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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1 comment:

Alan Graham said...

As a 20+ year tech exec, writer (ZDNet, O'Reilly, etc), and co-founder of one of Silicon Valley's most popular tech mixers (and a recent transplant to the UK - although I still keep a residence in the Valley), what I've found fascinating about some of the opportunities over here is that you aren't Silicon Valley.

While there is much to be admired, regarding the enormous success from the Bay Area, there's a lot that can be improved upon in Europe, and I think playing to your strengths and cultural identity/values could be much more successful than moulding yourself after a culture that in many ways, I find broken. @agraham999