Tech North’s Community Engagement Manager Laura IH Bennett writes about Hull’s digital tech scene
Ahead of Tech North’s office hours in Hull on 17th September, the time is ripe to highlight just some of the exciting things happening in the 2017 City of Culture.
Jon Moss founded Hull Digital in January 2009 with ten people in a coffee shop: the community is now nearly 800-members strong. C4DI beta, set up by Jon Moss and John Connolly in 2013, grew out of the need for a co-working space to bring together digital tech startups.
C4DI beta and @TheDock are located in the historic Fruit Market area of Hull. Once a hub of activity for traders bringing in fresh fruit from Europe, the area has been in decline for several years. A new crowd of tech startups, artists, musicians, and foodies are spearheading its renaissance, alongside local businesses, the council, and property developers.
As Jon Moss puts it, “the Fruit Market is fast becoming the tech, digital, cultural, arts and creative quarter of the city, providing an amazing place to work and live.”
Hull Startup Success Stories
Being so well networked in the digital community, Jon and John are perfectly positioned to connect startups to local businesses and the university. They are also ambitious and encourage their resident startups to be bold in their search for a revenue model.
Hull University graduate Aaron Martin, founded Arc Studios, a games company. It was Jon and John who helped him to secure a commercial deal that has allowed him to employ two people and bring on board an intern.
Another C4DI success story is I’m In set up by John Polling from the League of Extraordinary Developers. It sprung from the founder’s frustration at the endless email chains just to set up a 5-a-side football match.
MrLista, was co-founded by Jim Wardlaw & Salma Conway earlier this year. Imagine the functionality of a souped-up Amazon wish list crossed with the UX and design of Pinterest, and available across all websites: MrLista is one I’m looking forward to watching grow.
Encouraging and Developing Local Potential
This is a community that really cares about its members. Hull has an international reputation as a place that trains young people in the games industry. The University of Hull is home to the longest-running MSc course in Games Programming, and it was the first course in the UK to receive Skillset accreditation.
Local entrepreneur and founder of internationally-recognised GarthWest Ltd, Lindsay West observes, “what traditionally happens is that we educate to a very high level but then we don’t see the students staying in our region”. Wanting to do something to prevent this brain drain, he set up Platform Expo in 2010 to help create new opportunities for young people in the digital tech sector in Hull and the Humber region. These have grown to be the biggest gaming and digital creativity events of their kind in the North East.
David Keel, Hull local, and founder of Trident runs summer schools for 14-16 year olds to introduce them to digital and creative industries. He is proud that the grand majority of his global company are from Hull, whether they are based in the Netherland, Mexico, India, or any other of the 20+ countries in which Trident now operates.
Super Fast Internet
Kingston Communications (KC), the local broadband provider, is delivering speeds of over 1000MB to businesses and homes in Hull through its fibre optic network. KC itself is a Hull success story. KC is a home-grown telecommunications company that has gone from strength to strength since it was founded over a hundred years ago at the turn of the century.
Similarly to Lindsay West and David Keel, KC’s Head of Engineering Andy Whale always looks to train and employ local people.
Committed and Inter-Connected Community
The success of these local initiatives is clear from their outputs: Hull is beginning to generate digital tech companies that stay in the region, rather than move away. Gateway Interactive, Smashed Crab, Beta Jester, and Blimbu are just four of many.
However, despite the successful cultivation of local talent and creation of flourishing startups, the Hull digital community struggles to access finance, and is keen for Tech North’s support in building out the necessary relationships, networks and infrastructure to support startups’ success in accessing equity capital, as well as providing on-going educational support for both startups and angels.
A thriving ecosystem depends on a committed and inter-connected community of dedicated people. Hull’s digital tech startup ecosystem exemplifies this, and Tech North is excited to help catalyse its further growth. Claire Braithwaite sums it up: “With Hull as the 2017 City of Culture (headed up by Martin Green, producer of the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony) the city is on an exciting trajectory and I predict we’ll see high growth rates in digital businesses and employment in the cluster over the coming years.”
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