Sheffield is the challenger city of the North, just take a look at our tech scene
Jamie Hinton, CEO and Co-founder of technology consultancy Razor, explores Sheffield's sharp growth in tech and what makes it such a unique proposition for startups and big business.
Sheffield is built on seven hills, up for a steep challenge? It may well be the place for you. Our tech and digital community has been moving mountains for years and we’re not even close to peaking.
There’s been a transformation here and in the wider Yorkshire and Humber region. Manchester and Leeds might be blazing the Northern tech trail but we’re not far behind.
Between 2015 and 2019, a huge £74m was invested in emerging tech, and last year, the region boomed with 196 new tech startups launching. The challenges 2020 has already presented to us may be unprecedented in their nature, but I believe this city is up to the test with or without a global crisis.
When we’re through this, our numbers will soar. We’re a city built on steel, and its strength is in our DNA. Sheffield will continue to scale up its tech and digital ecosystem.
And I can tell you exactly why...
The people of Sheffield
When I founded Razor, there was no question that we’d call Sheffield home. I was born and raised in the city but the decision ran much deeper than a sense of nostalgia. Sheffield’s identity is extraordinary - although we’d never admit to it.
Our people don’t tolerate inflated egos, arrogance and selfishness. Those who prosper here, want to help each other, they thrive on sharing knowledge and getting on. This united spirit makes success easier for fledgeling companies and individuals. We’ve seen companies spawning new startups alongside horizontal moves between organisations, with a sense of encouragement and collaboration triumphing over competition and rivalry.
Gremlin Interactive - formerly one of the big players in the games development industry - is a stand-out example of this movement. Bought out in 1999, early Gremlin employees went on to establish Sumo digital, which later gave life to startups, including the successful Dumpling Design. There are engineers in Sheffield’s games dev scene who have got 20 plus years’ experience born out of formative years spent at the company. Those decades of experience and the movement of specialists within the industry are both huge assets for Sheffield and its growth.
Access to startup investment
Sheffield is incredibly well placed for startup investment. There are some excellent locations and opportunities - take the manufacturing startup arena. We have the tech talent, two universities, the AMRC and a whole host of manufacturers and engineers on our doorstep all waiting to combine to make magic happen.
Sheffield’s startup successes
- Tutorful provides an online platform to help students find trusted tutors. In March 2017, they successfully raised their second round via CrowdCube, considerably exceeding their target of £350,000.
- The Floow employs 121 people worldwide, 90 of whom are based in The Floow’s offices in Sheffield’s Kelham Island, and in March 2017 they announced a £13m investment from a range of world-leading global partners.
Exceptional talent pools
The universities here are amazing, and I say that as a graduate of both The University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University. We've partnered with these institutions on multiple occasions and welcomed graduates onto our teams who (we are proud to say) have gone on to be highly successful.
One of the biggest issues facing our educational environments is the knowledge drag into London, our students want to stay in the region but there simply aren't always the opportunities available. In 2019, only 2% of the city’s workforce could be attributed to the digital economy.
Working with higher education providers is vital for every individual and organisation who plays a part in Sheffield’s tech sphere. When students come together from all over the country - broad, diverse and varied - they provide a fresh perspective as individuals and a collective. Within an organisation, they challenge the status quo, they identify and discover new and bold approaches, and question why. This can only strengthen work and innovation.
A strong community
Although talent drain is a challenge we face in Sheffield, we are battling this with a tight-knit community. At Razor, we have been active since the very early days of .NET Sheffield and we’re lucky in that this also secures us a regular speaking gig. One of our previous team members also started Machine Learning Sheffield.
On top of that, a current Razor employee co-organises Immerse Sheffield, a meetup for those interested in the growing immersive technologies sector including the application of Virtual and Augmented Reality technology.
All of these communities and virtual spaces create a space where people can come together, learn from each other and discuss the challenges they’ve overcome.
To really continue to grow in the trend we have been experiencing in Sheffield there needs to be a shift in the perspective people have of our city. We are seeing the start of a belief that we are capable of groundbreaking things. Once we believe in ourselves so will others.
One thing I always like to remember is that there is no lack of ideas. The element that is missing - more often than not - is the ability or resources to execute them.
As Peter Drucker once said: “Many brilliant people believe that ideas move mountains. But bulldozers move mountains; ideas show where the bulldozers should go to work."
We need more bulldozers for our ideas.