The growing Leeds Tech ecosystem – a PHA Roundtable

Following our launch in the region earlier this year, we were delighted to host a Roundtable recently which saw business leaders and tech pioneers from across Leeds gather to discuss ‘Leeds’ significant role in the growth of the UK tech economy’.

The technology sector within Leeds has gone from strength to strength in recent years and its contribution to the wider UK economy is growing every year. A number of sector specialisms have begun to emerge, summarised by The Data City CEO Alex Craven who stated ‘We have analysed a range of individual sub-sectors within Leeds’ Digital Economy and our data tells us that those leading the way are fintech, net zero, advanced manufacturing and data services’. Danilo Mascia, Associate Professor of Banking & FinTech at the University of Leeds added ‘With significant investments to set up the first UK Infrastructure Bank up in Leeds, along with the Bank of England’s plans to make Leeds its second home, our city is remarkably consolidating its role in the financial services arena, and very likely acting as a catalyst for new investments especially in the fast-growing FinTech sector.’

Investment from both the public and private sector has been critical to the growth of these sectors and the tech sector in Leeds as a whole. Colin Greene, Operational Partner at Praetura Ventures commented ‘The funding landscape has changed significantly even over the last two or three years. There is a growing community of Venture Capital firms emerging across the North of the UK that are beginning to invest higher amounts in some of Leeds’ most exciting businesses. We have invested in Leeds-based XR Games who are beginning to gain traction not just in Leeds but in the US and on the world stage. The amounts being talked about now have definitely increased and are having a real impact on businesses in the region.’ This positive trend was also echoed by Portfolio NED Georgina Mitchell who added that ‘The source of Venture Capital investment in Northern businesses has also impacted the talent market. In days gone by a lot of founders were pushed to relocate their businesses down to London, meaning the entrepreneurial talent and those with the ambition and ability to progress within a firm moved with it, whereas now there is a hope that after two years of virtual meetings VCs will no longer require such a move to secure investment.’

With such an incredible pool of talent within the city it is no surprise that the recruitment market was a key point of discussion throughout the roundtable. Two areas of debate centred around how the nationwide skills gap is impacting Leeds and how rising salaries and remote working will affect the city’s thriving tech businesses. Phil White, Founder at Audacia commented that ‘There is definitely a talent shortage, and it’s only going to get worse. With Yorkshire estimated to create 42,000 technology jobs in the next four years, we need to do everything possible to support the retention and inflow of talent into the region. Corporates are investing heavily in digital transformation, and it’s becoming harder for smaller businesses to compete.’

Offering a start-up’s perspective on the issue, Rob Allen from sustainability focused fintech Tred added ‘While start-ups might not be able to compete purely on salary there is a growing demand from candidates for roles where they can actually have a positive impact on the planet.’ This was echoed by Gary Woodhead, Founder of Curveblock who shared that ‘Statistics show that B-Corp status is one of the strongest pulls for the candidate market at the moment. This is a clear sign that people want to work for a positive company.’

Regarding the potential benefits flexible working could deliver for Leeds businesses, Northcoders COO Amul Batra added ‘The impact of working from home on the candidate market isn’t just a trend that impacts Leeds or the North vs South of the UK, it is global. Increased flexibility means that local businesses now have the opportunity to look for talent internationally, particularly software developers. The demand for work-ready and highly skilled developers is soaring at the moment and our coding bootcamps are providing ambitious candidates with the tools they need to access these roles.’

The momentum around Leeds at the moment is palpable and the city is undoubtedly growing in confidence as a real tech leader not just within the North but across the UK. Comparisons with Manchester’s tech economy are inevitable and were a point raised by several guest speakers. Returning to the issue of investment, Appleyard Lees Partner Dick Waddington views the two points as entwined, stating that ‘One part of the solution to this funding challenge is to further raise awareness of the strength of the technology business within Leeds. Growing the regions credibility as a tech leader will be key to attracting outside investment.’

The appointment of Tracy Brabin, the first Mayor of West Yorkshire was discussed as a vital step forward for the region. The consensus within the room was that Leeds should be bolder in shouting about its successes on a national and international scale, and that being more proactive on that front to mirror its successful approach to events and community collaboration, such as Leeds Digital Festival, could be the key to the next phase in the city’s development.

Ben Cossor, Head of Technology PR at the PHA Group, commented, “The sheer appetite and willingness of the business leaders and tech pioneers to get involved in our roundtable during Leeds Digital Festival and contribute such valuable insights demonstrates the entrepreneurial spirit which is driving the Leeds tech scene forwards. It was a pleasure to welcome representatives from all areas of Leeds’ burgeoning tech community in one room – we left the conversation encouraged by the momentum behind the industry and agree that now is the time for Leeds businesses to capitalise on this, to further grow its national and international reputation and attract even more investment into the region.”

Hannah Craig, Head of PHA North, concluded: “Leeds has always been a hotbed of talent when it comes to tech and has been a significant contributer to the industry. But it’s clear the region is at a pivotal moment for the next stage of growth. There was a real hunger in the room to see the region come together under the guidance of the newly appointed Mayor of West Yorkshire to promote Leeds as a fundamental part of the UK tech economy. In turn, helping organisations in the region to secure high level funding so they can continue to collaborate, innovate, and push boundaries. We look forward to watching the region thrive and playing our part in whatever way we can to make sure it succeeds.”

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