Category: Business Support

Accelerating Regional Recovery

As a collective group of individual organisations, the UK Tech Cluster Group (UKTCG) assembled over a year ago to connect, share and grow the communities we serve. While we regularly meet to discuss regional technology issues and share opportunities, the impact of COVID-19 on the UK tech sector has seen us work even more closely together. As the established voice of grassroots tech, we are prioritising efforts to accelerate the rate of regional recovery following widespread economic disruption caused by the pandemic.  

An independent voice 

The UKTCG represents geographical clusters of technology and digital businesses across the UK. Independent from government and self-financing, our member organisations include the entire spectrum of businesses that make up the UK’s tech economy – not just the big players. Despite the prominence of a few large corporations and so called “unicorns”, the UK’s tech economy is in fact largely skewed towards small businesses. This ecosystem naturally revolves around local clusters, usually with one or more universities involved as well. These regional ecosystems need to be understood and nurtured at a regional level.  

UKTCG’s member organisations are focused on the entirety of their local tech ecosystems, not just start-ups, scale-ups or specific vertical sectors. We support regional economic growth in both the tech sector and the wider economy. 

The organisations that make up the UKTCG are all firmly rooted in their communities and are uniquely placed to provide in-depth, granular local and regional intelligence in a way that is impossible (or very time consuming and expensive) to do at a national level. 

The UKTCG member organisations are all run by people who have years of experience of working within their local tech economy – we understand the economic and political landscape of our regions and in turn we are extremely well connected and are trusted as intermediaries. 

The group has grown out of a natural tendency of the existing regional cluster organisations to collaborate and share information and resources. Together, our robust and trusted network has an extensive reach across the UK which we believe can be harnessed to accelerate ecosystem recovery following the disruption caused by COVID-19.  

Regional intelligence and regional response 

Since early March the group has been gathering intelligence in our respective regions to understand how both companies and our regional ecosystems have been affected by COVID-19. As well as consulting with government on how to strategically combat sector pain points at large, we have been working at a grassroots level day in, day out to provide companies with immediate relief to individual problems.  

We are uniquely placed to best solve the challenges the sector faces at regional level, given our unrivalled local knowledge, current business support activity and connections across regional ecosystems.  

We therefore hope we can work with the government as a key delivery partner to quickly bring relief to our UK regions. Only by prioritising regional recovery will we see our much-coveted tech sector bounce back at large from the pandemic.  

The UK Tech Cluster Group is in a unique position to provide the voice of the industry at a truly national level and to advise the Government on providing the right support, at the right time to our industry to both survive and thrive moving forward.  

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How has your tech business been impacted by events in 2020?

Share your insights in the national Digital Skills Audit

The UK Tech Cluster Group is undertaking a national Digital Skills Audit in partnership with the Institute of Coding to understand the effect of the pandemic on the technology sector and employment across the regions of the UK. We are looking for businesses and employees to fill in the survey and share their insights and views. If you are an employer or work in a technology business, please help us to understand what is happening on the ground in your business and how we can support you over the next few years.

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Announcing the 12 Clusters of Tech

The UK Tech Cluster Group (UKTCG) and London Tech Week have partnered to launch a new national campaign to champion leading clusters of UK technology.

The ‘12 Clusters of Tech’ initiative will explore the unique ecosystems and tech trends in every region of the UK over the next twelve months. 

The campaign is set to definitively map the UK tech scene, highlighting and promoting the best businesses, innovators and thinkers operating in all corners of the UK.

The initiative will shine a spotlight on businesses highlighting startups, SMEs and the established bigger companies which together form the engine room of Britain’s booming tech sector.

This work will also become a unique resource for investors, the media, tech stakeholders and other groups who have an interest, vested or otherwise, in tech enterprise.

The North East region is the first to launch its report as part of the 12-month campaign, running from September 2020 to August 2021. 

David Dunn, Chair, UK Tech Cluster Group, said: “I am delighted we are partnering with London Tech Week for the development of 12 Clusters of Tech. We will be highlighting some of the amazing companies from across the UK and showcasing technology to the rest of the world. 

