Community engagement: What we’ve achieved and what’s next

Laura IH Bennett
May 12, 2016 · 4 min read

From July 2015 until March 2016, the Community Engagement programme, headed up by myself and Paul Lancaster, underpinned everything that we did in Tech North’s initial ‘start-up’ phase.

Fostering and nurturing genuine buy-in from the Northern tech community was absolutely key to the initial acceptance of Tech North as an organisation, and was vital to the success of our first initiative, Northern Stars.

The Community Engagement programme was key to helping us foster stronger and better-connected networks across the North of England. Over nine months, we did this through introductions, connections, partnerships and sponsorship deals.

Our involvement ranged from ‘light-touch’ introductions, many of which have led to the creation of new collaborative projects, and supportive and targeted sponsorship of events, right through to hand-in-hand partnerships with key stakeholders.

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What we’ve done so far

The activities that took place during first nine months of community engagement can be summed up as follows:

  • We created partnerships with organisations and bodies across the North of England.
  • We agreed financial sponsorship for key events and seeded new networks and initiatives that contribute to the growth of the digital tech sector in the region.
  • We enabled Tech North to have ‘eyes and ears’ on the ground, so that as a team, we could showcase and promote exciting opportunities and success stories across the region. This contributed to a vibrant picture of tech in the North of England and helped to change perceptions.
  • We made connections and introductions within cities and clusters, and across the region as a whole, to encourage peer-to-peer knowledge sharing and learning from best practice.

By actively engaging with a wide range of stakeholders — from startups to corporates, public sector bodies, community leaders and membership organisations — Paul and I acted as ‘super-connectors’, helping to encourage greater collaboration between different cities; making introductions and facilitating collaborations on a daily basis.

The Community Engagement programme sought to address market failures in the North by facilitating, sponsoring and seed-funding new events and initiatives that helped to stimulate greater digital entrepreneurship, inspiration and innovation in across the region.

In March 2016, when reflecting on this initial 9-month phase, we were told by our partners that the kudos of being a ‘Tech North-endorsed’ event or activity was extremely beneficial, in many cases even more so than cash funding. The association with Tech North helped to give other potential sponsors and partners the confidence to sign up, and partners were able to leverage our own connections and networks to increase the visibility and scale of their activities. A good example of this is the Connected Health series of events.

Not only have we supported events and activities that bring existing entrepreneurs and businesses together, we have helped to generate a steady stream of positive media coverage in local and regional press, our own blog and newsletter and on social media too. This has helped to raise the profile of the Northern tech community; inspire people to start a business or stay in the area after graduating from school or college; encourage investors to put money into the region; and encourage established businesses to open an office in a place where they can see that amazing things are happening.

What’s next

From now on, the emphasis will be placed even more firmly on raising the profile of the Northern tech community.

I’ve now moved on to become the Programme Lead for Founders’ Network, and Paul Lancaster left Tech North in March 2016 to start his own business. I will continue to engage with the community in my home city of Sheffield through my involvement in its tech hub, where I am acting as Chair for the Ecosystem Development board.

Community engagement will now move into its second phase, led by Martin Bryant as Community Editor (Martin was previously Editor-At-Large for The Next Web).

An important part of this new phase will be about stories. If you’re in the North, we want you to know about the things you might have missed — the successes, the world-class products and businesses, and the people shaping the future of technology in the North. And if you’re outside the North of England, whether that’s London, Berlin, San Francisco, Singapore or beyond — these stories will tell you about why we’re so passionate about the future of tech in this part of the world. Hopefully, you’ll want to get involved.

Martin will also be out and about across the North, meeting people across the seven city clusters and places between, making sure that we know about the best of what’s going on, and sharing those stories with the world.

Look out for more information about exactly how this will take shape soon.

Originally published at technorthhq.com on May 12, 2016.