This blog post was originally posted on TechCityInsider.net on 30th September 2015.
TECH NATION: Business leaders in Norwich have worked hard to get the Norfolk city recognised by Tech City UK as one of its key tech clusters outside London. With a fast-growing digital sector specialising in creative media and gaming, that recognition is proving justified. Fiona Lettice of Norwich Business School offers an overview.
Norwich’s economy was historically based firmly on manufacturing: textiles, shoemaking and mustard – the city was famously once the home of the Colman’s brand.
Norwich City Skyline – this image is by JimmyGuano
Over time, Norwich went through a transition to a more service-based economy, with an increase in insurance and other financial services companies. Aviva (formerly Norwich Union) is the largest and longest established in the city.
Norwich has also long been associated with an innovative, creative and pioneering culture, particularly in art, literature and publishing. It was the site of the first provincial library in England, the first provincial newspaper outside of London, the first provincial art movement and the country’s first arts festival.
This continues today, with Norwich being home to national publishing group Archant, which grew out of the city’s local newspapers, and BBC East. And in 2012, it became England’s first UNESCO city of literature.
Today’s emerging digital sector in Norwich is closely linked to these creative sectors, with strong specialisms in content and media production and digital marketing, as well as a fast-growing game development sector.
Digital businesses and jobs are part of Norwich’s strategy for the next wave of strong, high-value economic growth. Tech City UK’s 2015 Tech Nation report showed that there was a 21% increase in the number of digital companies incorporated in Norfolk between 2010 and 2013.
All UK clusters have experienced digital sector employment growth, but in Norfolk, digital job growth outpaced overall regional growth by the highest margin anywhere. Tech Nation reported that there are 14,521 people in digital employment in Norfolk, with this predicted to grow significantly by 2020.
One of the key strengths of Norwich is its ability to create and develop strong networks that enable people to share experiences and knowledge across sectors, and to look for innovative new approaches to the challenges that society faces.
Within Norwich, there are many proactive, grassroots digital meet-up groups, such as SyncDevelopHER and SyncNorwich (with more than 1,000 members), Norfolk Developers (over 600), Norfolk Indie Game Developers (over 250), Hot Source (over 350) and Norfolk Network.
These groups host regular monthly meet-ups with presentations, skills development and networking opportunities and larger annual events such as the Sync the City startup weekend in Norwich; NorDevCon, a technical conference with about 300 attendees; and Norwich Gaming Festival, which attracts more than 35,000 visitors in a week.
The Tech Nation report highlighted access to social networks as a key strength of the Norfolk cluster, with 82% of businesses citing it as a key benefit of being located in the area.
Norwich has seen considerable recent investment in the infrastructure of the digital sector. In 2014, White Space was established in Norwich by Proxama as a co-working space for dynamic, high-growth digital, creative and technology businesses.
Based in an old textile mill, White Space at St James Mill is now a focal point for the digital, creative and technology community in Norwich. Tenants have included Rainbird Technologies, Axon Vibe and Cuju Media. White Space is also home to the SyncNorwich and Norfolk Developers meet-up groups and hosts their networking events.
Norwich Research Park (NRP) is an internationally renowned science and business community and Europe’s leading centre for research into food, health and the environment.
With 3,000 scientists based at NRP and at the University of East Anglia, one of the highest concentrations of academic research institutions in the UK and some of the most cited research scientists in the world, NRP is an attractive home to around 30 innovative science- and IT-based businesses.
The Innovation Centre, Centrum and the Enterprise Centre provide a combination of office accommodation, meeting rooms and support to stimulate innovation and economic growth from a strong research base.
This year Norwich University of the Arts (NUA) is opening its Ideas Factory Centre and UX Lab, which will offer high-quality incubation space and business support for new digital businesses with close links to the NUA academic community.
Norwich is home to a cluster of unique businesses that are internationally established, but base their operations in the city to take advantage of an excellent, cost-effective talent pool, supported by two universities with more than 17,000 students and an effective property infrastructure.
A vibrant and growing group of creative agencies are based in Norwich, including user experience design agency Foolproof, creative technology firm Knit, digital design agency Soak, communications outfit MADE, brand agency Creative Sponge and Neon Tribe, a web development agency.
Image manipulation, processing and film companies include FXHOME (green-screen and visual effects software), Spectral Edge (image fusion, processing and enhancement) and Lambda Films (video production and animation).
There are some well-established tech businesses like Proxama (digital payment and mobile proximity marketing), Validus (insurance technology solutions), ServiceTick (solutions for multi-channel customer feedback) and Liftshare (the UK’s first and largest car sharing scheme), along with exciting new startups such as Supapass (connecting fans to artists) and Rainbird (a TechStars company using artificial intelligence to automate knowledge work).
The next step for Norwich is to use its strong local digital communities and businesses to establish partnerships further afield – both nationally and internationally. This would build support, infrastructure and investment for the progression from startup to scaleup, and attract and retain the best talent by continuing to promote Norwich as a vibrant and appealing place to live and work.