“From exciting startups to established employment powerhouses, there is a lot to be proud of across our ecosystems and we will be telling the story by putting businesses in the spotlight.”

London Tech Week Festival Director, Suzy Pallett, said: “London Tech Week has always been about celebrating the very best of UK tech and we believe this initiative will take our understanding of what this country has to offer a stage further.

“If you’re interested in the north, the south, the east or the west we’ll have it covered showing the very best in innovation and highlighting hotspots of tech specialism across the different regions.”

North East England

The initiative kicks off this month in the North East, which is not only transforming the face of the region itself but is having a sustained impression on the world. Startups, scaleups and established leaders alike work with some of the planet’s biggest brands and have an international reach, which seems to know no bounds.

Over the next 12 months we’ll be exploring the following areas; October – Scotland, November – Northern Ireland, December – Yorkshire & the Humber,  January – North West,  February – Wales,  March – West Midlands, April – East Midlands, May – East of England, June – London, July – South East and August – South West.

The 12 Clusters of Tech initiative is announced by UKTCG Informa Tech as London Tech Week 2020 comes to a close. The event showcased the very best in global tech and how it will play a crucial role in helping us navigate the challenges facing our changing world.


The North East report can be accessed here

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UKTCG urges Government to prioritise grassroots expectations ahead of Digital Strategy

The government has been urged to prioritise the establishment of new product-led tech start-ups across the country ahead of its upcoming Digital Strategy, in a new report released by the UK Tech Cluster Group (UKTCG) today. 

The UKTCG, a self-assembled group of individuals and organisations which support geographical clusters of technology and digital businesses across the UK, has outlined seven key recommendations to unlock the potential of the UK’s tech sector following the economic impact of Covid-19.

Delivering a Recovery Roadmap Summit on June 23rd, the Group brought together hundreds of tech stakeholders, policymakers, investors and entrepreneurs in a one day virtual event to explore and develop ideas on how to both help the tech sector grow as part of the UK’s economic recovery and to better understand how digital can accelerate the recovery of other sectors too. 

The first of its kind event, conducted via a series of interactive workshops, highlighted the disproportionate impact that Covid-19 has had on the UK’s regions and nations. Sessions shared knowledge and best practice, considering ways in which towns and cities can come together to recover and reboot, while exploring how the tech sector can be harnessed to support local communities.  

Today’s report captures the learnings from the day and presents seven policy recommendations to meet the expectations of grassroots communities from across the UK.

Recommendations include a desire to build more early stage programmes to help establish a greater number of product-led tech start-ups across the UK, driving a new flow of innovation into current successful scaleup programmes.

Calls were also made for a specialist programme to help public sector bodies to better utilise digital solutions, while making clear that any schemes must consider the local nuances of the nations and regions to ensure successful engagement and impact across the UK.

The group also advocates greater emphasis on providing “test beds” to facilitate close-to-market digital innovation and stresses any new forms of collaboration between SMEs and corporates at a local level must be encouraged to drive regional and national R&D investment. 

Moreover, the Group asserts technology buyers from traditional sectors need more support with their digital adoption and transformation journeys and that there is a pressing need for programmes to enable tech careers as an option for people who have lost their jobs as a result of COVID-19, regardless of their previous profession, skill level, or age.

David Dunn, UKTCG Chair, said: “The UKTCG exists to connect, share and grow the communities it serves. Through understanding ecosystem needs at grassroots level, we have unrivalled, real time access to tech companies and communities.

“The Recovery Roadmap’s success in bringing together over 400 policy makers, from across the United Kingdom, to share best practice and learn how to practically support our communities, could and should be the start of a movement to uplift tech and digital communities across the country.

“The tech and digital industry’s importance to our economy goes unchallenged. We need to ensure people understand it, can access its knowledge and use it to drive their businesses, whether they’re startups or global giants.

“For us to succeed there is an understanding that the whole of the UK must be supported and help needs to be offered, and available wherever required, on the ground rather than directed centrally.”

