Q&A: Building big tech in the north

Read Time: 3 Min

Stephen Roberts joined GP Bullhound at this year’s Northern Tech Live, the virtual stand-in for the 2020 Northern Tech Awards in the current lockdown. He was part of a panel discussing what the future looks like for tech in the north, joined by Malcolm Cowley, CEO of Partnerize, and Carl Cavers, CEO of Sumo Group Plc. Here he answers some of the key questions around investing in northern tech: 

Why do you think northern tech businesses have been able to do so well historically? 

“There have been a number of high-profile northern tech success stories, such as boohoo, The Hut, or Skyscanner, to name just a few. This, alongside world class universities, has helped to attract and train the best graduates and continue to build the talent base in the region. Success breeds success and there is now a great tech hub for people to either join the world of work or become one of the vast number of entrepreneurs in the region.

ECI have been in Manchester for almost 25 years, and one of the great things that we benefit from is the fantastic ecosystem of advisers, lawyers and investors here, across both venture capital and private equity. This means growing businesses in the region can access local advisers they know and trust, and access capital that helps them to scale, and remain growing in the north for the long term.”

What areas of tech are likely to be most attractive to investors in the wake of the current crisis?

“I see northern tech doing well through the crisis. Tech businesses generally enjoy resilient models that for the most part serve non-discretionary needs.

In particular, those that enable flexible working, such as managed service providers and B2B communications providers, will be in high demand. We’ve already seen the knock-on impact that the virus has had on cyber security, with increased attacks as companies try to manage a secure environment across multiple locations and devices. Companies that can help educate and protect against these attacks are well placed.

Adjacent to this, employee engagement is another interesting area as employers learn to interact, incentivise, and to look after the mental and physical wellbeing of a more disparate workforce. 
And then lastly, one growth area that will persist is the value of data. Rapid advances in data science and AI are only going to continue, the volume of data generated continues to grow (especially as we all spend more time online) and so I expect continued investor appetite in this space”. 

What needs to happen in the region to support northern tech businesses?

“This event is a great example of where the northern tech community come together and celebrate their successes. I think it is important to make more of that community so entrepreneurs and business leaders can draw upon shared insights and successes. 

We all know that we need proper investment to drive interconnectivity between the northern cities too; it shouldn’t take as long as it does to travel west to east. That will need to be resolved if we want to continue the growth trajectory of the past decade.” 

What advice would you give to a northern tech business owner looking to grow in 2020? 

“Firstly, and most importantly take care of your people and your business. From a business perspective, we are living through unprecedented times, and I would say to speak regularly with peers, advisers and people in and around your market. I know from our own portfolio, sharing experiences across businesses and taking expert advice where appropriate has been invaluable. 

And then if you are considering private equity, know that we are very much open for business, and keen to continue investing in northern tech as we have been for over three decades.” 

Watch the full event here:

If you would like to talk to someone about scaling your tech business, please get in touch with fiona.evans@ecipartners.com.

About the author

Stephen Roberts

"I am a Partner in our Investment Team. My job is to lead investments into growth businesses and subsequently work with them throughout our investment. It means I get to meet with exciting businesses and inspirational teams pretty much every day, which is a real privilege."

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