Today, we are obsessed with turning Manchester into a thriving tech city, whether its adoption of technology or creating new technology startups. We even have folks who are championing Manchester to become the 5th largest tech city in Europe #MCRTop5. This is all credit to Doug Ward (worthy of a dedicated blog post) and his merry men.
But this aspiration is not unique to Manchester. As tech has become so sexy, every major city aspires to become the next Silicon Valley. Unfortunately, they all fail as Silicon Valley is unique and cannot be replicated for many reasons.
During the heyday of Techcelerate, my attempts were to stop the brain drain and turn Manchester into the alternative city for tech startups. “Alternative” is not as inspirational as “top 5”. Whilst many people understand the need to stop brain drain, the “alternative” did not strike well with many.
If every city wants to be the place to setup and grow a tech company, its a battle only the few major cities in the world can compete in, let along win. Whilst I love Manchester to be one that competes, I simply cannot see it happen irrespective of what we invent in universities of Manchester, e.g. first computer, graphene, etc.
A better strategy can be drawn by studying Seattle rather than Silicon Valley and San Francisco. The modern story of Seattle is well captured by Hadi Partovi of TechCrunch. I’m not going to repeat the points made there, but simply like to suggest you read it.
Today, Manchester produces more graduates than any other European city. Tech companies need talent more than ever before. The most important skills they need are in software engineering, which our universities are well equipped to produce. London will always attract the sales and marketing talent due to its sheer size and cosmopolitan nature. London is the place the deals are done and not in Manchester. If Manchester aspires, it could become the engineering hub for tech companies elsewhere. Most fast growing tech companies have engineering talent outside UK. In most cases in Eastern Europe and India. Even in my humble case, UnifiedVU’s engineering team is based out of Sri Lanka.
So the real question is not about how many tech companies are created and grown in Manchester, but how many tech companies have operating centres here. If you can fix this problem first, more and more entrepreneurs will be attracted to the city to create a thriving ecosystem.
Today, TechNorth, Midas, Manchester New Economy and number of other public sector funded agencies are accountable to us, the tax payers to turn the north into a thriving economy through tech. I urge those who are in power to consider my alternative strategy, in case you have not explored it before.
Request: Could you please list in comments the large tech companies who have their engineering centres in Manchester? Thanks.