Could Manchester become the start-up capital of the UK?

As Virgin Media Business took their Voom Tour bus to Manchester recently, talk turned to whether the northern city could ever overtake London as the start-up capital of the UK.

In a panel discussion that featured Steven Wall from the Manchester Growth Hub, Luke Massie who founded Vibe Tickets in nearby Lancaster, and Angela Middleton who has recently opened a Manchester office for her business Middleton Murray, there was a lot of positivity about doing business in Manchester.

“We see that the people in Manchester, generally speaking are quite entrepreneurial in their makeup,” Steven said – and others agreed. Manchester is breeding a generation of entrepreneurs who are creative, intelligent and willing to take risks. However, there’s a significant issue of recruitment in the city.

Luke Massie noted: “I often say that Snapchat couldn’t have done what they did here. There’s a number of reasons for that: concentration of talent, people who have been there and done it, there’s not people who can give that kind of advice here, and access to capital.”

He added: “I think if Manchester is going to compete, they need to attract a Google or a LinkedIn.”

So why hasn’t that happened yet? Manchester is one of the UK’s biggest cities and it’s already attracted some major players in other industries – why not tech?

“I think it’s a balance of things,” Luke said. “There needs to be a business case for those companies to open up here. The BBC did that, they made their business case and the quality of creative people in Manchester has significantly increased because of that. If Manchester is going to compete it needs to become the tech city, it has to have more key signings – just like a football club. The city needs to attract companies who will then bring talented people and then what will happen is that will kick-start the ecosystem for start-ups.”

Steven agreed – saying that he had seen the positive effect the BBC’s move north had on the economy in Manchester. “The BBC has had a massive impact with the arts and creativity in the north. It's always been there but it hasn't always been so visible but now with the BBC moving to Manchester and ITV moving down at MediaCity, things have just ballooned.”

For entrepreneurs, it seems to have sparked some ideas too. “Now we see a lot of creative businesses coming to us looking for funding, which to be honest are quite realistic opportunities and we have got the business angels who are interested in these kind of opportunities,” Steven said. “The other great thing about it is Salford University in particular have picked up on the back of the BBC and they're doing specific courses that relate. The graduates from Salford University are now being successful in getting high paid jobs in MediaCity and I think as the universities align themselves with the quality of the businesses that they aspire to, then I think that's where we're going to get some high quality jobs and I think the spinoffs from that will be the entrepreneurs that come to us.”

It’s the recruitment issue, however, that attracted Angela Middleton to Manchester in the first place – it’s the perfect breeding ground for her business that matches businesses with apprentices. “We spend six weeks preparing [young people], doing some life planning on what career might suit them, making sense of the world of work, teaching them skills,” she explains. “Then, when they’re reading we bring the employer and young person together. We have an extremely high hit-rate of placement, moving into apprenticeship, moving into full time employment.

“Here in Manchester, there are all the same issues and problems we see in London – there are lots of start-up employers, lots of established employers, and there are skills gaps so they have empty vacancies and can't attract the talent. If it's small businesses, maybe they can't afford the top talent and they don't know how to go about attracting it. And then you've got all these very able, bright people coming out of education who haven't had any careers advice and they don't know what it is that they want to do. We can resolve those different types of issues just as effectively here as we can down south.”

Luke’s business however, has taken the opposite decision and “reluctantly opened an office in London”. He said that they “had to go down there for the business development and marketing experience”. But, he added: “We're very proud that we've kept our northern base for our technical teams because I genuinely believe that the north can offer something very different to the south, which is a quality of life, a work-life balance. For a lot of technical people who are in their thirties to fifties, they're super smart, they've been through that corporate lifestyle and they're looking to work on something that can be a bit more flexible with. The real answer is that we made the decision at Vibe to open in London because the market was dictating that.”

So, is Manchester set to overtake London as the UK’s start-up capital? Maybe. But not just yet.

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