Thursday, March 14, 2013

Manchester at MIPIM - the appliance of science

I have really enjoyed MIPIM this year. Mostly because I’ve been following the news there from Manchester, London and Liverpool. I left Cannes to the liggers.

Joking aside, there are worse places to be than the French Riveria at this time of year, but if you go to MIPIM then you have to work hard to really get the most out of it.

It’s one of those events that plays to Manchester’s strengths. Working the event and providing strong intelligent leadership.

Manchester uses the presence at MIPIM to wisely partner with four other European cities with complementary agendas and areas of co-operation. There is also a great deal to be learned from Hamburg, Lyon, Barcelona and Amsterdam.

It was also exciting to hear that New Economy Manchester’s chief executive Mike Emmerich wants the city to be a world science city, providing solid support for enterprise and investment in science across the city region and explain how it can be achieved. The University of Manchester’s professor of physics was also on hand to position the city globally. He’s Brian Cox, by the way, you may have heard of him. Other cities I could mention would have been content to roll out a celebrity and press the flesh.

At the heart of Manchester’s Science strategy is Graphene, the wonder material, discovered at the University by Russian born scientists Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov.

I have heard the criticism that hundreds of patents have been filed in China and Korea, while Manchester has just a few. This is to misunderstand both the value of patents and what Manchester’s research base is capable of.

I’ll defer to Clive Rowland from the University to explain that as he does here.

Anyway, my good friend Andrew Spinoza has been good to his word and compiled a terrific blog from Cannes, which you can read here.

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Amazing - Manchester’s Graphene video. Very exciting.

Amazing - Manchester’s Graphene video. Very exciting.

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Saturday, March 09, 2013

Downtown Show Me The Money seminars – February 2013

8515982212_16cd80755a_m Downtown in Business held three seminars in different cities – Manchester, Preston and Leeds (pictured) where we discussed how businesses can access finance in a world where the banks aren’t lending like they used to.
Off the agenda was bank bashing, not because we’re sucking up to them or anything, but because it’s counter productive.
Here was my challenge as an event host – cover quite technical subjects and keep everyone in the audience onside.
Sometimes it’s a tricky line to tread. Finance professionals – like any professional group – have their own acronyms and jargon. You assume the audience know something of balance sheets, factoring, fixed charges and VCTs, because they run businesses and want to learn something new. That’s why they’ve come along. But equally you can’t lapse straight into all this because some speakers know what’s what. As a journalist I always tried to present information in a clear way – always explaining acronyms and terms of reference. Same goes for events. You can’t stop speakers every two minutes to clarify a basic point. You can’t present this kind of material in a Ladybird style either.

8485491800_4e5a6d9358_oAll the panellists at all three events were top drawer. Some of them I’ve worked with before – Mark Fahey of the London Stock Exchange, and Paul Taberner at Enterprise Ventures are both really compelling speakers, as is Steve Charnock of Seneca Partners. The really pleasant surprises were Helen Clayton of Deloitte and Melanie Hird of Seneca, not just because the latter two are super smart women leading the way in a man’s world either. Both had excellent delivery and a real understanding of finance from everyone’s point of view – banks, businesses, suppliers, investors in a business. My job is to give them the time and space to explain themselves.

How do you judge whether the balance was struck right? Sometimes people tell you, but sometimes you have to read the expressions and body language. A couple of very young journalists from Huddled came along and gave the Manchester 4 stars out of 5. They weren’t too baffled by any jargon. And the more experienced finance people gave us very positive direct feedback that they’d got a lot out of the event.

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Friday, March 01, 2013

Silicon Valley one year on

It’s March and now close to a year since I went on a trip to Silicon Valley in California to see how one of the world’s most dynamic business region’s works.

In a couple of weeks I’ll be marking the anniversary when a few of the folks who made the trip will be catching up on how they’ve done since. I already know that since the visit some in our delegation of 18 have had frustrations and setbacks. We were told to expect that and embrace it, to be fair.

Indeed, much of what we shared and enjoyed could pass for common sense: follow your passions, ride the waves, iterate, innovate, change, measure everything, create dynamic workplaces and treat collaborators with respect and a generous spirit. I find all of these messages relevant each and every day.

I returned from that trip with a messianic zeal to do what I can to edge my home city of Manchester towards being one of the leading entrepreneurial regions and at the forefront of digital business.

Added to that, two of my friends who I’m involved in different businesses with have also been over on a recent trip, and Downtown is hosting an event with them in Liverpool.

Our Downtown agenda this year embraces all of that: our recent events on new forms of finance have been very well received – but the next stage is to broker quality conversations and actions to put the city’s tech business ideas on a proper springboard for the future.

My good pal Gareth Burton has really thrown himself into this too. As well as building his family accountancy practice in Cheshire he’s embedded himself in TechHub Manchester, a vibrant incubator space in Carver’s Warehouse in the Northern Quarter.

This week Gareth introduced me to a remarkable young man called Doug Ward, who worked with journalist Martin Bryant to persuade TechHub to add a Manchester franchise to the bases in London, Riga and Bucharest. There are some great plans underway for events and projects in the building, but also from the businesses which are taking root there.

Doug wants to promote all of the United Kingdom’s tech clusters and foster greater links between them. He’s also a technology advisor to the Cabinet Office and to the University of Manchester Innovation Centre. His aim is to see Manchester be a top 5 European startup cluster.

There’s always been a danger that Manchester talks itself up in anything it does. Now is the time for delivery and a recognition of what we have, rather than moaning it isn’t Google. I like this piece by Telecity founder Rob Coupland on Manchester’s technology resurrection. Yes, we can point to successful local tech businesses like NCC Group, ANS, UKFast, Melbourne, LateRooms and 2Ergo that operate globally and successfully, and yes, we have the legacy of Alan Turing and the spirit of Tony Wilson.

But there are edgy urban tech communities in many cities around the world – great products and new applications are being written everywhere – not just in Silicon Valley. Manchester has an immense challenge here. I was pleased to see Barclays name above the door – and that a few VCs have signed the visitor’s book – but awareness from the serious business finance providers that needs to stimulate this sector is the most important next step. The ideas are there. The connections are in place. The worldview is mature and open. It’s important that people with the right skills and the same ambitions share all this and then buy into that vision with investment. That single truth has been as vital for Silicon Valley’s past as it will be for Manchester’s future. 

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