Bernard Ginns: The size of the prize for technology entrepreneurs

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FIVE years ago, a pair of Silicon Valley nerds set out on a simple mission to build a cool product used globally by everybody.

Their progress has been incredible. Today, their invention is used by more than 500m people – seven per cent of the world’s population – and has turned its founders into multi-billionaires.

WhatsApp allows friends and family to stay in touch around the world without the hustle and clutter of rival networks.

Jan Koum, a Ukrainian immigrant, and Brian Acton, a Stanford University alumnus, sold their mobile messaging app to Facebook for up to $19bn in February​.

The​ir staggering success​​ shows the size of the prize for technology entrepreneurs everywhere.

​David Richards, the chief executive of Aim-listed software company WANdisco, sees no reason why the next technology giant cannot be built in Britain.

With this in mind, we are looking for ambitious Yorkshire companies to join the Leeds Digital Hub.

The Yorkshire Post is partnering with Leeds Metropolitan University to launch a new scheme to help new digital companies achieve their growth potential.

The Leeds Digital Hub will provide flexible city centre office space, mentoring and training services and the opportunity to work with like-minded people in a collaborative environment.

Hub businesses can also benefit from regular exposure in these widely-read business pages. Organisers are looking for early stage, start-up and established companies to join the programme.

​Steve Baker, a successful software entrepreneur who now works with QU2, the university’s business support service, will provide expert mentoring.

Law firm DWF and accountancy practice WGN will provide professional services and The Yorkshire Post will provide media training.

Applicants have until June 9 to submit their entries.

They will be invited to present their business to a selection panel on June 17. Successful applicants will be notified within three days.

The panel will include Neil Warnock, a seasoned entrepreneur who has built three IT start-ups into multi-million pound businesses, Ajaz Ahmed, the founder of pioneering UK internet service provider Freeserve, Katie Rigarlsford, head of Enterprise Academy at Leeds Met, Helen Oldham, the managing director of Johnston Press Yorkshire and me.

The Leeds Digital Hub is attracting some attention.

Tom Riordan, chief executive of Leeds City Council, said: “This is an excellent initiative. It builds on the strong foundation of creative and digital businesses that have been the hallmark of the Leeds economy over the years since the days of Freeserve.

“There is a growing momentum in the Leeds economy and some of our most talented entrepreneurs are capitalising on the opportunities in the growing digital sector.

“The flexible space and supportive networks of the hub will be a valuable addition to the city.”

Mr Warnock, of Leeds-based Bluesmith Information Systems, added: “The new hub is an digital entrepreneur’s dream – a fusion of technology business incubation and collaborative co-working space.

“Not only is physical infrastructure and business support taken care of, the opportunities for innovation, creativity and knowledge-sharing are amazing.”

Ms Rigarlsford said: “We see a gap for supporting early stage digital business development within Leeds and hope that the Leeds Digital Hub will act as a catalyst for business creation and to accelerate growth.”

There you have it. It is said that two thirds of the businesses that will make up the S&P 500 in ten years’ time will be companies that do not even exist today. They could be you.

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