After the success of Sync the City 2014, SyncNorwich and UEA planned and ran another 54 hour startup weekend, called Sync the City 2015. The event was held at The King’s Centre in Norwich from Thursday 19th November to Saturday 21st November 2015.
The aim of the Sync the City events is to bring together Norfolk’s business community of entrepreneurs, product developers, software developers, designers and digital creatives (members of SyncNorwich’s virtual technology and startup community) with students (in 2015 from the University of East Anglia, Norwich University of the Arts and the College of West Anglia) and to facilitate them to create new business models and form startups that are enabled by digital technologies. The mixed business and student teams then have 5 minutes to pitch their ideas to a panel of judges at the end of the event, to win a prize.
SyncNorwich (John Fagan, Fiona Lettice, Sean Clark and Paul Cutting) and UEA (Norwich Business School and Careers Central – Julie Schofield, Susi Waters and Laura Johnson) planned and organised Sync the City 2015. SyncNorwich is proactively developing partnerships with local universities, colleges and schools, so that the organisations within the community can more easily recruit student interns and graduates and to give students opportunities to meet, network with and learn from local tech sector employers. Sync the City is part of the strategy to organise events that will benefit both the SyncNorwich technical cluster, businesses and startups, as well as students.
We had great support from local and national sponsors for Sync the City 2015, without whom this would not have been possible. The primary sponsors were: Norfolk County Council, UEA, SyncNorwich, Liquid11, Aviva and Barclays. The supporting sponsors were: Adnams, Allies Computing, Tim Stephenson Photography, Maxi-Cool, MigSolv and OnePulse. The prize sponsors were: Sandler Training, White Space and Norfolk Network. Thank you all!
Mentors and Judges
We invited local tech business leaders to act as mentors for the Sync the City teams over the weekend. We had mentors from Aviva (Paul Russell), Barclays (Andy Adams, Gavin Ratcliffe and Paul Mayne), Liquid11 (Chris Venables), Adnams (Duncan Cardwell), UEA (Dr Joost Noppen and Steve Jones), Allies Computing (Stephen Keable), Liftshare (Ali Clabburn), Rainbird (Ben Taylor and Dom Davis), Axon Vibe (Paul Cutting and Elizabeth Scholefield), Earthware (Brian Norman), FXHOME (Josh Davies), BAE Systems (Jo Vertigan), Sandler Training (Ermine Amies), 1Password (Matt Davey), Blooming Founders (London – Lu Li) and OnePulse (London – Nick Walter), representing a range of the different organisations from small to large across the local tech sector and this year we also attracted 2 mentors from London.
The judges were Jon Bradford (ex-MD of Techstars, London), Grant Hardy (founder and CEO of Liquid11 and New Patricks Yard), Julianna Meyer (founder and CEO of SupaPass), and Julie West (Growth Hub Co-ordinator, New Anglia LEP).
Thanks to the mentors and judges for giving up their time and helping to make the event such a success.
Graham Gannon of Google’s Prototyping team gave the Keynote presentation on Thursday night and Neil Garner of Proxama gave the Endnote presentation on Saturday night. Michael Ni-Man of SyncYouth also gave an update on his November 2015 #ihackednorwich event with Year 9 pupils from Norfolk schools.
There were 115 active participants for the whole event. This was an increase of nearly 60% on the number of participants in 2014. Of these active participants, approximately 50% were students and 50% were professionals. The participants were also identified by their background. There were 40% developers, 41% business/non-technical and 19% designers represented. In particular, the number of designers increased significantly from 2014, which was a welcome addition to the teams.
The presentations on Saturday night were open to the public and approximately 100 additional people attended. This was an increase from the audience of 40 who attended in 2014.
The Pitches, Teams and Winners
For the initial 1 minute pitches, 26 ideas were pitched by the participants. The ideas were innovative and the pitches were of a very high standard, which left a challenge of voting for the best ideas to carry forward and form teams around for the rest of the event.
14 ideas were selected to go forward and teams were formed around these ideas. Click on the names to see their final pitches:
|Team Name||Brief description of idea|
|Gordon Bleu||Matching you with your perfect meal|
|Sox Suk||Gifts to blow your socks off!|
|RenTech||Making tech affordable|
|Prompto||Digital support and monitoring system for independent people who suffer with memory loss|
|Menulicious||Finding the restaurant that’s right for you|
|docdirect||Agentless NHS: Saving £1900 per minute|
|Memsabi||A delightful tactile way to structure your thoughts|
|Zap||Instantly connect to the world around you|
|Everyday Spaces||Making churches everyday places|
|Gorrilla||Free wifi on the tube|
|Zest||Interactive lectures are here!|
|Unfold||We create quality narratives around events as they unfold|
|Teepee||Renting a house is as easy as ordering pizza|
|PROTO Norwich||A city of people ready to embrace your ideas|
After the Saturday night final pitch presentations, the judges deliberated and the audience and team members voted for the best startups emerging from the 54 hour event.
