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North Star: A regional focus on Manchester - BVCA Journal
25 Aug 2021

Famous the world over for its rock stars and football teams, Manchester is also on-trend for investors, with a booming health sector, an impressive performance as Europe’s fastest growing tech hub and green credentials, says Lulu Trask.

As well as being on-trend, Greater Manchester is the largest city-region economy outside of London. It is perhaps no wonder, then, that Manchester, with Liverpool, has been named the 12th most popular global destination for foreign direct investment by number of projects.

Manchester also has a growing reputation as an eco-friendly city, an increasingly important factor for many investors. Greater Manchester’s Climate Change Framework sets out the city’s objectives and targets for 2020-25, including the commitment to reduce direct CO2 emissions by at least 50%. It has also set out 15 actions that residents can take to become part of a zero-carbon city, from how to measure — and improve — their carbon footprint, to dietary changes that reduce their impact on the planet.

More than 45,000 people were already employed in Manchester’s green tech sector in 2016, and the government announced in June this year that the world’s first commercial liquid air battery facility will be built in Trafford, creating 200 more jobs.


Unique healthcare ecosystem

Another big economic contributor is digital health start-ups, which are coming out of Manchester too quickly to count, due in large part to the region’s unique health innovation proposition. In 2017, the Greater Manchester Academic Health Science Network and the Manchester Academic Health Science Centre united to form Health Innovation Manchester, a collaborative life sciences hub covering everything from university-led research to in business deployment of healthcare solutions. “We are integrated into the NHS and into health and social care, which means we can really help to identify the needs of the system and articulate the problems. We then work with industry and academia to co-create the solutions and embed them into the system,” explains Arjun Sikand, Associate Director, Commercial Partnerships, at Health Innovation Manchester.

To bridge the gap between market-ready products and adoption-ready solutions, Health Innovation Manchester uses its own workforce to embed products and services into the health system. By testing products in their end market, they can be refined and proven to work in practice ahead of wider roll-out. Not only does this collaborative approach lead to more accurate cost-benefit analysis models than by simply handing a product or solution over to an organisation, but it mitigates the time pressures faced by existing employees during trials, which often lead to trials fizzling out. For investors, this creates “an end to the pipeline process”, says Sikand, who explains that investors can see that the goal is for the product or solution to be embedded into the system in business as usual. “It helps to de-risk the new solutions coming to market, because it’s clearly fulfilling a need of the system.”


Indomitable innovation

Last year, Tech Nation named Manchester the fastest-growing tech hub in Europe. During the first lockdown, the city boasted the best start-up-per-capita rate in the whole of the UK, launching 4,014 businesses between March 24 and the end of June — one for every 143 people.

Tech Manchester is a non-profit that supports the region’s early-stage tech start-ups. The incubator offers the largest mentoring programme for tech businesses in the North West, hosts its weekly Fast Forward podcast on entrepreneur challenges, and provides PR and communications support to help raise the profile of the start-ups it supports.

Patricia Keating, Director of Tech Manchester, came to the UK from Belfast to launch the incubator three years ago. “One of the things people consistently highlight about Manchester is the collaboration. I’ve worked in Belfast, Birmingham, Glasgow, Edinburgh and London, but I haven’t seen a cohesive approach to the extent that I’ve seen here in Manchester. I was able to very quickly embed myself into the ecosystem and develop partnerships. That’s what makes Manchester so attractive and draws the investors,” explains Keating.

Sikand believes a driving force behind the city’s desire to innovate is its unusual political set-up. In 2017, powers, budgets and responsibilities were passed down from central Government to the first directly elected mayor for Greater Manchester. “I think there’s a greater appetite for our whole system and approach that came about because of the history of Manchester and its devolution,” he says. “When you’re given £6 billion it sounds a lot, but when you have to do everything within that budget and can’t ask for more, it really makes you want to innovate and stretch that budget, so you have to look at doing things in new ways,” he adds, talking about health and social care spending.


Adapting to pandemics

Manchester was both a metropolis and the centre of the cotton industry, earning it the nickname ‘Cottonopolis’. Cotton mills opened in the towns surrounding the city, creating a sprawling metropolis with multiple focal points. “We have 10 boroughs built around all these cotton mills — not clustered in a central hub,” Keating explains. “People are predicting that large companies will move away from those massive headquarters and move to smaller regional hubs so local lockdowns don’t impact their whole business. While in the past we have struggled with the legacy of these mills, I think over time these will regenerate and provide the solution that people are looking for. Manchester was at the heart of the Industrial Revolution and now it seems to be leading the way in the technology revolution.”

The revolution does not look like it will stop any time soon, either. Greater Manchester boasts five higher education institutions, including the University of Manchester (which has been ranked the 27th best university in the world), home to more than 100,000 students and producing 36,000 graduates annually, who are keeping their skills in the city. Devolution has allowed civic leaders to choose how money is spent, to not only attract but to retain talent. Manchester is the only city outside of London that gains more graduates than it loses. “Through devolution, Greater Manchester is just further along in its journey than other regions,” says Sikand. Let the journey continue.


Case study focus
Safe Steps

In collaboration with Health Innovation Manchester, Safe Steps has developed an app to reduce the number of falls in care homes. The app is used to record details of monthly resident assessments and looks at 12 key risk factors to create a personalised care plan. Testing, rolled out in Bolton and Thameside, showed a 28% reduction in falls. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, Health Innovation Manchester and Safe Steps have adapted the app to track COVID-19 symptoms in care home residents.

Push Doctor

This app aims to make healthcare more accessible. Users connect with their GP surgery and book appointments online. Consultations take place via video call, negating the need for travel and increasing efficiency. Just like an in-person appointment, doctors can write prescriptions, referrals and sick notes.

Mercarto

This eCommerce and marketplace platform supports small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) with scaling and selling their products online. Based at and supported by Tech Manchester, Mercarto celebrated seven-figure revenues during its first year of trading.



This article is from the BVCA Journal Autumn edition, published October 2020. BVCA members can access the full publication here.

The autumn edition explores racial equality and what venture capital can do to improve its record; the ways COVID-19 is forcing retailers to rapidly evolve the shopping experience; and takes a look at the ‘Thrivers’, inspiring stories of companies innovating, evolving and rising to the challenge of the pandemic. This issue also features an interview with Sir Ronald Cohen, a deep dive into what makes Manchester an exciting hub for investment, and much more.


Further information

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