Posted on July 7, 2017 by staff

Meet nine heroes of Greater Manchester’s tech sector


On Thursday I hosted a digital and tech summit organised by Greater Manchester’s new mayor Andy Burnham.

For too long politicians have paid lip service to technology but Burnham is a smart cookie and knows how the sector can turbo charge the economy and generate new jobs.

Greater Manchester’s new metro mayor has laid out his stall to put tech at the centre of his economic strategy and the conference was an opportunity to engage with trailblazers from across the region.

The event consisted of a mixture of panel discussions and workshops and the sheer energy of the region could be summed up by the quality and diversity of the speakers.

That’s why I’ve decided to devote this week’s column to nine of the amazing stories we heard.

• John Roberts, founder, AO World

Roberts famously founded Bolton-based online electricals retailer AO World after a £1 bet in a pub with a mate. Today AO is turning over £700m+ with a strategy to grow in Europe.

• Alison Ross, Customer Experience & Operations Director Auto Trader 

Auto Trader did something very unusual in 2013 when they stopped their print magazine and went completely digital.

The last set of figures I saw showed Auto Trader had seen a 23 per cent lift in annual profits to £193.4m.

The other interesting thing about Auto Trader is that three-and-a-half years ago they centralised several offices in the North West into one amazing HQ in First Street, Manchester, in order to improve recruitment.

• Jason Brown, acting head of tech, LADbible Group

The LADBible was set  up by university student pals Solly Solomou and Arian Kalantari five  years ago and its growth has been little short of phenomenal – quadrupling its audience in 18 months to 100 million people.

Proudly based in Manchester they’ve expanded their business with the launch of SPORTBible; the female-orientated brand Pretty 52; and even the Australian equivalent OzBible.

• Paul Gouge, chief executive, Playdemic

Playdemic is Cheshire-based but most of its staff come from Manchester and its chief executive Paul Gouge believes the city can take the lead in gaming.

He should know.

One of their big games is Golf Clash, which has been downloaded 10 million times. Hardly surprising then that Playdemic was snapped up by Warner Brothers.

• Alison McKenzie-Folan, deputy chief executive, Wigan Council

It’s vital that the public sector grasp the nettle when it comes to technology and Wigan Council has done just that.

Two years ago they set up the Digital Leadership Taskforce to bring together all the sectors like education; business; health.

It was prompted by the fact that 8,000 kids in the borough didn’t have access to the internet and a number of traditional businesses didn’t have an ecommerce platform.

• Lawrence Jones, CEO and co-founder, UKFast

I’ll declare a vested interest here because I’m business partners with Lawrence in BusinessCloud but his commitment to Manchester and education is such that the city is about to get the UKFast Dean Trust High School to help tackle the digital skills gap.

• Christine Bellamy, head of product, BBC Education

If I had to pick the best news story for Manchester in the last 10 years it would be the arrival of the BBC at MediaCityUK.

It’s been transformational and has been a shot in the arm for the North West. What the BBC has done with the micro:bit has been amazing.

• Rachel Dunscombe, CIO Salford Royal / Director of Digital at Salford Royal Group

Never ever forget that people make a business.

Rachel Dunscombe works in the NHS and was voted the most disruptive CIO across all sectors in Europe.

She’s a bit different, evidenced by the fact that during you last maternity leave she set up a not-for-profit mobile development company to help junior doctors and got to No 1 in the App Store in the UK.

Dunscombe is the director of digital at Salford Royal Group, which has 18,000 employees and turnover of £1.3bn.

Under her watch digital is in the DNA of the NHS and the people who will benefit most will be the patients.

• Chris Bailey, Editor-in-Chief, Manchester City FC

I know the red half of Manchester may disagree but what Sheikh Mansour has done for the city since he took over Manchester City in 2008 can be seen in the transformation of East Manchester.

What a lot of people don’t know is from day one he wanted the club to be completely digital.

Manchester City took a conscious decision not to set up a TV channel, preferring instead to go down the digital route. Its content doesn’t sit behind a paywall because it wants to engage with fans.