Hull’s Digital Sector

Thriving in 2013, with a bright future in 2014

Can you even imagine having a something like the latest iPhone in your pocket five years ago, let alone ten years ago? I can remember sending my first email at University. In 1993. I can remember queuing for the fabled iPhone. In 2007.

Now look at the wonders of technology, which are an intrinsic part of every day life, with devices with more computing power than the first Apollo mission.

Whether personal or business, we are living in a connected world, and this is only going to get better (or worse depending on how you feel).

My guess is that many people reading this will have opened a present over the holiday period, which falls into the category of a technology device or gadget. Children especially are receiving tablets or smartphones, which enable a wealth of communication. These young people will possibly make a VOIP call via FaceTime or Skype before making a proper phonecall.

2013 has been a vintage year for the digital sector in Hull. The LEP (Local Enterprise Partnership) Board agreed to incorporate the digital sector as one of its future priorities, but we also launched the C4DI, the Centre for Digital Innovation.

What is the C4DI and why does it exist?

  1. To help grow startups through our mentoring, access to funding, and our accelerator programme.
  2. To provide innovation for external organisations and businesses to help them grow and become more successful.
  3. To provide the perfect environment for individuals and small business to work, collaborate and grow.

We are not doing anything desperately radical, but we are doing something that didn’t exist in the city prior to this. Workspaces like the C4DI exist all over the country and the rest of the world, and they work. Smart people, with ideas, drive and vision, can work together in a collaborative environment and can create and grow startup businesses.

What is slightly different is that we are also looking to create startups from the innovation projects and partnerships we are working on with local businesses, as well as embracing any good startup idea. Let me explain…

Every single business in the city is digital, but some just don’t know it yet

(Hat tip to David Keel from Trident and the C4DI Chairman for that fun, but serious phrase!). A startup can often come from a product which has been created to solve the need of a local business. Guess what though? That business is probably not the only one in the world with the same problem or need. Hence the opportunity to sell it to others, scale and create a small business.

Although we have had a thriving digital economy, well-established, with small and large companies working with global clients, we have certainly not been known for the digital sector, with cities such as Sheffield and Manchester having a better profile and a bigger community.

This is no longer the case. We are very much part of Tech North, the M62 corridor of cities with visible, growing digital sectors. Visibility is a key here for two reasons.

  1. Visibility from London from a Government perspective, so they see and understand that there is a tech sector outside of East London.
  2. Visibility from London from a VC (Venture Capital) perspective, so we can encourage and stimulate investment.

Visibility in the city is also a vital component of what we are trying to do at the C4DI. We have talented companies and individuals in the city, which could easily service all of the local business in any sector. Often local businesses don’t realise that we have the expertise and experience in the city, so they can spend their money locally. Surely a good thing for everyone involved?

We are also very fortunate to have some brilliant partners in the shape if Wykeland and KC, as well as people such as Lee Strafford, who are giving us a huge amount of valuable guidance.

Every company, organisation and small business in the city has an opportunity to innovate and be more successful. There is also proof to back this up. In a report by Capgemini carried out over two years they quantified the digital advantage. In a global survey of nearly 400 large companies, they found that the digirati* are 26% more profitable, drive 9% more revenue from their physical assets and earn 12% higher market valuations than their peers in the same industry.

*Digerati being companies and people who use technology well and understand the importance of using it to innovate.

The last thing I want to highlight for 2013 is that it was the year I started to experience the online world in a rather speedy way. Namely via fibre. It cannot be overstated how important fast internet connectivity is, how life-changing it can be, how it can stimulate business, improve communication and help cut down friction at home when too many people are using the same bandwidth. (The last one is not that important, but it certainly happens!).

My speedy online experience is due to the frankly brilliant work of KC and their super-fast fibre broadband, Lightstream. It is the fastest in the UK and they have made the (correct) decision that fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) is not good enough and that fibre to the home (FTTH) is the way forward, providing future-proofing capability for the year ahead.

