Business Technology

From Victorian industry to fintech: Northern England's new business identity in 2019

9 min read

10 April 2019

Features Editor, Real Business

The north of England is known for many things, from its musical talent to the memory of its old industrial past, but it now has a new identity as a tech centre. Since 2011, the not-for-profit Northern Tech Awards has been shining a light on innovative tech entrepreneurialism in the region. This year's winners reflect the ongoing growth and prosperity the digital tech sector is experiencing in the region where Manchester is home to the most tech employees after London. Let's take a closer look at the northern tech scene's healthy funding environment, including how it has fostered the birth of unicorn tech giants that have disrupted their respective industries for good.

From the soot-stained might of the Industrial Revolution to some of the greatest authors writing in the English language, (cue, the Bronte sisters and Oasis frontmen Noel and Liam Gallagher), Northern England remains an iconic business and cultural region in the UK. But today, the north is no longer associated with municipal factories, smoke, and bosses with top-hats, or with Brit-pop singers, instead, it has become known for its thriving tech scene.

The Northern Tech Awards,(that has celebrated the contributions of leading tech businesses in northern England and Scotland since 2011), has just had it’s 2019 outing. Funded as a not-for-profit event by global tech investment bank, GP Bullhound, and a small group of sponsors each year, its mission is to shine a light on northern entrepreneurship to ensure that the tech sector continues to grow and prosper ‘north of the wall’.

How the awards work

Each year, the judges rank the top 100 fastest growing tech companies in the region by their revenue growth over the past three years. There is also a top ten, ‘Northern Stars’ category that acknowledges the growth of early-stage tech companies in northern England and Scotland.

The 2019 Northern Tech Awards: Manchester

Held in a major northern city each year, the attendees are no doubt reminded of the old industrial might of the cities of Leeds, (2015 awards), Manchester (2014 awards) and Newcastle Upon Tyne (2017 awards). This year, the awards came back to Manchester where they started in 2011.

Hugh Campbell, managing partner of GP Bullhound says ‘northern tech’ is going from strength to strength

GP Bullhound’s managing partner Hugh Campbell says northern tech can stand on its own against London and the US. Source: thecitytalking.com

“It is great to see that Northern tech is still going strong. Extraordinary entrepreneurship, ambition and innovation are driving huge growth and taking the northern ecosystem from strength to strength, and our winners tonight are testament to that success. The opportunity is there for even more Northern businesses to become international tech giants, and compete with London and US tech hubs.”

The 2019 winners: The Region’s Top Northern Star (early stage): Hark 

Location: Leeds
Sector: Software

Hark’s platform allows customers to monitor, store, and analyse their business-critical data with their ‘easy-to-use’ software from anywhere in the world. Source: harksys.com

Fastest Growing Company (with revenues under £10m): Wejo

Location: Chester
Sector: Software
Growth rate: 128.2%

Wejo is a leading connected vehicle data marketplace. Source:prolificnorth.com

Fastest Growing Larger Company (with revenues over £10m): Celerity

Location: Preston
Sector: Digital services
Growth rate: 71%

Celerity provides IT infrastructure solutions and managed service offerings across the private and public sector. Source:celerity.com

Judges’ Innovation Award and Judges’ Young Entrepreneur Award: Crisp Thinking

Location: Leeds
Sector: Software
Growth rate: 58%

Crisp Thinking is a cutting-edge social media issue detection and crisis monitoring firm. Source: crispthinking.com

Judges’ Award for International Success: Twinkl Educational Publishing

Location: Sheffield
Sector: E-commerce Marketplaces
Growth rate: 62%

Twinkl is a leading publisher of digital teaching materials for schools. Source:follettsoftware.com

Judges’ Leadership Award: Nexus Vehicle Rental

Location: Leeds
Sector: Software
Growth rate: 27%

Nexus Vehicle Rental connects businesses to the UK’s largest vehicle supply chain through its pioneering online rental management portal. Source:isoqsltd.com

Tech4Good Award: Ecometrica

Location: Edinburgh
Sector: Software
Growth rate: 56%

Ecometrica is the global leader in downstream space information solutions. Source:ecometrica.com

Judges’ Entrepreneur Award: Mark Livingstone, Pharmacy2U

Location: Leeds
Sector: E-commerce Marketplaces
Growth rate: 59%

Pharmacy2U is the UK’s largest online pharmacy. Source: chemistdruggist.co.uk

Overall Judges’ Award: Matillion

Location: Manchester
Sector: Digital Services
Growth rate: 124%

Matillion is a leading provider of data transformation for cloud data warehouses. Source:twitter.com

Spotlight on Manchester as a thriving tech scene

Now we’ve explored the top winners from this year’s Northern Tech Awards, let’s think about how they fit into the northern tech ecosystem more broadly. Furthermore, as this year’s awards were held in Manchester, let’s take a closer look at the city and how it has become a tech firm mecca, and a great facilitator of fast-growing tech firms.

Manchester gets ‘technical’

Manchester has come far from it’s faded industrial glory in the last decade and is firmly placed as a major tech hub in the UK ecosystem. The city’s digital tech sector has experienced constant growth between 2006 and 2016, with a 130% increase in the number of businesses formed each year. In 2016, some 531 digital tech businesses were formed in Manchester, with the city swiftly gaining a reputation as a hub for blockchain.

In 2018, Analysis by Tech Nation found that the city’s digital tech turnover climbed by 4% to £3.2bn. With the city’s estimated 69,837 digital tech workers turning over some £105,000 each.

Manchester’s tech firms get multimillion pound funding

Only last year, leading local tech firms such as eLucid, mHealth and Push Doctor, events start-up TickX and fintech Shieldpay, raised a collective 200 million pounds in funding.

But it’s not only successful access to funding that Mancunian tech firms are enjoying right now, but they’re also experiencing a buoyant jobs sector where Manchester is the city that hosts the greatest number of digital tech workers outside of London. With such a healthy funding market for firms, it’s no wonder that employment within the city’s tech sector is at an all-time high.

The North: A region for innovation, acceleration – and Unicorn companies

The North can also be credited as the place where a number of the decade’s most iconic and commercially successful brands have been built. More than that, these companies have used technological innovation to climb to the top of their respective markets, and one could even say, change the playing field altogether. One example being, unicorn status e-commerce retailer, Boohoo.

Boohoo: An e-commerce unicorn born in Manchester

Boohoo is one of a number of online clothing brands that completely disrupted the retail market by providing customers with easily accessible, low-cost, and option rich clothing when it was founded in Manchester in 2006.

Tech innovation has been the accelerator for e-commerce retailers in beating the high-street competition

The ascension of cheap e-commerce retailers like Boohoo has no doubt had a hand in causing the decline of high-street retailers such as Debenhams and House of Fraser who couldn’t keep up with the accessibility, options and en-masse discounting those online retailers could do to attract customers.

Want to see what you’re up against in the northern tech scene, check out the full ‘top 100’ list here.