Mr Dunn added: “It is our firm belief that the seven key recommendations for policy that can make a sea change in the way tech can enable the UK to the forefront of the global economy. 

“Each recommendation has a comprehensive plan behind it which we would be eager to develop further with key public policy makers for the good of our economy, our country and our local communities. The time is now to act on behalf of the grassroots.”

Anwen Robinson, Operating Officer at TechnologyOne said “Tech and digital hubs around the UK can, and must, play a central role in helping us come out of this crisis stronger. Given the right policy framework with local empowerment and underpinned by enabling technology, our industry can thrive, greatly benefitting the communities, local authorities and educational institutions in cities, towns and villages where we operate.

We fully support UKTCG’s call for a specialist programme to help public sector bodies better utilise digital solutions. By helping senior public sector managers think more digitally, Central and Local Government will become more efficient and much better equipped to support the communities they serve.

Likewise, for the education sector, more courses, training and student services must rapidly move online, to ensure there’s social mobility and opportunity wherever you are in the UK or indeed globally.”

The Recovery Roadmap Report, in association with TechnologyOne, is available for public viewing here

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ScotlandIS achieves new national first

ScotlandIS becomes first organisation in Scotland to be awarded Silver Cluster Management Excellence accreditation for its support to digital and tech clusters

ScotlandIS has achieved a UK first, having been awarded Silver Excellence from the European Secretariat for Cluster Analysis (ESCA).

ESCA has awarded ScotlandIS Silver Excellence Award for developing industry clusters through lifelong learning, creating special interest groups and strategy development. Clusters are regional concentrations of traded industries, shown to have higher average wage and employment increases and inhabit a higher number of innovative and high-growth firms and start-ups*.

The Silver Excellence Award recognises that best practice is being followed and ensures international credibility across global cluster management organisations, putting ScotlandIS at the forefront of cluster management in the UK.

ScotlandIS was the first organisation in Scotland to successfully secure Bronze Accreditation in 2015 and this new Silver status reflects continuous progress that the organisation has made to cluster management.

Jane Morrison-Ross, chief executive of ScotlandIS, said:

“Being the first organisation in Scotland – and highest rated CMO in the UK – to achieve Silver Accreditation is a major achievement. Evidence points to cluster membership helping to make organisations more resilient to economic difficulties, such as during the Covid-19 crisis, building ecosystems that help organisations to share resources and help each other.

As we now strive to build a Digital Nation in Scotland, it is important that Scotland’s flourishing tech sector can access international clusters to help build their robustness and adaptability, safeguard these businesses against any future challenges, and enable digital to continue to underpin all that is critical to our economy . Our Silver Excellence Award ensures that we remain at the forefront of quality cluster development.”

Daniel Stürzebecher, ESCA Expert noted in its assessment of ScotlandIS:

“Already now, the cluster organisation performs in certain aspects on a level that could be considered excellent regarding the Gold Label standards. ScotlandIS will more and more look beyond national borders and has recently introduced internationalisation activities as a focus.”

Finance Secretary Kate Forbes said:

“I’m delighted to congratulate ScotlandIS on becoming the first organisation in Scotland to achieve Silver Accreditation from ESCA.

Our technology sector is more crucial now than ever before as over the coming months and years we recover from the economic impact of the global coronavirus pandemic.

We’re working towards becoming a world-class digital nation, and ScotlandIS’ achievement and support for the Scottish tech sector is instrumental in achieving this goal.”

Europe is home to approximately 2,900 specialised clusters. Economic activities that are in specialised clusters account for about 19 per cent of jobs and 22 per cent of wages in Europe*.

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What We Learnt From Running a Week-Long Virtual Festival

It’s fair to say that Talent Fest 2020 wasn’t the festival we were expecting to deliver. For the past three years, we have developed a successful model for delivering a week-long digital skills festival and grown it to be the largest in the South East.

