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Posted on October 4, 2018 by staff

Leeds should look beyond competing with Manchester

Leeds needs to look beyond just ‘competing’ with Manchester and other regional UK cities and look further afield to European hubs.

That was one of several key messages raised by business and tech leaders at a roundtable discussing the West Yorkshire city’s digital and technology sector and how it can ‘win the tech race’.

“I think for me it’s an identity thing,” said Ed Thewlis (pictured below), managing director of local data services firm The Data Shed, who was one of 10 speakers at BusinessCloud’s ‘What next for Leeds’ tech sector?’ roundtable this week, hosted at the offices of law firm Addleshaw Goddard.

“We’ve got two Northern cities trying to compete with one another. We are global, we are globally capable, let’s focus on that rather than on what Manchester is doing.

“We can compete in so many ways with industry leaders around the world, let’s focus on that.”

A similar sentiment was echoed by Paul Connell, founder of ODI Leeds and CEO of The Data City, who stressed that Leeds needs to be “radically open” and look further afield.

He said the city should compare itself to the likes of “Copenhagen, Berlin and Munich” rather than just neighbouring UK cities.

Mike Buck, head of delivery for Leeds at IT and business consultancy firm BJSS, stressed that Leeds needs to “keep investing in itself and fix its transport problems”.

Celebrating Leeds’ achievements and the growth of the city’s digital and tech sector was another key theme that dominated the discussion.

Carly Gulliver, managing associate at Addleshaw Goddard, said shouting about the “great steps” Leeds is already taking is crucial.

“We’ve had some great investment and great transactions in the region already – just look at the Team17 IPO,” she said.

“Just keep shouting about what we’re doing, and I think the rest will follow.”

The importance of collaboration was a point raised by all the speakers, including Zandra Moore (pictured below), CEO at business intelligence software firm Panintelligence.

“I think we’ve got some brilliant ecosystems and communities here and we need to connect them better and that’s across the North,” she said.

Malcolm Seagrave, MD North at And Digital, added: “What’s good for Manchester is good for Leeds, as far as I’m concerned.

“Manchester is making a lot of noise and attracting lots of people and companies to the city. Jump on it, it’s a Northern thing for me. Joining up across the North would be the smarter thing to do than trying to do it on your own.”

Kirstie Shapley (pictured below), programme and partnership manager at Bruntwood’s new landmark Platform building, said it’s all about collaboration.

“We need collaboration between the different tech hubs and between the businesses that are across Leeds,” she said, adding that ‘silent’ tech companies need to work together with start-ups.

“Once we’re working together as a city then the North can stand together and compete across Europe and elsewhere.”

Meanwhile, Vapour Cloud chief executive Tim Mercer said he believes there’s enough money in the region but that investors need to take more risks.

The entrepreneur said a lot of funds “don’t want to talk to you” unless you’re a business with a £10 million turnover and £1 million EBIT (earnings before interest and tax).

“It just doesn’t sit in their sweet spot, so they won’t do it,” he said. “There are other funds, lower down, that will talk to you, but you might want to scale and then you have to do it all over again.

“I don’t necessarily think there needs to be more money, there’s enough money there, but I think sometimes they (investors) need to be a little riskier with where they put it.”

Ellie MacDonald is the founder of PR, marketing and communications firm MacComms and works with a number of high-tech companies. She said if Leeds was chosen as Channel 4’s new HQ  it would be a huge boost to the region.

Teacher Maddie Julian told the panel how she’d turned to tech after her son Otis was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. She’s now helping thousands of other people cope with the condition through her Leeds-based start-up DigiBete, which is based at Platform.