Tech North came to Sheffield – and was blown away by the commitment and sense of community in the digital sector.
The industry body staged a Summer Showcase event at the Showroom which shone a spotlight on the booming scene.
Chris Dymond of Sheffield Digital gave a rundown on its burgeoning membership – including the AMRC and teased a forthcoming “really big announcement” of a regional partner.
He also highlighted Sheffield firms’ rapid job creation and referred to the group’s own jobs board where 24 are being advertised and a total of 80 firms have advertised 162 jobs.
And he highlighted The Star’s coverage of the sector, including a Plusnet-sponsored round table and eight- page supplement.
He added: “It’s great for us to talk to The Star and get those stories out so the city understands what we are doing.”
Chris also rattled through developments including the city’s Channel 4 relocation bid,
Degree apprenticeships at Sheffield Hallam, the Sheffield City Region digital action plan, incubator plans at Sheffield Hallam, Kollider and MakerHub, marketing company Jaywing’s new headquarters on Sidney Street, the Google Digital Garage – first one on a British high street and the Institute of Coding bid, being led by Sheffield University.
Sheffield Digital is volunteer-run but hopes to make enough money to employ someone.
Chris added: ““We spend the majority of our time talking to people about how to develop things that are important to the sector.
“We are independent, not-for-profit and take no public money. We are focusing on the strategic partnerships we need to keep going and grow, from £5 for individual membership to between £15 and £200 for firms.”
The event, part of a five-city tour of the North, was attended by 71 people.
Richard Gregory, director of Tech North, said: “That’s a hell of a lot of work which shows real commitment and dedication by Sheffield Digital.
“There’s an amazing sense of community in Sheffield, it’s something to shout about. If you didn’t have it you would damn well miss it.”
The Showcase also featured a Q&A with a four-strong panel that included Sam Chapman, of car tracking company, The Floow.
Earlier this year the firm announced £13m of investment and is set to hire 60 people by Christmas
He said: “Still engaging as you grow is really important. You can’t grow in isolation, you have to build an eco-system.”
NORTH NEEDS TO BE ‘LESS HUMBLE’
Tech North aims to give the digital sector a boost through a host of projects – and raise its profile in a traditionally “humble” area.
Director Richard Gregory said: “The UK is a pretty humble nation and the further north you go, the more humble people get. If everyone is going about things with their head down, that’s not good.”
Tech North is publicly-funded with a “generous Government grant, for which I’m very grateful,” he added.
“It is trying to create an eco-system which has co-working spaces, accelerators and early stage finance. It wants to link angel investors in somewhere like Liverpool with a start-up in somewhere like Newcastle – or Sheffield,” he added.
“There are 300,000 people in tech and digital jobs across the North of England. Some 17 per cent of them are female. If you had parity we wouldn’t have a skills gap. It’s complicated, but one factor is absence of role models.
“The sector is worth £10 billion to the North’s economy. But our analysis shows it should be £16bn.”
Tech North has also published the Northern Tech 100 fastest growing companies.
The highest ranked Sheffield firms are Raspberry Pi specialist, Pimoroni, and software firms 3Squared and Tribepad and support company Azzure IT, all in the top 30.
The Floow, games firm Sumo Digital and social enterprise YooMee also make the list.
Meanwhile, Northern Stars, the North’s biggest startup competition, is open for entries.
Run by Tech North, over the last two years, 20 winning firms have grown and ‘expanded their horizons’ on the national and international stage.
SPEAKING UP FOR WOMEN IN TECH WORLD
Cari Kirby’s life was transformed when she was chosen to go on the Northern Voices six month speaker training programme for women in tech.
It came after she took time off to have children, before returning to work as marketing manager at Sheffield games company Team Cooper.
Her confidence was low until she went on the programme, run by Tech North, she said.
“I was very chuffed to have been chosen. I walked in and there were all these women doing incredible things in tech. I was outside my comfort zone but it was time to jump in.
“It’s been amazing for my confidence, personally and professionally.
“I’m on a WhatsApp group of 25 women in five northern cities – it’s a sort of girl gang, we’ve got each other’s back.
“I had a sense of imposter syndrome. But I feel a sense of responsibility – there’s a huge gap of women not being on stage in the tech industry. You need to tell your story to encourage the next generation to come through.”
LONELY WORLD OF THE FOUNDER
“Being a founder is lonely. Friends think you are crazy, you can’t talk to your employees and you can’t talk to investors about your problems.”
So says Lauren Nicholson, of Sheffield, who runs the Founders’ Network, part of Tech North.
It is a ‘peer-to-peer network for early to mid-stage northern tech founders,’ and features a Facebook page, webinars and meet-ups.
It has 425 members and was first run by Laura Bennett, author of the Sheffield Digital report.
Lauren said: “Being a founder can be an incredibly lonely place, other founders are the only people who understand what you are going through.
A ‘new, improved’ version is being launched in September, but you can apply to join now, she added.
JOBS AREN’T JUST IN LONDON
Founded in Sheffield, wanDISCO is today a global company, with offices in Santa Monica, Chengdu and Belfast – but like almost all tech firms it struggles to find enough staff.
Greg McMullin, director of global support, and Jessica Cheong, user experience engineer, said they had only recently managed to fill vacancies first advertised in March.
Greg joked: “Traditionally we stole staff off Plusnet.”
The Big Data specialist attended a Silicon Milkroundabout graduate jobs fair in London earlier this year and obtained details of 65 people.
Greg said: “People didn’t realise these jobs were on offer outside London. They thought London was the be all and end all.”
CHINESE VENTURE PAYS OFF
Sheffield app company Appt ignored advice and opened an office in China, and it’s paying off – but not in the way they planned, according to director Neill Birchenall.
The firm has an office in Kunming which employs three and the plan was to help British companies wanting a digital presence in China.
But the interest has been the other way.
Neill said: “We’re being contacted by Chinese companies wanting an image optimised for the West.
“People were saying we would need more staff, experience and money, but we went against their advice. Now we’re on the cusp of signing our largest contract.”
Jim Heley worked at Sheffield University’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre until he left to go it alone earlier this year.
He established Advanced Aerospace Assembly which specialises in virtual and augmented reality and scanning. It is on a £1.5m Innovate UK-funded project with five companies.
He also hired Mike Sorbie, aged 25, who attended the Tech North event.
Mike said: “It’s nice to be in touch with Tech North because they can help with everything.”