In March, when it became clear that running a physical festival as we have in past years would not be possible, we had to pivot to a virtual festival in a matter of weeks. What we ended up with was not only something that still delivered on all of our goals, but which also helped us reach new audiences, be more inclusive and brought us together at a time where community and support is needed more than ever.

Luckily at Wired Sussex we have spent years working with innovators and startups at The FuseBox and so we are used to pivoting, rapid prototyping and experimenting, and we were able to apply this approach to our festival.

That’s not to say that it was easy, or perfect, but I thought it might be helpful to share some of the lessons that we learnt along the way.

Focus on the “why”

Start by focusing on what problem you were trying to solve for your attendees – not what event you were going to run for them. Once you are clear on the benefits of the event for your audience, then you can think about how to deliver on that.

Find the non-negotiables

What are the crucial elements that have to happen, no matter what? Focus on what’s a fundamental part of the event’s DNA and the key to its success. This might be there must be time for everyone to introduce themselves at the event, or that your talks have to happen live. Whatever it is, make sure that you are clear and that you have a plan on how to deliver on that.

Explore the platforms

There are lots of platforms available to host your events. 2 key considerations when choosing the platform; firstly, what works for your content/format but also (and perhaps more importantly) what is the most user-friendly for your audience.

Pivot!

You are basically innovating and prototyping new formats as you go. This means that you have to be agile. Your plans might change (often). Try to embrace this.

Don’t cut corners on accessibility and inclusion

Moving events online allows you to be more inclusive and attract more diverse audiences who might not otherwise be able to attend your events. Make sure that you are following best practice around your content and provide an anticipatory welcome to your attendees.

Plan for technical disruption

Technical difficulties are a known major risk factor. They can affect the whole of your event or specific individuals who are having problems connecting. There are a couple of ways that you can mitigate against this. If you are hosting an online event, you can ask a colleague to also join the call so if your internet cuts out there is still a member of your crew available.

It is more tricky to support attendees who are having technical issues. You could send out information before the event of helpful hints and tips to attendees (although most of us are getting up to speed with how the tech works). Or you could have a member of your team available as “tech support” who attendees can contact if they are having problems. That leaves you as the host to focus on the content.

Timing

Think about the scheduling of your event. Does it still make sense to host it at the same time as you historically have? If it’s not live, does it have to be for a set time period or can the content be available for a whole day/week? Making your event available for an extended period makes it more accessible – our lives don’t typically followup 9-5 at the moment, and it is good to allow people to engage as their schedule allows.

Also, think about the duration: often the longer the event the bigger the drop-off is, so think about how long you want your event to be. Does it all need to be one event, or could you spread it across a few events?

Accept that it will be messy

For any large event, it is going to be difficult to test at scale, so you are basically going “live”, untested. This means that there may be a few hitches. Obviously, try to mitigate against this. Run through risk assessments and think of contingencies. But also remember that, generally, your audience is on your side – they aren’t necessarily going to be expecting a perfectly produced slick production, they want the learning from the content so make sure that is first and foremost in your mind.

Brief your contributors

This is a new world for a lot of us, and clarity is as important as ever. Write briefs for your contributors. Be clear about what you want from them, how it will work, what the formats and platforms are, when you need it by, who the audience is. Send these to speakers, contributors and staff.

Everyone has their own stuff going on

When you are rushing and against deadlines, it can be frustrating waiting for responses/content from contributors. But remember, whilst the event might be your top priority, this is just one thing out of a whole bunch of things that are on your contributors’ plates.

Be clear about what you need, by when, but also plan for the fact that you might not get this. A way to mitigate it is to increase the number of contributors you have involved with your event, and then if someone can’t deliver to your timeframes, you should still have plenty of content.

Also, don’t take this personally, be polite – there are other opportunities to work together at a mutually convenient time.

“Sync”

If you are working with other team members on the event, make sure that you are in sync with one another. You will come up against multiple tight and conflicting deadlines, and you need to collaborate to hit these. Up your communication. Have virtual stand-ups to check in on one another. Maybe introduce what Bruce Daisley referred to as “burst-mode’ in his keynote at the Skills Summit. Make sure that you are in sync on this and know what each other need. Be compassionate with each other. The same as your contributors, your team with have lots going on. Support them and collaborate.

