I’ve known Richard Gregory for many years [Disclaimer: He was a customer of edocr.com at one point]. When I first heard of his appointment to head of TechNorth, I felt energised. Here is a man well known and respected in Manchester digital community, a sort of people’s champion. However, he was from the digital marketing community and not from the tech entrepreneur community. The only question remaining was that does he understand the pain tech entrepreneurs in the North has to go to get anywhere, especially on raising capital?
I just read Richard’s blog post where he shares Objectives and Key Results (OKR) Methodology of TechNorth. This is not a framework I’m familiar with, but lets capture the key points:
- Raise the profile of the Northern Tech sector and the companies within it by uniting the regions to tell one great story
- Create the central point of data on Northern Tech to support our initiatives around funding and skills
- Support the creation of a leading ecosystem for founders and entrepreneurs through networking, training and support for accelerators and co-working spaces.
- Reduce the skills and talent gap in digital and tech by collaborating with tech employers both large and small
- Assure the sustainability of Tech North and its initiatives by making sure we secure funding for beyond 2018
In terms of analysing these, I’m going to compare them with my own efforts through Techcelerate from 2006 to 2012/13, when with a community of 2,300, we built the Manchester tech ecosystem. The regional government (North West Development Agency) at the time refused to support us, as they bet on agencies (job creation) instead of scalable tech startups (wealth creation). We did run few events which were sponsored by Digital KTN, an agency of UK Government, for which I’m grateful for.
Let’s take a deep dive:
- Of course, this is the purpose on which TechNorth was setup. Techcelerate’s self imposed brief was to do the same, but for the North West and mainly Manchester. We did attempt to unify the North through OpenCoffee movement, as far as Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds were concerned.
- Without this, it would not be possible to function. But the important thing is not just keeping the data for TechNorth, TechCity and the UK Government, but share it with all of us in the North. At Techcelerate we shared what we could, see list of startups. Drupal 5 on which Techcelerate website was built was notoriously hard to use. Later on, I shared our lists via UnifiedVU Platform when we had public Spaces.
- Makes sense, as you want to achieve scale. During my times, we worked closely with Sci Tech Daresbury, Innospace and Tech Centre Manchester.
- We addressed this through by holding a number of events where students were exposed to tech startups. A key moment was when a lecturer of Lancaster University made it compulsory for students to attend one event. A bus load arrived for the event hosted at CapsuleCRM.
- Of course, funding is vital for the survival of TechNorth and many great initiatives it supports.
But to me, as a tech entrepreneur, above do not address the issues. I do accept that it makes sense to focus on small number of areas rather than spread thin. Of course, Richard has the data from which he no doubt came to these conclusions. As he mentioned, he engaged with many at one to one level to learn as much as he could before hand.
Today the boundaries between tech and digital are blurry. But as a tech entrepreneur, my key requirements are:
- Access to finance on entrerpreneur friendly terms
- Access to customers and markets
- Access to knowledge
- Access to talent
Sadly, from the 4 listed, only talent is addressed through OKRs. Whilst there is a mention of data related to funding, I’m not sure to what extent, Technorth would get involve to solve the funding gap. Whilst I like Richard very much and consider him as a friend, I know he will make every effort to help my startup endeavours. I’m somewhat taken back by the lack of attention given to address the funding, especially on entrepreneur friendly terms. Until now, I believed that TechNorth was working hard to address this issue.
I always enjoyed speaking to Victoria, and sad to see her go. I don’t think I had the chance to get to know Jennifer, but wish both of them all the best for the future.
It’s a pity that the blog post does not go further to mention the Northern Stars and other excellent programmes TechNorth run. I hope it will not be axed in 2017.
I understand that TechNorth’s activities in following areas will continue without disruption:
- Funding for early stage businesses
- Developing the accelerators
- Co-working spaces
In Summary, whether you accept or not, TechNorth has been good for the region. It will never satisfy everyone. If you need validation, ask any founder of Northern Stars 2015 the impact they had on their businesses due to the support received from TechNorth.