Tech start-up businesses in the North are finding their voice - GP Bullhound's Hugh Campbell

When London Tech Week took place last month,  attention was once again diverted from the north and the thriving ecosystem that has been cultivated here.

A recent DCMS Digital ecosystems report identified Yorkshire’s digital industry as the fastest growing in the UK. This only further underscores the fact that the tech sector in the north is not to be underestimated.

Emerging tech in the AI, healthtech and metaverse spaces is truly ground-breaking – and the north is leading the charge. In the North East, AI and immersive tech are both prospering.

Over the Irish Sea, in Northern Ireland, it’s health tech and fintech that are dominating. In Scotland, cyber security and mobility as a service are also growing exponentially.

Picture: AdobeStock.

Last month, we were delighted to announce the winners of the annual Northern Tech Awards at Manchester’s Albert Hall. This annual event showcased leading businesses in the region as major contributors to the fast-growing Northern Tech scene – now in its 9th successive year. It was a barnstorming evening for Yorkshire at the awards. Leeds-based digital consultancy Hippo Digital and Harrogate’s TechBuyer both took home awards, alongside X Lab and FOD Mobility Group.

It seems that Leeds, in particular, has gained a stellar reputation. The city has nurtured a tech ecosystem which is notorious for having skilled staff and is successful attracting the funding needed to turbo-charge innovation, especially in healthtech.

The Northern Tech Awards are a fantastic reason to celebrate the sector – but the evening really held a much wider significance. It underlined the notion that there is no better time to have a stake in this industry, especially in the north.

It is prudent timing. The UK’s Digital Economy Council recently announced that as of May 31, 2022, more than 950 British technology companies had brought in £12.4bn in private funding, putting the UK second only to the US in terms of start-up investment for the first half of the year. It is clear to see that we are punching well above our weight.

In order to continue to thrive, we need to capitalise on the seeds of growth that are being cultivated here in the north. From Manchester and Liverpool to Leeds and Newcastle – there is an endless potential talent pool which we must tap into. Vacancies are in abundance, and salaries are competitive in the digital sector. However, demand is currently outstripping supply.

Google for Startups recently revealed that 60 per cent of startups fail for ‘people reasons’ – be it co-founder disputes or the never-ending struggle to source talent.

For the region to continue on its growth trajectory the digital skills deficit needs to be redressed urgently. We must avoid a brain drain – or risk the deceleration of growth and opportunity that has been fostered here.

We need to take a diverse and inclusive approach to recruitment. Tech leaders and company bosses must provide the opportunities to young people in the north to live and breathe the sector, through meaningful internships.

From our experience advising and investing in some of the best and brightest tech companies, we know that talent often comes from unfamiliar places. From experience spanning over two decades, we have seen that often some of the most successful tech entrepreneurs do not come from Silicon Valley and London.

There’s no denying that the current economic climate is tough. Uncertainty and prudence have come to define our headlines, but excellence is often borne out of crisis. It certainly takes a healthy dose of courage to start your own business, especially in a crowded startup scene. However, according to Tech Nation, we are the third best economy in which to grow a unicorn, putting the odds confidently in your favour.

The limelight does not need to stay in the capital. It is more important that in a time of economic fragility we shine a spotlight on the tech ecosystem in the North of the UK. The continued emergence and rapid growth of companies from this region – which have contributed to the tech industry not only in the North, but on the national and international stages is testament to its staying power.

The pace of technological change is unrelenting. We need to give a voice to the entrepreneurial culture here in the north. We have so much to celebrate in the risk-taking, aspirational, go-getter mindset of northern tech founders.

- Hugh Campbell is the Manchester-based co-founder and managing partner of investment banking company GP Bullhound.