there’s a lot of mature businesses as well. Programmes like Digital Enterprise and Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership (LEP) have been working over the past few years to put them in a good position for growth. This is quite unique in the UK, especially in terms of funding and digital skills opportunities.”
The current lockdown and uncertainty surrounding coronavirus is a concern for all UK businesses, and those in Leeds are no exception. No one can predict what will happen in the future, but both Burrow and Mumtaz are positive about the resilience of the region’s organisations.
“The lockdown came as a massive shock,” says Mumtaz, “so we’re trying to find a different approach to help businesses. We launched a survey to find out what their needs are in response to this emergency, and what kind of help and support they need. We’re looking into launching a digital resilience voucher – to help organisations buy the tools they need to work from home, for example. We’ve also begun a remote programme of webinars, workshops and masterclasses.”
“When the lockdown eases, everything will come down to businesses’ ability to adopt new technology and adapt to the new normal,” he continues. “We want to help them realise that things have changed and they need to adapt to new circumstances. Coping with remote working more effectively; being more resilient in how they operate… Our job is to support them – if they do need to change their business model – they will have access to the right knowledge and the right opportunities to help them achieve their goals.”
Burrow has already seen several Leeds-based tech companies adapt their business to respond to these difficult times.
“During the Covid-19 crisis we have already observed companies in the digital sector pivoting their businesses and seeing an increase in sales,” he says. “Northcoders, for example, has launched a fully remote coding course targeted to those who have been furloughed, whilst Altinet has seen growth supporting clients with remote working and cybersecurity.”
“The signs are that the sector will continue to grow beyond the current pandemic,” he adds. “Now is the time for partners and institutions in the city to come together to support the sector and find new opportunities for collaboration, growth, and to attract new investment, particularly for early stage companies, in order for innovation for thrive.”
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