How to ignite the tech startup scene in Manchester

I’m here at the latest instalment of Techcelerate’s series of events for tech and digital startups in the Manchester and NW area.

Martin Bryant, Managing Editor of ReadWriteWeb, kicked off the evening with an extension to his recent TEDx Manchester talk on getting traction in the tech scene in Manchester. Having visited various tech hubs across the UK and the vibrant European start up scene, Martin was left wondering:

“With the strong sense of industrial history in Manchester, why don’t we have a vibrant startup tech scene here?”

Martyn set up a Facebook group to glean views and followed up with a blog post to further stoke interest. Feedback affirmed his initial prognosis – support networks are fragmented and disparate. Lots of startups want help but don’t know where to go.

A lively debate ensued with much consensus around the view that there are plenty of success stories that have emanated from Manchester e.g Laterooms. Its just that new and more established tech businesses circulating at the moment get very little air time (than they might in say London or across the European startup scene).

My own view is that we need a hub. In fact I think we need two. One physical and one virtual.

First, we need a physical venue where startups can congregate, work, collaborate, share ideas, whine, celebrate and work through all the pleasure and pains that go into building a business. Manoj Ranaweera has done a great job in setting up Techcelerate and the Tech centre in Manchester city centre (where I am right now for this event). Madlab is also a great initiative too.

A question I am grappling with is whether it should really be for startups to lead in terms of establishing where they want to congregate. I don’t think this can be led (although Daresbury, the Sharp Project and perhaps the Tech centre may disprove this!). To me, a hub needs to grow organically to have a real chance of success. An example might be where a business grows fast, becoming successful and then opens its doors to new fledging startups who wish to congregate around the buzz. From there a hub can grow.

Secondly, I think we need much more online air-time to sing the praises of our early stage startups and growing businesses. To profile them. Highlight events. Provide a platform for the businesses to showcase their products, ideas and solutions. I suppose a Techcrunch but specially targeted at Manchester and the NW. (I would be happy to toss my hat into the ring to assist with this).

As Martyn noted, it feels like we are on the brink of something exciting that is about to explode in Manchester. What are your views on what needs to happen to support tomorrow’s businesses in Manchester?

Northern Tech Awards 2011 – Techcelerate – 23 March 2011

It is a busy day tomorrow with the Budget 2011 closely followed in the evening by the inaugural Northern Tech Awards 2011 hosted by Techcelerate.

Last time I checked there were a handful of tickets left. We’ve got a table there and it promises to be a great evening.

Techcelerate is a great initiative for tech and digital companies across the North so it is well worth lending your support if you can. Hope to see you there!

Digital NW: News round up for the week to 13 August 2010

Here’s a round up of the key digital, tech and creative business north west news that caught my eye this week:

Fun story about two NW teenagers who have managed to solve a problem related to bus timetables by developing a mobile app within a matter of weeks and on a shoe-string. Even better (or not?) is that Greater Manchester Transport Passenger Executive hadn’t managed to solve this problem despite having a £259m budget! Exciting possibilities…

Good to see NW digital agencies holding their own on high profile national projects with news of the recent contract win by Loaf Creative to provide the England team with digital content for individual and commercial supporters for the World Cup 2018 bid. Well done guys!

Congratulations to How-Do on their recent move to city centre offices in Manchester – welcome.

Best reads of the week:

Emerging companies launching in a recession – a good article from The Drum on the recent increase in digital startups with insightful comments from NW digital and creative entrepreneurs who have been there and done it before. Interesting to note how the complexity and red-tape around getting the business off the ground is drawn out as a particular issue – something is keen to address!

Social Media and common sense – a simple guide how – straight talking and valuable advice for all from social media newbies to veterans by Ned Poulton from PushOn.

Forthcoming digital NW events:

Techcelerate Late Summer BBQ

15 September 2010 – Kicks off from 5.30pm at Atlas Bar, Manchester

BVCA Financing and Funding the Digital Age

16 September 2010 – All day event at Lowry Hotel, Manchester 

Beyond 2010 – Harnessing the influence of Social Media (How-Do)

20th September (9am – 5pm), The Point, Lancashire County Cricket Club

Techcelerate – The Difference Engine for tech startups

Techcelerate – Difference Engine from Business N2K on Vimeo.

The Difference Engine is a really exciting initiative aimed at tech startups across the UK (and Europe) to provide seed capital and support for promising tech entrepreneurs and businesses.

The proposition is simple: a one-page online entry form is assessed and if accepted you will be given £20,000 plus 13 weeks intensive support, development and mentoring (a “boot-camp”) to help you grow and prove your business model in return for 8% of the share capital or equity.

Inspired by the Y Combinator in the US and Seedcamp here, Jon Bradford set up the Difference Engine in the North East of England and has just put its initial in-take of 9 startups through its intensive mentoring and development programme – see feedback from this first phase of startups on “What its really like to take part in the Difference Engine?” videos below.

Helping businesses “do more in 13 weeks than they might otherwise do in 1-3 years” Bradford explained how many of the teams have managed to build connections and networks with key influencers, decision-makers and successful entrepreneurs in their respective fields; people who they might never otherwise have had the opportunity to connect with (almost certainly not within 13 weeks!). Some of the fledgling businesses even managed to add these individuals to their management team e.g. as Chairman, Non-exec directors etc.

This is a superb initiative which, although open to early stage technology businesses across the UK, I would love to see (and assist in) replicating here in the North West.

Here is feedback from two North West based entrepreneurs who took part in The Difference Engine:

First off here’s ScreenReach:

The Difference Engine – What is it really like? from Business N2K on Vimeo.

And next we have Canddi:

The Difference Engine – What is it really like? Part 2 from Business N2K on Vimeo.

Another great session held by Techcelerate in Manchester.