Genuine question but where’s the centre of the North West’s tech sector?

Greater Manchester is estimated to have around 10,000 digital and tech businesses with established clusters in MediaCity and the city centre.

Liverpool City Region’s tech sector is growing, evidenced by this week’s vibrant 2024 LCR Tech Climbers event, which I was lucky enough to host.

The Baltic Triangle is a at the heart of Liverpool’s digital sector while impressive things are happening at Sci-Tech Daresbury.

Now I need to add Lancaster to the list after I paid my first visit to Fraser House Hub.

Fraser House is a sprawling 11,500 sq ft building in central Lancaster.

In a different era it was used for manufacturing but Lancashire County Council’s economic development company –  Lancashire County Developments Limited – breathed new life into the site by converting it into a co-working and tech hub a couple of years ago.

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The big problem a lot of organisations make is they stick in superfast broadband, a couple of thought pods and call it a tech community. It doesn’t work like that.

The secret is bringing in the right person to run it – which is where Rory Southworth comes in.

He was appointed the manager of the Fraser House Hub in 2022, bringing in over 100 new members in his first 12 months in the role and growing the percentage of female members from 2 per cent to 40 per cent.

Southworth said: “What is even more special about Fraser House is that it is a Lancashire County Council project.

“It’s a pretty forward-thinking approach to business support, utilising peer support and community to grow tech businesses and the local community.

“The £29m raised in the last two years has mostly been spent on salaries for local jobs. There is no doubt that Lancaster and Lancashire benefits greatly from having Fraser House here.”

There’s now 120 tech businesses based out of Fraser House including real success stories like Fuuse, where Michael Gibson is the CEO, and Relative Insights, led by the impressive Ben Hookway.

Gibson said: “The question probably should have been: ‘Did you know Lancaster had a successful and vibrant tech cluster?

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“It has been here for years but generally unnoticed. Over half of all Innovate UK funding for Lancashire is won by Lancaster businesses.

“Also the companies don’t just grow here or get funding, they scale and realise value with a large number of successful exits and stock market listings in the last couple of years.”

Every month Fraser House hosts about nine events and during my visit they were giving a local tour of the building. Their excitement was tangible. It was a really impressive.

However the real clever bit is something called the FHundED, which is a dedicated partnership designed to bring investors, funders and tech businesses together.

There’s one staggering statistic that shows that it works. Over 30 per cent of all venture capital raised in Lancashire comes out of businesses based in Fraser House Hub. WOW!!

In the last two years businesses in Fraser House have raised £29m in VC investment with investors travelling from as far afield as Leeds, Sheffield, Manchester to meet tech entrepreneurs.

What’s going on at Fraser House should be the template for all tech hubs.

Maya Ellis, who is the programme lead for innovation/LEP integration/property at Lancashire County Council, said: “The vibrancy of the space and wider community is a huge testament to a lot of hard work, but also to public sector taking a risk where private sector couldn’t yet (although they’re starting to pick up the reins more now and we’re very glad of the help!!).”

“I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t also say that it’s not just Lancaster.”

In particular she highlighted the news that Barcelona-based OneCoWork has chosen a building on Winckley Square, Preston, as its first UK site.

There are also plans to develop a 20,000 sq ft Innovation Hub in Samlesbury to give businesses a location near the new National Cyber Force HQ.

The key is having someone with Southworth’s passion at the helm but he can’t do it on his own and special mention for the jobs that Ellis and Dan Knowles are doing.

Well done.