Meet the man looking to establish Silicon Valley in Harehills

The business community in Leeds needs to rally together to help unlock the potential in young people across inner city areas, according to an accountant.

Jamil Ahmed at Accounts Geek in Leeds.

Jamil Ahmed, who set up Accounts Geek in Harehills three years ago, believes that there is a lot of untapped potential in inner city areas.

He told The Yorkshire Post: “We could have the next big tech company, a unicorn like Callcredit.

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“We can get the next big business hailing out of Harehills, and it could be a real disruptive one.

“We’ve got to reach out to young people through schools, through colleges, through mosques.”

Mr Ahmed, who also runs the Centre for Enterprise - an organisation that offers business mentoring and coaching, is hoping to bring mentors around and other business influencers around the table to establish an organisation called Silicon Valley North.

“If we say Silicon Valley North, then that will make people sit and take notice,” he says. “It will also raise people’s aspirations. Somebody in Harehills could think why not?”

It’s not a novel idea. In fact, Mr Ahmed says it’s inspired by a project called Silicon Harlem, which looked at reducing crime and lowering unemployment by engaging people with technology.

“They’ve done this in Harlem and made a difference,” Mr Ahmed said. “Why can’t we replicate this here?”

Mr Ahmed himself has run a string of businesses in the past and has been mentoring young people at a nearby community centre.

“One youngster came up to me and said I’ve got this idea,” Mr Ahmed “He was very smart and he must have only been 15 or 16. He’d done his homework. Why isn’t this young man being helped?”

The accountant believes that by getting young people to think entrepreneurially, it will not only reduce unemployment and crime but also benefit the business ecosystem in and around the area.

It’s not just young people that Mr Ahmed believes have the potential. The areas diverse population and a lack of job opportunities mean that there an “entrepreneurial spirit” in Harehills, Mr Ahmed says.

Rather than just jumping in there and setting up their own businesses, Mr Ahmed is also looking to encourage people to become intrapreneurial.

Developing ideas while at a business and developing them into a profitable function or business in its own right.

He said: “The difference between an employee and an intrapreneur is that an employee will go into the workplace and do a good day’s work and go home.

“An intrapreneur will go into a workplace and feel that they’re not making a difference so they will come up with ideas.

“A classic intrapreneur is Ajaz Ahmed, when he came up with the Freeserve idea.”

The Freeserve founder is doing some mentoring work with Mr Ahmed.

Mr Ahmed added: “I’m saying to young people that unemployment doesn’t have to be a choice. You can volunteer, go in and learn skills. That’s where intrapreneurship comes in.

“It’s not just about having the qualification. Everybody has got an idea, everybody has got a passion. You don’t need a degree to have passion. You don’t need a degree to come up with an idea.”

Online resources, many of them free such as Codeacademy, also provide young people with an opportunity to develop.

Mr Ahmed said: “What’s stopping young people? We can promote these to young people. There’s nothing stopping young people from going to these places and most of these courses are free. It’s just time that they need to dedicate.”

Seeking to make a difference

Jamil Ahmed was born in Pakistan. Mr Ahmed moved to the UK when he was seven years old.

“I’m a Harehills lad myself,” he says, “that’s why I’m so passionate about this.”

Mr Ahmed has been involved in a string of family businesses including running fast food restaurants.

Accounts Geek was established in 2017 and Mr Ahmed runs the business with his sons.

He previously worked for a regeneration organisation called Learning Partnerships, which Mr Ahmed said made him “appreciate how there’s a disparity in Leeds of the haves and have nots.”