Northern lights: the UK northern cities shine bright for tech

“Northern Lights – which of the UK’s cities are the brightest stars for tech?” was the name of a seminar hosted by: Browne Jacobson LLP and Invest in Nottingham at London Tech Week. The seminar highlighted cities north of London’s M25, in particular Nottingham and Birmingham. Jo Murray was there.

Browne Jacobson is a UK law firm that believes in working in partnership with its clients. It has a national reach across major UK cities, employs over 400 lawyers, including 125 partners, and has grown by over 60% in the last five years. The law firm’s tech offering includes: data protection & cyber security; intellectual property; IT outsourcing; commercial contracts; and corporate law. The firm operates a legal support programme for start-ups called “Grow” and very much wants to place itself at the heart of the tech start-up scene, both within and outside the UK’s M25 around London.

Setting the scene for UK tech start-up investment was Patrick Magee, Chief Operating Officer of the British Business Bank. The bank is 100% owned by the British Government, works with 90 partners and aims to change the structure of the finance markets for smaller businesses so they work more effectively and dynamically. In turn, says Patrick, this will help businesses prosper and will help build economic activity in the UK. From the operations point of view, the British Business Bank has £3.5bn in public funding commitments.

Three programmes are operated by the bank. These are: start-up, scale-up and “stay head”. The impact is that over 56,000 small businesses are being supported; and the bank is participating in a further £5.5bn of finance to small mid-cap businesses.

Patrick says there are higher rejection rates for loan applications for younger, small businesses looking to innovate, develop technology or scale-up. Worryingly, the availability for equity finance remains unevenly spread across the UK and has fallen from its peak in 2015. The Bank has responded to these regional imbalances through the creation of the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund (NPIF) which is to be launched imminently. He says that over £650m of investment will be provided to these regions, of which around 40% will be in the form of equity finance.

Representing the city of Nottingham was Andrew seward of Tech Nottingham. He extoled the virtue of Nottingham’s cohesive and collaborative tech community, brought together regularly through events and student outreach – to prevent a brain drain south. Andrew made the point that tech is everywhere: “If you’ve got industry you’ve got tech,” he said. “What’s the recipe for creating a tech community?” he asked. “Get two people to talk to each other; then scale that up.”

Also championing Nottingham was Karl Hilton of Sumo Digital who has 20 years’ experience of setting up tech businesses in Nottingham. He was evangelical in his praise for Nottingham, located in the middle of the UK.

Cliff Dennett represented Innovation Birmingham Ltd. He said the economic development is all about nurturing digital brilliance. He said Birmingham has a growing start-up tech community but it is an ideal location in which to build your business because costs are low and “it is a great place for talent”.

Dr Ewa Truchanowicz Business Engagement Manager of The Biohub Birmingham also came out in support of Birmingham. She reminded us that Birmingham is the UK’s second largest city. “There is a lot going on north of the M25,” she said emphatically.