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The case for investment in Northern Powerhouse businesses

It should be a truth universally acknowledged that there’s a thriving scene of innovation and entrepreneurship in the North of England.
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After all, when it comes to Northern Powerhouse businesses, from beginnings of canals and railways to the splitting of the atom and the creation of the first computer – not to mention the feted first meetings of Rolls and Royce or Marks and Spencer – all began in sight of the Pennines.

Following a great effort take it from concept to reality, last month finally saw the official launch of the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund (NPIF).

The £400m fund, backed through the British Business Bank, was initially conceived back in 2015 in order to boost the supply of capital for small and medium-sized business across the North, to help them realise their true growth potential.

So, now is a pertinent time to consider the significance of Northern Powerhouse businesses and the region that gave us the industrial revolution and show that in the 21st century there is still much more going on in the UK beyond the bottom right hand corner.

A number of the Northern cities including Newcastle, Liverpool and Manchester are beginning to take on the capital in terms of fostering dynamic and successful tech businesses.

As one frame of reference, the Tech Nation 2017 report reveals, among further insights, that demand for talent in Northern Powerhouse businesses across Newcastle, Sheffield and Leeds has been so strong, that salaries have been risen by over 25 per cent in the past five years.

Meanwhile, as far back as 2013, Newcastle, which is home to the UK’s only FTSE 100 listed software business, Sage, was marked out as one of the UK’s leading tech hubs, capitalising on the regional spillover effect from the big corporate to help boost a wide range of digital businesses.

Furthermore, Northern England now contributes nearly £10bn a year in digital GVA to the UK economy, making the region one of the most important wealth generators nationwide. A base from which national politicians, local government, and businesses alike believe a far greater contribution could be built.

Consequently, there’s a host of prime investment opportunities to be had in tech-based Northern Powerhouse businesses; situated in micro-clusters of digital innovation, life-sciences research, ecommerce and deep technology, and the appropriate investment in these companies can help create a true Northern Powerhouse.

There is of course more to the Northern Powerhouse businesses than simply technology and finance, with government reports highlighting the need for investment in transport infrastructure, such as high-speed rail and better roads, to seamlessly link what can sometimes feel like a group disparate centres.

This vision is set in the Northern Transport Strategy reports (see, for example, Autumn 2015, Spring 2016), seeks to propel the Northern economy by reducing the friction that means the benefits of agglomeration in a region of 15 people can often get lost.

Indeed, the chancellor’s March 2017 Spring Budget promised an extra £90m to tackle transport on major roads in the North. According to the Treasury, this money is in addition to more than £50m already committed to transport in the North from the government’s National Productivity Fund.

Beyond physical connectivity, thanks to alternative broadband providers, cities outside of London – especially Northern cities – are now also benefitting from a fit-for-purpose digital infrastructure.

Ultimately then, by addressing the infrastructure – whether access to finance, transport or broadband – UK cities are getting better placed to compete and succeed in this digital age.

A footing that gives the Northern Powerhouse the potential to make the transition from political idealism to economic reality, and with it bringing much needed balance to the UK’s economy.

But the public support can only take things so far, and investors of all types must be willing to put their money where a vast array of prosperity and opportunity lies.

Indeed, as we bridge the uncertainty thrown up by Brexit, it’s more important than ever to support UK businesses.

A challenge that angel investors are ideally placed to do, using syndication to spread risk and put punch behind the best investment prospects.

By connecting and collaborating across Northern England – where bold and exciting ideas have never been short supply – we can deliver exactly what the UK economy needs in these uncertain times.

Tim Mills is investment director of government-backed Angel CoFund

Image: Shutterstock

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