The judges’ prize went to Everyday Spaces for their church hall booking system, which included a website that gathered the information of all churches in Norwich and a website widget that facilitated bookings for each church. Their mission was to make churches everyday places for the community.
The people voted the winners to be docdirect with their plan to save the NHS £1900 per minute, by reducing the NHS’ use of agencies for locum doctors. They won 28% of the 174 votes cast.
Coverage of Sync the City 2015
A dedicated website was created for Sync the City which gives full details of the event, mentors, judges, agenda and sponsors.
Sync The City attracted local media attention and the event was written up by several bloggers.
The editor of the Norfolk Tech Journal helped to promote the event and then blogged about the event over the 54 hours it ran.
The EDP business writer helped to promote the event in mid-November 2015 and then visited the event and wrote about it on the 21st November and Mustard TV televised Everyday Spaces’ story of winning Sync the City 2015.
We had some innovative ways of recording Sync the City as it ran. Alongside Tim Stephenson’s photography and Sean Clark’s filming which can be seen on the SyncNorwich Youtube channel, we had Chris Spalton’s sketchnotes and East West Design/Flush the Fashion did a 3 minute time lapse video of the whole event.
The feedback from Sync the City 2015 has been great and we will use the helpful participant comments to improve the event further – so look out for Sync the City 2016!
The Tech Nation report came out today (5th February 2015), published by Tech City UK. A very exciting day for Norwich as we got a double page spread in the report (pp54-55). This has been the result of a sustained campaign to raise the profile and reputation of the Norwich tech sector.
SyncNorwich has been key in this campaign, by hosting Mike Butcher of TechCrunch in November 2013, which showcased some great Norwich tech companies to him and the 300 attendees who attended that event. Then in 2014, SyncNorwich organised Sync The City and invited Emma Swift of the Tech City UK Cluster Alliance to visit.
Then, when Tech City UK announced their Tech Nation survey, SyncNorwich, Norfolk Developers and Hot Source got behind the survey and encouraged their members to complete it. Norwich has a big enough tech sector and registered enough responses to be included in the report.
Defining the sector clearly wasn’t straightforward, but the report does describe the methodology they used, so that the data in this report can be compared with other surveys.
Until recently, much of the attention has focused on London as the centre of digital innovation in the UK, and indeed Tech City UK were initially set up in 2010 to support the London tech sector. This survey and report highlights that there is a lot of activity outside of London (74% of digital businesses and currently 62% of advertised jobs are not in London). These businesses however need proper support and attention from policy makers and investors.
The report identifies the top 3 sectors by cluster. Software Development is a key sector for Norwich, with 35% of its companies in this sector. Twelve of the other UK clusters have this sector in their top 3 and almost 25% of companies identified their sector as Software Development. Advertising and Marketing is another key sector for Norwich, shared with 5 other clusters and is the second largest sector in the UK with 11% of companies. Telecommunications and Networking is a defining sector for Norwich, with only Sheffield sharing it as one of their top 3 clusters and with just 4% of the companies identifying their company as belonging to this sector. The key cluster capabilities are: content and media production, machine to machine communications and network infrastructure and protocols.
The Tech Nation survey found that, in the UK, 50% of digital businesses have been formed since 2008. Many have been formed in the last 2 years across 2013 and 2014. Norwich has given birth to around 40 digital businesses in this two year period, which represents approximately 13% of the total companies within the cluster, against a UK average of 15%.
Norwich has 14,521 digital jobs, with a 21% growth of digital companies. Digital businesses are key for employment opportunities across the UK. The study found that although all clusters experienced digital sector employment growth – in Norfolk, digital job growth outpaced overall regional growth by the highest margin.
82% of Norwich companies identified access to social networks as a key benefit of the cluster. This is above the national average of 77% and is testament to the hard work put in by the various communities such as SyncNorwich, Hot Source and Norfolk Developers to organise regular meetups and larger annual events, such as Sync The City and NorDevCon.
The other key benefits of the Norwich cluster fall below the national average: access to the right talent for growth is mentioned by 32% of companies (the national average is 54%); access to property is identified by 32% (the national average is 40%); access to private finance scores 24% (the national average is 35%) and access to public finance (grants etc) is identified by 15% (the national average is 33%).
This shows that although there are benefits within the Norwich cluster, there is still some work to do to develop and attract talent, provide enough affordable office space (although White Space and New Patrick’s Yard are a good step in the right direction) and help companies to access funding. Not surprisingly, and similar to many other of the UK clusters in the Tech Nation report, a lack of fast and accessible broadband and a weak transport infrastructure are cited as barriers to growth.
Norwich has a relatively young tech cluster and has come a long way in a short space of time. Support and recognition from Tech City UK, policymakers and the local community will help us to build on this and to continue to grow and develop as a key cluster within the UK’s digital ecosystem.