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Collaboration, support and a bit of northern grit - how Manchester became a leading force in tech

Jenny Brookfield Guest Author
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Manchester tech and R&D tax opportunities
When ticket search engine Tickx announced a £3m Series A investment in March 2018, it was the culmination of a fast-growing two years for the Manchester tech business.

Co-founders Steve Pearce and Sam Coley had worked from a bedroom to launch their fledgling business. Just a year later, they had turned down offers from three investors on BBC’s Dragons’ Den.

That was in 2017. Today, they’re live in three countries with one million people using their platform last year. They plan to use their investment to launch across Europe, explore new innovations and expand their team.

Tickx is just one of the tech businesses doing amazing things in Manchester, and the 25-year-olds attribute some of their success to their base in the city.

The tech scene in Manchester is booming and it’s also one of the best cities for events in the UK so it was a perfect fit to establish the TickX HQ here. There is a close-knit community of founders and entrepreneurs within the city so networking with other like-minded business people is both easy and effective. There is also a first-class pool of talent in Manchester keen to work with start-ups based in the North West.

Steve Pearce, CEO of TickX

A thriving Manchester tech community

Manchester’s tech community is thriving. It turned over a combined £3.2bn in 2017 according to a report published by Tech Nation, representing a turnover of £105,000 per digital tech employee. In the five years from 2011, there was a 130 per cent increase in digital business births and jobs in digital tech have risen to 30,683.

This has all been fuelled by a steady stream of talent provided by the city’s world-leading universities. The lower cost of living along with the hubs of growing tech businesses means that many choose to remain in the area. There are ample opportunities for industry to tap into the expertise of the education establishments and this too has contributed.

The University of Manchester is home to the National Graphene Institute, which has partnered with 80 companies to work on graphene applications. Similarly, Manchester Metropolitan University’s business start-up incubator Innospace has supported more than 500 start-ups and helped 300 more through boot camp programmes in ten years.

Supporting innovation

Away from the universities, there’s support from other areas. Andy Burnham pledged his allegiance to the tech scene upon being appointed metro mayor during 2017, while independent charity Manchester Tech Trust focusses on economic development, research and growth of the tech community through a network of mentors.

Then there’s Tech Manchester, a not-for-profit organisation that offers advice and guidance to tech businesses in the city. Established by hosting provider UK Fast, the scheme trained its 100th mentor in June and has welcomed more than 500 people to its workshops and mentoring events.

Manchester co-working Spaces

Assistance for start-ups also comes in the co-working spaces, where fledgling businesses and freelancers can work side-by-side in the likes of The Landing, the XYZ Building and WeWork, which offers two sites in Manchester. UK Fast has also announced the creation of a 30,000 sq ft incubator space for start-ups at its campus.

2018 will see even more offerings with the revival of Techcelerate, which ran from 2006 to 2013 as a tech eco-system for entrepreneurs, investors and dealmakers. Founder Manoj Ranaweera is a serial tech entrepreneur, having started up 11 businesses or projects over the last 13 years, two of which he sold.

When Techcelerate and the community came together with more than 100 events, a tech eco-system was created in Manchester. It has been growing ever since.

“Today, Manchester is at least five times bigger than the tech ecosystem in 2013,” says Ranaweera.

More and more tech companies are choosing Manchester as the headquarters for their businesses and others, including some of the biggest brands in the UK, are moving their technology development centres to Manchester.

Manoj Ranaweera, founder of Techcelerate

There are some downsides, he believes, citing the restructuring of Tech North to Tech Nation as a significant loss to the city, though he concedes other organisations have emerged.

“I’m restarting Techcelerate in 2018 to work specifically with tech product companies, that have the potential to be £100m turnover businesses one day,” he says. “I’m building this as an ecosystem-driven commercial entity with strong links to San Francisco to Shanghai, and actively looking for partners who believe in our vision and Manchester.”

Fashion tech to social media – the Mancunian Way

Away from the support organisations, there are businesses flying the flag for Manchester with amazing results. Fashion tech has emerged as a strength, with the likes of fast fashion brands Boohoo, Missguided and Pretty Little Thing enjoying tremendous growth. The Boohoo group, which acquired Pretty Little Thing, saw a 97 per cent growth in revenue in the year to March 2018, at £579.8m, with pre-tax profits of £43.3m.