Andrew Whale, the Director of Engineering has been instrumental in making this happen. He recently spoke at a Hull Digital MeetUp and you can see from the feedback how impressed people were.

Every single desk (and we have 35) at the C4DI has a 100Mb symmetrical connection. My home connection is well over 100Mb as well.

Believe me, once you experience this kind of speed it is hard to go back to normal broadband. I would say that’s like having a 50" HD TV and then going back to a 20" standard definition screen.

Image used under Creative Commons License from gothopotam on flickr

This connectivity gives us a huge competitive advantage for start ups, businesses and gives a brilliant online experience for people in their home. Yes, I know, not everyone can get Lightstream yet, but I do know that KC and people like Andy Whale are working hard to get it to more businesses and households in 2014 and beyond.

Looking to 2014…

A major highlight of 2013 was our winning bid for the City of Culture 2017. Andrew Dixon and the team showed every other city how to organise, implement and deliver the best possible bid.

The creative economy, which our sector is part of, played an important role in the bid and my mind is already racing with ideas for projects which can deliver, plus, the all important activity leading up to January 1st 2017.

The hard work starts now, not just in three years’ time.

The creative industries are meeting in January to ensure we cover all bases, work effectively together and ensure we can start delivering quickly, maintain momentum and create interest over the coming years. The fact that we have the City of Culture also means that this is another important part of the perfect storm I see on the horizon…

When I say a perfect storm, I refer to the expression, and not the film with Mr Clooney.

An expression that describes an event where a rare combination of circumstances will aggravate a situation drastically.

I’m going to use the word aggravate in a good way though, as it is often used in a negative way. A good way being that we have a superb environment for the digital sector to grow in 2014 and beyond, specifically for the creation and growth of start ups.

Why? Let me present my evidence.

1. The C4DI Beta
2. The C4DI campus coming soon
3. The regeneration of the Fruit Market
4. KC’s Lightstream
5. The City of Culture
6. Low cost of living
7. Low cost of operating a business
8. Access to funding
9. Mentoring and support
10. The City Plan project

We have the right space, a terrific network of people, the right environment, and significant opportunities for start ups focused on two areas, tourism and smart cities.

The tourism link is obvious with the arrival of 2017 only a few years away. The smart cities opportunity is linked to the fact there is a growing amount of interest in using technology for the benefit of cities and their citizens. Smart London is a project, which has just been launched:

London is already one of the most sophisticated digital capitals of Europe, and it needs to use that technology to the benefit of its citizens, and become a ‘smarter’ city. Smart solutions are about using digital technology to solve seemingly unsolvable problems.

Replace the word London with Hull, look into the future slightly (and allow a little artistic license), and we can do exactly the same. Especially as the C4DI has developed Hull’s online platform called the City Engine for Hull City Council in a joint venture and this is going to be the basis of a huge amount of information, data and allow input from everyone. The City Leadership Team and the Council have understood and realised the huge opportunity we have for using the City Engine for the benefit of everyone.

The technology team at The Guardian have also recognised the importance of smart cities:

This is the year that cities become even smarter. Local authorities and councils the world over have invested in social capital and connected infrastructure with the aim of better understanding the needs of their citizens.

The digital sector in the city has not just suddenly appeared. The community has always been here, and was brought together to become something more connected and meaningful in January 2009 when I founded Hull Digital, which means that, incredibly, Hull Digital is five years old in January. With currently 469 members, having held 49 MeetUps and also three national conferences in the shape of HDLive. Not bad considering we first had 20 people show up in Costa Coffee back in January 2009.

We have come a long way.

If you are a business that would like to use technology more effectively, and innovate better, then please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

If you are a startup that needs workspace, investment, mentoring, honesty and support, then please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

If you are someone who loves the world of digital and technology, who is a developer, designer, coder, data junkie… than you should join Hull Digital.

I look forward to seeing you in 2014.