I’m passionate about Hull and its future. I was born here, educated here, returned after University, and have been running businesses in the city for the last eleven years or so.
Hull’s been in a tough economic situation for many years now. The reasons behind this and the associated social impact are complex. What’s clear though is the need for some sort of economic rejuvenation. Many believe that at the heart of this rejuvenation is the growth of the Knowledge Economy. The Knowledge Economy covers all sorts of IP-based disciplines such as law, accountancy and consulting, but I’m going to highlight four things that I think are key to growing the Knowledge Industry in the Tech Sector in Hull.
1. Opportunity Not Investment
One of my contracts is as a consultant to a private investment fund, so I’ve seen many sorts of businesses that need investment for all sorts of reasons. More often than not, I see businesses who think investment is the only answer to their growth… but it isn’t.
The vast majority of businesses that we turn down actually just need opportunity. They’re great companies, doing great work, who just need a break. The challenge to big business and public sector procurement in the city is to shop local. Shopping local is not some sort of philanthropic act, but a recognition that you have a world class skill-set right on your doorstep. Why not take a different view of how you commission your projects and think what’s important to the success of that project. Do you want your new team to spend their time learning how to be the best, brightest and most knowledgeable team they can, or do you want them to spend their time learning how to play the procurement game and getting their Healthy & Safety and Environmental Policies paperwork in order? Those sorts of things are important, but you have to see them in context. If you’re a cash rich local company, do you need to squeeze your small business suppliers on 30, 60 or even 90 day payment runs?
Collaboration is key. Through collaboration we learn, grow, improve and develop. Hull needs that collaboration, which is why groups such as HullDigital are vital. A group of businesses willing to collaborate becomes an attractive thing, and will start (as we’ve seen in Leeds and Sheffield) to generate outside interest in the area.
Genuine collaboration and that willingness to share amongst businesses is difficult. It requires a level of confidence and assurance around the value of your own IP. It’s confidence that what you have has taken so much investment of your time and energy that it becomes difficult to replicate. My experience has always shown that those willing to share are often the ones sharing the most value.
That collaboration is not just for peer businesses though. Big businesses can learn from small businesses. That direct connection between the efficiency of your business and your mortgage repayments – fundamentally, that ‘Time Is Money’ is often lost as a business grows. It’s often said that big business should be like small business, only bigger. That’s one of the approaches that makes companies such as Apple so successful. Steve Jobs stated the following in an Interview with Business Week in 2004:
And it comes from saying no to 1,000 things to make sure we don’t get on the wrong track or try to do too much. We’re always thinking about new markets we could enter, but it’s only by saying no that you can concentrate on the things that are really important.
Small business doesn’t have all the answers though. Large businesses can share how they grew to that point, the lessons they learned on the way, and some of the fundamental things they do well such as payroll and accounting. Perhaps some of those areas I outlined earlier (Health & Safety and Environmental Policies) which are important and that previously prohibited small businesses from procuring work with large businesses, could be something big businesses help with.
KC’s new Lightstream network is a hugely exciting development for Hull. It will free up businesses to communicate and work in ways that had previously been impossible. It will help enable that collaboration that is so vital to economic growth. We’ll be able to free up hours of travel/meeting time and save hundreds in travel costs. I’m convinced that Lightstream will form the backbone of business and education in the city for years to come.
As locally grown businesses develop they will require new talent. We’re fortunate to have a number of great educational establishments in the city. Stopping the ‘brain drain’ to other cities by working with universities and schools to create a new workforce for the future is key. Businesses can help shape and guide students into jobs or starting their own businesses. It’s an exciting time to be in education with Computer Science and Programming in schools being the latest government trend. It’s exciting to think of the possibility of a new generation of students who are grounded and equipped with fundamental computing skills – not the latest trend or technology, as Paul Dyson put in a recent tweet.
Tech businesses come in all shapes and sizes, many of whom have no idea what they’re doing in six weeks, let alone six months. Hull’s problems have been growing for decades, so there’s no quick fix. As the Knowledge Economy grows, things will slowly start to look and feel very different.
We’ll see small teams of independent specialists working in a Noded way. That might not be ticking the boxes of traditional growth and direct job creation, but the chances are that they’ll be paying more tax and spending more of their income locally than the aggregate number of employees in a similar business with a similar number of employees.
Landlords and developers who in the past could rely on economic growth to increase demand for their property will need to rethink how they provide for the needs of those new tech businesses who are quite happy working remotely and who value flexibilty and growth and aren’t interested in long term leases.
What Hull will look like in five years from now is unclear. What’s certain though is that if the Knowledge Economy does grow in Hull, how businesses look and feel with change. If you have an economy where knowledge becomes as critical as other economic resources, then it will mean that those rules and practices that determined success in the traditional industries of Hull will need rewriting.
It’s an exciting time to be in Hull, and a privilege to be working with some of the great minds who will be fundamental to the growth and success of Hull’s future. Why not come along to a HullDigital Meet-Up and say hello to some of them?