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Mockups Design

The Recovery Roadmap Summit

On 23rd June 2020 the UKTCG will host the Recovery Roadmap Summit to plan how tech communities across the UK can emerge from this crisis even stronger.

The Summit will explore the disproportionate impact on the UK’s nations & regions in the face of Covid-19 and what we can do together to recover and reboot. The day will consider the different draft recovery plans that areas have and share learning across clusters to answer the question, ‘What solutions have people come up with which could be replicated in different areas?’ This is particularly focused on the impact on the tech sector and how the tech sector can support its local communities.

The Roadmap to Recovery event is designed to be action orientated, with political leaders setting the scene followed by a series workshops to practically share knowledge and best practice including

Strategic Insight

  • Keynote & panels on the strategic approach to our response to COVID-19 with Ministers, Local Authority Leaders and Mayors

Practical Responses

A series of practical workshops and sessions focussed on:

  • the new skills we need to develop in the talent pool and how it can be done
  • business support that helps transform our business base for a digital future
  • building the physical infrastructure to ensure our future resilience

Geographical Focus

Ensuring our plans are globally competitive we will have sessions considering:

  • International approaches and best practice
  • the unique needs of our nations and regions
  • using wider geographies (such as the Northern Powerhouse) can give us an international platform

AUDIENCE

This will be an invite-only event for key policymakers and ecosystem leaders in our communities across the UK.  The sessions are action orientated and are for the people formulating our response to this crisis., We expect to have 200-400 attendees from across the UK.

ACTIONS FROM THE EVENT

Following the conversations, we would use the data and market intelligence gathered to create a  report and policy document on areas of best practice & knowledge sharing which we can then feed into our localities. This would act as a call to action and maintain ongoing conversations.

The Draft Agenda is

If you’d like to know more about the Summit or how to get involved please email hello@TechSPARK.co

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Managing Your Business Through a Crisis

It goes without saying that we’re living in unusual and challenging times. But even in normal periods, we can all face business crises. So, how do we manage our way through them: operationally, financially and in our communications with the outside world?

We ran a series of short virtual events to help Wired Sussex members do just that. Below you will find an overview of the sessions and videos of the talks.

Finances

Mark Horsfield and Peter Hedgethorne from Plus Accounting shared their advice about how your businesses could and should respond financially when faced with a crisis.

They also covered the newly announced government Bounce Back loans scheme, Furlough, the Self-Employment Scheme, other grants available and their general advice to businesses at this time.

Plus, to help businesses keep abreast of all the latest developments they have been sharing really helpful updates via their blog, which you can find here.

Strategy

Alex Morrison, Founder and MD of digital media agency Cogapp, explained how we might use the OODA system (Observe > Orient > Decide > Act) to develop a strategic approach to managing a crisis. This gave members the opportunity to probe deeper into an article that Alex had recently published on ‘How to Manage an Organisation through a Crisis’.

Communications

Vicki Hughes, MD and Founder of PR and communications consultancy FUGU PR, spoke about communicating with your team, your clients and your customers when your business hits an unforeseen bump in the road.

Originally posted 11/05/2020 on Wired Sussex

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COVID-19 Business Resumption Guide from Manchester Digital

Manchester Digital has launched a free guide with advice for employers as lockdown restrictions are slowly lifted.

Created in partnership with senior HR specialists from Manchester Digital’s Employer’s Forum group, the guide lays out key considerations for employers in areas including people, office environments, employee health, home working, business travel and visitors, holidays and communications.

The guide can be downloaded for free here.

Katie Gallagher, managing director at Manchester Digital, said: “Even with restrictions eased slightly, the virus still presents a high risk, which will impact how businesses operate, and in particular how and when offices can safely re-open.

“Our free guide is intended to pose questions and considerations to employers as they’re thinking about the short, medium and long term plans for their business operations post lockdown. Of course, change is inevitable, so employers will need to remain flexible and able to respond quickly.”

