Uncertainty over Brexit helped convince the government that it needed to merge Tech City UK and Tech North into one expanded nationally-focused organisation.
Tech Nation chief operating officer MB Christie told BusinessCloud that the need to keep ahead in the “digital arms race” for talent was a key determining factor for the merger, which was announced late last year.
The new national network for technology entrepreneurs, Tech Nation, was officially launched in April.
“London is the third largest tech hub in the world and the pressure would have been on us anyway to keep up our international standing – but Brexit accelerated the move,” said Christie, formerly of Tech City UK.
“How could we keep this up? Digital and digital talent in particular is an arms race – every country is trying its best to keep that momentum going.
“Brexit was a great moment to say ‘hey, things are going to change pretty radically here so if we do not uncover the great talent and the stories coming from tech entrepreneurs across this country, we’re not going to stay in a leading position’.”
Christie says that the end of Tech North’s funding was also used “as a key moment for arguing for accelerating growth and connections in tech clusters across the UK” and that the decision was taken following a year of discussions.
“The government recognised that it needs a positive good news story about where we’re going to and tech has been one of those great stories it can use,” she explained. “It hasn’t been hard to get its attention; however it’s always a challenge in government to manage expectations.”
Tech Nation’s remit covered the whole of the UK, in theory giving the emerging tech sectors in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland more support than before.
Indeed Chancellor Philip Hammond and Prime Minister Theresa May have promised to commit approximately £25m of funding over four years to support ten new city hubs, double the number covered under the former arrangement.
The decision to consolidate the two organisations received widespread praise but also raised concerns about whether the North of England would continue to get the same level of attention.
One entrepreneur, Elizabeth Clark, recently raised concerns that the move could be a “potentially backward step” for the region. The CEO of Dream Agility said her worry is that the North will now become “the poor relation to the South”.
That was rebuffed by a Tech Nation spokesperson – and Christie says the new approach could provide the rocket fuel which powers the future UK economy.
“We decided to focus on transforming the country from a collection of standalone clusters into a strongly networked, productive and internationally recognised tech nation,” she said.
“Up to now I’d say we grew organically. This gave us a chance to step back and think about how to structure ourselves to achieve our goals over the next four years instead of the next 12 months.
“It’s a made a huge difference.”
Christie says that the main challenge to date has been to convince staff within both Tech City UK and Tech North with the new mission.
“We had the same vision of making the UK the best place to start and grow a digital business, but we had been approaching that with slightly different modus operandi,” she said. “The Tech North team was focused on doing that within certain Northern boundaries and the Tech City group was looking nationally but with much more focus on the scaled businesses – which tended to be more in London.
“We spent quite a bit of time on creating a single mission that everyone could get behind: empowering ambitious entrepreneurs through knowledge and connections to help make them more competitive and productive.”
She says an internal change programme allowed all staff to feed into the new way of working before the restructure into four key departments focused on marketing, commercial, operations and ‘entrepreneur success’.
“We are looking to create a national network; cultivate emerging sectors; nurture talent and skills; and champion, inform and monitor the start-up and scale-up tech sector,” she said.
“We have executives who are leading all of those departments, although we are still recruiting for an entrepreneur success director.”
Tech Nation recently launched with an event in London while it is holding a series of ‘tour’ events around the UK.