To pick out a few others, Manchester Science Park resident the fast-growing ANS Group helps clients including Odeon Cinemas become cloud-enabled through cloud-ready networks and platforms, and took staff numbers to 300 in 2017 when it acquired Manchester software agency Webantic. There’s expertise in Wi-Fi, including Purple Wi-Fi that provides public Wi-Fi in restaurants, hotels and arenas in more than 160 countries. The system allows leisure facilities to collect data on customers’ shopping habits and connect with them through targeted messaging.

Then there’s the social media contingent. LadBible was founded here in 2012 to provide editorial, documentary, video and live posts that are now viewed globally, and Social Chain, a social-first marketing agency, social media publishing house and influencer agency, is becoming a global success.

It all adds up to an exciting mix of tech newcomers and established organisations unafraid to work together.

Manchester is a city with a home grown, collaborative, community spirit, while at the same time being a truly global city.

Oliver Chesher, founder and MD of PR agency, Galibier

“Manchester is a city with a home grown, collaborative, community spirit, while at the same time being a truly global city,” says Oliver Chesher, founder and managing director of PR agency Galibier.

“A perfect example of this was the success of the recent FinTech North events, in which we were proud to be a partner. Not only is there a cohesive Northern tech community emerging across Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds, but it is punching above its weight internationally, in spite of the Brexit farce.”

Simon Swan starting recruitment platform Hiring Hub in 2011 and says he has watched the community flourish: “The tech scene in Manchester is thriving and the community is quick to collaborate with, and support one another. It feels like, at ideation, start-up and scale-up stages, there’s always an event you can attend, or someone you can lean on to get help or advice.”

The future is bright

All this creates a perfect setting for the newcomers popping up across the city, including MirrorWeb, founded in 2016 and growing monthly. A cloud-native web and social media archiving firm, its technology allows organisations to create permanent, unalterable records to ensure information of commercial, cultural or historical value is never lost.

It recently announced its contract to preserve the UK Government’s entire digital history in a fully searchable, cloud-based archive – the world’s biggest archive.

“Manchester has a thriving tech scene and our rapid growth is testament to that,” says managing director David Clee. “It has a hotbed of talent, which is so important to us as a growing tech firm. Not only do we have an abundance of talent on our doorstep with the universities, we also have gifted self-taught techies, who take the non-traditional route and can be found at events like hackathons.”

Access to funding and investment is another reason why we are based here; funds like the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund help start-ups realise their potential.”

Marketing agency boss Mitchel White agrees, having started his second business in the city in March 2018. FlexTable turns restaurants and bars into co-working spaces during quieter periods, with members paying £75 a month to access working areas and free hot drinks.

“As an adopted Mancunian, I’ve experienced first-hand how welcoming and supportive the Manchester tech scene is,” says the 25-year-old, originally from Wolverhampton. “With regular tech-focused events and panel discussions you could attend an event every night if you wanted to, giving you a chance to meet other people in the space looking to network and collaborate.

“I think the reason why everyone is so supportive of each other is because we’re all working towards the same thing – to make Manchester a leading force in the tech sector.”

I think the reason why everyone is so supportive of each other is because we’re all working towards the same thing – to make Manchester a leading force in the tech sector.

Mitchel White, managing director of LeftMedia

The heart of the northern powerhouse and R&D tax credits

At the heart of the northern powerhouse, Manchester is becoming synonymous with innovation. Its pioneering status as the UK’s premier smart city can be further cemented with the help of R&D tax credits, the government funding mechanism earmarked in the industrial strategy to stimulate the northern powerhouse. It is hoped that a new golden age for industrial science, technology, engineering and mathematics innovators will see innovative Manchester businesses flourish. 

Are you an ambitious Manchester business?

Our team of chartered tax advisers have helped innovative Manchester businesses from all sectors fuel their growth with valuable funding from R&D tax credits. Get in touch to find out how you too could be rewarded for your innovation.

Guest post

Jenny Brookfield

Jenny Brookfield is a freelance journalist. She writes about business and technology for a number of publications in Manchester and beyond, including the tech-focused Business Cloud magazine and Insider Media’s regional business titles. She has a particular interest in discovering the stories and motivations of the people behind inspirational businesses.