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How northern cities are becoming global tech leaders 04 April 2017

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Northern cities such as Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool have grown their tech sectors significantly in the last couple of years, positioning the north of the UK as a global tech hub. The UK is a nation that thrives off the use of technology. It is the digital capital of Europe, leading the way for countries across the globe when it comes to tech investment, digital skills and collaboration within ecosystems.

According to the 2017 Tech Nation report by Tech City UK, last year the country’s digital tech investment reached £6.8 billion, a figure that is 50 per cent higher than that of any other European country. When it comes to business growth, the report found that the turnover of digital tech firms reached £170 billion in 2016, an increase of £30 billion in only five years.

And, contrary to popular belief, it’s not just London that is pulling the weight of the rest of the country. Tech City revealed that a massive 70 per cent of total UK digital tech investment is coming from regional clusters beyond the capital. More than ever before, northern cities like Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool are being recognised around the globe as tech leaders. Here we take a look at how they have attained this position.

Digital visibility

Central to the Northern Powerhouse agenda, the city of Manchester has been climbing the ladder when it comes to digital visibility for many years now, boasting one of the largest tech clusters in the UK, seeing a £78 million investment in tech businesses in 2016.

Emma Degg, chief executive of the North West Business Leadership Team, believes that for Manchester to remain a strong digital leader it must focus its efforts on how digital technologies will disrupt value chains, organisational structures, operational processes and revenue models.

“Ultimately, how we manage all this will decide which businesses will survive and which do not,” she said. “Digitisation is changing the world and it is right that Manchester has the ambition to be in the lead.”

Businesses across the city are embracing digitisation and technology in full force - whether it be virtual reality, augmented reality or automation, Manchester companies aren’t holding back. Over at Manchester Science Partnerships (MSP), for example, start-up DigitalBridge has created a virtual visualisation tool backed by John Lewis, that allows consumers to use mixed reality to view products in their own homes.

David Levine, managing director at DigitalBridge, commented: “Our platform has been developed to understand the content and 3D geometry of indoor scenes through the use of incredibly complex technology that is processed by advanced computer vision and deep learning techniques. The users are at the heart of everything we do so we love creating technologies that meet a specific market need.”

The company were proud to be awarded Retail Week Start up of the Year shortly before winning the John Lewis Accelerator, "all of which couldn't have been done without such an incredible team here at DigitalBridge."

Leading universities

Perhaps contributing to the north’s thriving digital sector is the fact that it is home to a selection of Europe's top universities including the University of Manchester, Durham University, the University of York and the University of Leeds. Overall, the UK is home to eight of Europe’s top 20 universities, which is more than any other European country, according to the Tech Nation report.

Today, universities are competing for students, academics and funding, meaning that only those that stay relevant and leverage new digital capabilities will benefit in this digital age. With such a wide selection of tech and digital jobs available in Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool, students are graduating from universities and choosing to work in the thriving digital cities in which they have studied.

Last year Leeds was home to 314 digital start-ups with almost 24,000 digital jobs available. Liverpool, on the other hand, boasted an average digital salary of £45k, while the northern city’s digital sector added £359 million to the country’s economy.

Future growth

Tech business growth is currently at a ten-year high, having seen investment of over £326 million in 2014. This represents a 1,551 per cent uplift in investment over the past decade, according to the latest Tech North Investment Index.

Not only does this showcase the strength of the sector across the north of the UK but it also demonstrates the region's ability to grow further, as the index states that the progress in northern England is predominantly from investors also based in the North.

To grow the north’s tech scene even further on an international level, businesses and communities must embrace digitalisation while utilising and showcasing the talent of the region. When it comes to digital tech investment, talent, skills and digital collaboration are key to success.

Are you interested in setting up a digital business in the north? Check out our offices today.

Manchester cityscape
Manchester cityscape