Hull & The Knowledge Economy

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?

 2. Collaboration

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.

3. Connectivity

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.

4. Education

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.

The Future

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?

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18 Responses to “Hull & The Knowledge Economy”

  1. Andrew Chalkley
    January 31, 2012 at 8:33 pm #

    Great post John.

  2. Adam Jennison
    January 31, 2012 at 9:13 pm #

    A very apt post Jon, the brain drain has been a real drag on Hull, I believe the stats are something like only 10% of Hulls population have a degree (i.e. University education) which makes it one of the lowest places in the country for graduates.  
    Your argument reference KCOM new fibre service is also very true, by making bandwidth almost an irrelevance we can start to attract high-tech industries, e.g. we should be overrun with data-centres for we have lots of large, cheap buildings, low living costs and a steady supply of good graduates.  Lets hope with quality, cheaper comms and the will-do attitude that is shown each time the Hull Digital meets are on actually makes a difference.  
    I too love this City and want it to be recognised for the good rather than the bad, I have a feeling our time is just around the corner…

  3. Hannah
    February 1, 2012 at 12:15 am #

    Very interesting read – especially looking into ‘noding’. Great to hear about new opportunities and the enthusiasm from people in the city 🙂

  4. Anonymous
    February 1, 2012 at 1:02 am #

    A good and thought provoking post.

    The knowledge economy is also about the wider range of sectors in the local economy as well.  Knowledge, information and therefore the digital infrastructure and human capital that underpins them are critical elements in competitiveness and long term success.  This means doing things differently, including in the noded way, which applies in bigger businesses as well as in the collaboration environment involving specialist teams and experts.

    The point about landlords and developers is well made.  This also applies to education, which is about developing quality and capacity in the key factor of production – people.  A little over 10 years ago I was working with people who after visiting India and China concluded that the keys to future business success are people and technology.  That means knowledge businesses and knowledge driven enterprises are the key vehicles for getting there.

  5. Jon Moss
    February 1, 2012 at 8:17 am #

    Hi Hannah, thanks for taking the time to leave a comment!

    noded is a great way of working, and one that a lot of us use for our projects. If you use Twitter, both Jaan and Andreas (the noted authors) are very active and can be followed below:

    http://twitter.com/orvet (Jaan) and http://twitter.com/nofont

  6. Jon Moss
    February 1, 2012 at 8:28 am #

    Hey Adam, thanks for dropping in! Totally agree about the brain drain. Keeping the motivated and talented people here in the region (or city) is critical. 

    Love your point about data centres and the cheap space available. Makes a lot of sense. Hope you can make a MeetUp soon – look forward to catching up.

  7. John Connolly
    February 1, 2012 at 8:55 am #

    Thanks Hannah – I think you’re a photographer (if you’re the same Hannah who just started following me – apologies if not) – there are a few other photographers in the city who work in a Noded way, so it would be worth getting in touch with them.  I can send you their details if you fancy dropping me an email.

  8. John Connolly
    February 1, 2012 at 8:56 am #

    Thanks Adam – I can’t wait for Lightstream.  I think you’re right – our time maybe just around the corner!

  9. John Connolly
    February 1, 2012 at 8:57 am #

    Thanks Andrew 🙂

  10. John Connolly
    February 1, 2012 at 8:59 am #

    Thanks Steve – it would be great to hear more about that India/China time some time if you can make a MeetUp?

  11. Ross
    February 1, 2012 at 11:03 am #

    Great post.  I did laugh at this bit though:  “… 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***.”  🙂

  12. Anonymous
    February 1, 2012 at 11:05 am #

    I try to get to the meet ups when I can.

    The China case is particularly interesting – they’re attempting to ‘informatise’ their whole economy.  They’ve been around Europe (including Hull) picking up the best bits and places like Shanghai have created economic development agencies that embed technology, including ICTs, into their knowledge driven and information and enterprise enabled programmes for growth and public service development (every region and every city has an informatisation programme).  They’ve decided where their future is.

  13. John Connolly
    February 1, 2012 at 11:21 am #

    Very good 😉

  14. Ross
    February 1, 2012 at 12:02 pm #

    I thought it was really interesting what you said about investment, and that most companies actually need opportunity rather than cash.  That’s just the position we’re in – we have some great semi-“off the shelf” solutions that we would love to sell – these are mostly generalised versions of large systems that we’ve made for other companies and have their approval to sell.  But we’re not very good at identifying potential customers or clinching the big deals.  Throwing cash at the problem probably wouldn’t help as much as just meeting the right person…  so that is one of the reasons why I find groups like HullDigital really appealing.

  15. John Connolly
    February 1, 2012 at 5:00 pm #

    I completely recognise that situation.  Perhaps there’s something that we can do through HullDigital where members have some way of having a quick reference of other members.  Therefore, if an opportunity arrises where we can recommend friends, we’re equipped to do so…

  16. Spavin
    February 5, 2012 at 9:55 am #

    For all the hoopla about KC’s fibre to the home project it’s all too little too late. Looking back, KC had a great opportunity to do something for this city over 10 years ago when the flotation gave them money to invest. They were genuine leaders and innovators in digital networking and despite the comedy failure with KIT, the underlying infrastructure created to deliver the KIT service was ahead of the rest of the UK. Instead of building on this, sucessive management right up to this day have sucked investment out of the city taking the £30m annual profits to invest in a string of investments elsewehere in the UK (Eclipse internet anyone) with capex in the city of Hull a tiny proportion of profits. Paying a string of woeful managers enormous sums didn’t help either. Now Hull is playing catchup – the what half a billion of profit generated since the float basically gone and a feeble overhyped couple of “initiatives” by KC now hailed as transformational. As always, people in Hull need to get out more and see what’s happening in other parts of the UK.

  17. Jon Moss
    February 5, 2012 at 3:18 pm #

    Spavin, thanks for your comment. I agree, it would have been nice to have fibre to the home many years ago (look at what Sweden did over ten years ago!), but rather than looking back, I try to look forward, and the opportunity ahead.

    I don’t think it’s too late either and to blame KC entirely for Hull’s issues and economic slowdown is wrong. An easy target but I firmly believe we also need to cast our gaze over the public sector and what they have been doing (or rather what they haven’t been doing).

    You mention people should open to their eyes to other parts of the country… is there anything happening which you’ve seen that we could replicate?

  18. Spavin
    February 7, 2012 at 8:34 am #

    Thanks for the reply. Yep, better to look forward but it saddens me when I see the state of the city and what might have been. The things that Hull Digital are involved with were on the city’s agenda over a decade ago when the thinking was that the city would become a hub of digital excellence and the network would be magnet for business start-ups and even established businesses. Perhaps naive, and for sure there are bits and pieces happening here. I don’t blame KC for the economic slowdown, but having an uncompetitive comms infrastructure is surely a deterrent for most companies looking to locate anywhere. Like a few others I suspect, I do wonder why they have been allowed to get away for so long with poor service levels, profiteering, offering better services at lower prices elsewhere in the country via Eclipse  with barely a murmur in the local community or press. They could – and should – have been doing this sort of things 5/10 years ago but now just play lip service to it because they see Virgin and BT doing it. I’d like to see the city pushing for LTE trials, currently underway in various parts of the UK. That might make things interesting.

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