North West is at the heart of industrious revolution

Leading tech entrepreneur Lawrence Jones believes momentum is building as the North West cements its place as the centre of what he describes as “the Industrious Revolution”.

However, he warns there is a major challenge in creating the pipeline of talent needed to drive that revolution – and in particular attracting women to careers in the tech sector.

Much more work is needed he says: “We have to focus on education: businesses need to pull together to raise the bar and inspire kids to learn about tech.”

His Manchester-headquartered business UKFast is doing its bit. Jones explains: “We currently work with 60,000 young people across Greater Manchester and beyond, teaching, inspiring and helping them understand how exciting careers in technology can be.”

The programme started a decade ago and he says: “It’s been an amazing project for us and I’d encourage other businesses to do the same.”

The business is also doing its bit to close the gender pay gap. It announced earlier this year that the gap in its organisation was just 0.9 per cent and it is on track to reduce that to zero in the coming year.

It also has a 50/50 gender split in its board of directors and has more women than men in senior management roles.

Today UKFast is one of the largest independently owned hosting providers in the UK, having a current run-rate of over £49m and posting £40m turnover in 2016. Today the business has more than 400 staff across a host of brands.

Its success has made Jones one of the most high-profile tech entrepreneurs in the region – and beyond.

He is a vocal champion for Greater Manchester and the wider North West but believes more people need to shout louder about the strength of the sector here.

“Growth comes from spreading the word about the quality of our offering and exporting the North West’s digital talent to the rest of the country and further afield,” he says.

“There are some incredible businesses in this region doing game-changing things, but we’ve not always been the best at shouting about our successes.

“At UKFast, we started out offering hosting to mostly local businesses and that was our bread and butter for several years. But once we started talking about our products and services further afield it turned out there was a huge appetite for what we were doing.

“The region as a whole needs to get better at selling itself to the outside world.”

Warming to his theme he adds: “There are so many factors behind the region’s tech success, but I believe it’s our ability to collaborate and our entrepreneurial spirit that puts us ahead of the competition.

“The community here is unrivalled, in my opinion. There are acceleration spaces, collaboration spaces, co-working spaces.

“There are mentor groups, networking groups and an extraordinary amount of meetups, events and get-togethers – all to help start-ups and scale-ups to grow and help Manchester become Europe’s number one tech city.

“There’s no sign of this progress slowing down; there are more tech spaces available and in development than ever. MediaCity is set to double in size over the next decade, city centre hubs are seeing more tech spaces crop up.”

Jones has also been involved in the launch of Tech Manchester, which has taken up space in UKFast’s head office. He explains: “It’s an initiative that exists to connect all areas of Manchester’s tech community and bring real-world support and mentoring to those who need it.”

Innovation and creativity will be vital to the region’s future success in digital and tech. Again Jones believes it is well placed in that area.

He says: I have learned over the years that to compete with the big fish, creativity is essential, and Manchester has that in spades.

“Search and social marketing, which Manchester is a major player in, doesn’t just come from technology, it comes from creativity. It comes from thinking differently, from breaking the rules and from searching to find new ways to work.

“Digital marketing and creative agencies in Manchester are breaking down barriers and doing incredible things, and a lot of that is down to a culture of creativity which is inherent within Manchester.”