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Home » ‘We Need A Northern Rival To Silicon Valley’ – Tech Leaders Reveal Manifesto To Turbocharge Region’s Economy

‘We Need A Northern Rival To Silicon Valley’ – Tech Leaders Reveal Manifesto To Turbocharge Region’s Economy

The North of England should become the UK’s Silicon Valley – that’s the call from some of the region’s biggest tech leaders in a manifesto published today.

Trade group Manchester Digital and an alliance of leaders from companies including Booking.com, BT and Auto Trader say the Mayor of Greater Manchester should take the lead to “turbocharge the northern tech economy”.

Their Manifesto for the Northern Tech Economy, released ahead of this year’s mayoral elections, says Manchester should lead the creation of a “Northern Tech Nexus” linking city regions in Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield. It suggests that linking those areas could create a partnership to rival Silicon Fen in Cambridgeshire.

That Tech Nexus should then organise an international Northern Tech Summit to attract global leaders to our cities. And it should create a Regional Digital Investment Fund to “supercharge global capital support for start-ups and scale-ups”.

All that work could help local firms to grow and could bring more investment into the region – creating more skilled and high-paid jobs.

The Manifesto references a report from Barclays Eagle Labs showing there are 708 high growth tech companies across Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool and Sheffield – with the four cities combined seeing more than £1.1bn investment over the past five years.

Manchester tech firms raised £680m in investment in 2022, between 415 high-growth companies. Five of those companies were “unicorns” valued at over a billion dollars. Leeds firms raised £323m over 373 firms, with Liverpool raising £99.2m across 116 active high-growth companies.

However Cambridge raised £910m across 154 companies, including two tech unicorns. And London saw £17.7bn in investment across more than 2,200 firms, with 47 tech unicorns.

The report also says that the student population in Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool and Sheffield totals more than 250,000 people – well above the Oxbridge total of some 60,000.

It also looks at university spinout companies, using research from the Beauhurst Group. It found there had been 84 companies spun out from the University of Manchester since 2010, with 41 spinouts from the University of Sheffield and 36 from the University of Leeds.

The manifesto says: “There is no intrinsic reason why they should not be able to match the numbers being posted by universities in the golden triangle (Oxford-Cambridge-London) when it comes to innovation.”

Alison Ross MBE, chair of Manchester Digital’s board and chief people and operations director at Auto Trader, said: “With the right investment, organisation and collaboration, northern cities have the potential to become Britain’s biggest tech hub.

“As the representative of the city-region with the largest digital economy and the most developed devolved political arrangements in the north, the Mayor of Greater Manchester should instigate the creation of a Northern Tech Nexus with the aim of establishing a new global tech ecosystem that would serve as a counterpoint to the dominance of London and the South East.”

Katie Gallagher OBE, managing director at Manchester Digital, said: “We see an opportunity to build a powerful northern tech ecosystem with Greater Manchester at its heart. We want to work closely with the Mayor to create a combined northern approach to tech growth and innovation, harnessing core strengths across different city-regions to propel future growth on a larger scale.

“The recommendations in our manifesto focus on the achievement of that goal, boosting innovation and skills in the process.”

The manifesto’s recommendations include three core themes:

The creation of a Northern Tech Nexus (NTN) – “a grouping of political, academic, business and public sector leaders from neighbouring city-regions, aimed at creating a globally significant tech ecosystem”. That grouping would create an annual international Northern Tech Summit, involving tech companies, venture capital firms, educational leaders and politicians. It should also construct a Regional Digital Investment Fund and advocate for critical infrastructure projects including a resilient internet infrastructure.

Fostering innovation and growth. That includes supporting initiatives to grow diversity and inclusion in the tech industry, considering tax breaks for startups and scale-ups, and studying best practice in university spinouts.

Boosting digital talent and skills. That would include lobbying for Apprenticeship Levy reform to unlock business growth funding, including support for industry placements under the planned new Mbacc qualifications.

The manifesto says: “By creating further innovation and harnessing the power of the north collectively, our region will see huge growth in its already-powerful tech economy.”

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