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How We’re Supporting Our Community: A Message From Wired Sussex MD Phil Jones

Since the advent of the Covid-19 crisis and lockdown, the Wired Sussex team have been working tirelessly to support our regional digital, media and technology cluster.

We began with a rapid response strategy. This was designed to establish the immediate effect of the crisis on our members, focus on helping share our community’s knowledge, expertise and resources, and lobby national and local government on your behalf.

In the past five weeks, we have surveyed hundreds of businesses and individuals and spoken directly to many others in order to understand what the impact has been on our members, if the government support packages will work for them, and what new tactics we should develop to provide appropriate advice and support.

You can find the results of our initial survey here. We know that many of you are finding the current situation extremely challenging. In summary, two-thirds of the freelancers we spoke to expect to experience significant financial hardship, many small companies are not eligible for the SBBR grants as they are in managed or co-working spaces, and over three-quarters of companies are furloughing staff. Further, the government’s much-trumpeted emergency business loan scheme (COVIL) was not actually delivering for our members.

Our Slack Group, open to members and non-members alike, has become a go-to resource for hundreds of people, providing detailed and up-to-date information on support programmes, sharing resources, and connecting Wired Sussex members with digital and non-digital business, charities and community groups. Amongst the many successes that the Slack group has been party to, we are really pleased that it was instrumental in helping create the online home of the Covid-19 flashcards, which went from concept to launch in 72 hours, and are currently being used in hospitals in nearly 50 countries worldwide. If you want to connect, learn or help, then join the Wired Sussex Slack Group today.

Cardmedic Covid-19 flashcards
Covid-19 flashcards

Wired Sussex is engaging with the government, both regionally and nationally, on an almost daily basis. We are founder board members of the UK Tech Cluster Group and every week we have a weekly call with the Minister for Digital to help her understand the challenges our community faces and suggest action the government could take.

The work our sector does is critically important to the future of the region and will be key to the economic recovery of the UK, so it is vital that this sector is helped now when, through no fault of its own, it is in need.

We are pleased to see that in some key areas (e.g. targeted support for start-ups, revisions to the emergency loans scheme) the government has indeed listened and adapted. We will continue to openly and forthrightly articulate our clusters’ needs to the government.

We have followed up on this rapid response work up by adapting our business support programme to online and virtual delivery. We have already delivered over a dozen events virtually on various platforms. This included pivoting Talent Fest 2020, our week-long festival to support digital talent and leadership, to feature (all online):

  • 1-2-1 portfolio advice from top design talent for 70+ budding digital creatives
  • A leadership Skills Summit with top international speakers including Bruce Daisley
  • A Jobs Fair providing information via talks and 1-2-1 advice to over 1,000 people worldwide on how to get and grow a career in digital in this region

Wired Sussex is a small, not-for-profit business and like most of you, it has been an uncertain and difficult time for us too. But we are determined to keep on supporting you and to hold dear to these guiding tenets:

We are independent

We don’t receive any funding from the public sector to sustain our organisation. We rely on income from our members, supporters and our FuseBox innovation hub residents. This means we always speak out for our community, and are never compromised in that.

“All the pieces matter”

We are not just about identifying and helping a few selected high-growth businesses. We support and recognise the value of every part of the regional digital ecosystem. So whether you are a start-up, a scale-up, a small firm or a freelancer, you matter equally to us.

Real lived knowledge

We are a local organisation with deep local roots. We listen and respond to our community every single day. The activity we undertake and the support we deliver is always based on understanding your challenges, your needs and your concerns.

But we cannot deliver without your ongoing support. If you are a freelancer or a business working in digital, media or tech in Sussex and are not yet a member of Wired Sussex, please join now. It’s just £72 (+VAT) per year. That’s less than £1.50 per week for a shedload of benefits (and love!).

Please help us to help you. It is your support that will enable us to continue supporting everyone in our cluster who needs it, both now and in the future.

Originally posted 04/04/2020 by Wired Sussex

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