Liverpool's tech and creative sectors. What does the future hold?

At the end of last week I joined a roundtable held by Napthens looking into the future of the tech and creative industries in Liverpool. I was one of the 75 attendees logging in to hear from the experts to see how the last six months has impacted their working life and how the City of Liverpool is responding.

Everyone knows that Covid has had an impact on day-to-day life for almost all industries, but with the digital and creative sectors being such a key growth sector for the City Region (growing at 5 times the rate of the wider economy across the UK) the roundtable was arranged to understand the different drivers and challenges for tech experts.

As part of the discussion, Mashbo’s Managing Director, Gavin Sherratt gave an update on how Covid has impacted our work at Mashbo and has changed our direction. We’ve refined our focus to work on projects that align with our vision of creating technology to solve complex challenges and transform organisations.

We’re streamlining our clients businesses by using technology, really focusing on our core offering and being more product led. We’re keeping up the momentum of talking to each other, collaborating with other agencies and continuing not to panic in these uncertain times.

Remote working

As with any conversation about the current working situation, one of the first topics discussed was the swing towards remote working. At Mashbo, remote working has been available to our staff for some years. People work best at different times of the day and this allows us to work at times that work suit us individually and our peak productivity times. Getting together is important though and Gavin pointed out that “We have to be together as a team physically once a week” in order to facilitate spontaneous creativity.

Anna Hayes agreed with the importance of meeting up and Active Profile are now making the effort to make sure each member of the team is in the office at least one day a week. This allows them to work collaboratively together but with only a few in the office, social distancing can be adhered to.

Many of the panelists felt the same way, Matt Latham, Co-founder at tickr pointed out that they “have always worked a bit remotely”. It can be helpful when looking for reasonably priced offices because where a HQ is has become increasingly irrelevant to the ambition of a business. Meaning a London office is no longer a requirement for many in the tech industry.

In Liverpool, the tech industry is rather spaced out. Jayne Croft from Napthens pointed out that there are some businesses based in the business district, others, who are mainly start-ups, are based in the Baltic area and Ed-tech all tend to be located near the Universities. Lorna Davidson CEO of Redwigwam is based in the Baltic area and said that the area means they “get to meet people with different skills in shared spaces in the area, although flexible working has always been at the core of Redwigwam”.

Orcha Saria said “it’s taken a pandemic for us to realise that people can work anywhere”, which may change the way tech companies recruit in the future.

It seems that the tech industry in Liverpool is one that has adapted to remote working well and maybe we’re losing offices as we know them, but it would be great to be able to use them as collaboration spaces going forward. Funding into the tech community

Another hot topic of the session was tech community funding

We all know that Covid has impacted the whole country financially and it’s inevitable that this will trickle down into funding.

Matt Latham made a good point that “your money doesn’t have to come from where you are located, investors can come from all over the world”. At tickr they look far and wide for talent, funding and customers. The net may need to be cast a little wider post-Covid as there may be reluctance in funding, or maybe funders might want to invest at a later stage.

As with anything, gaining funding within tech is at times based on your networks, with the remote working and restrictions now placed on us, it is important to think of different ways to network. Or even just pick up the phone.

Finding digital talent in Liverpool

When it comes to talent, there were strong opinions about it in the region. Matt Latham pointed out that it was quicker to hire freelancers in London in the past, but because of changes in the law impacting freelancers, it’s no longer as speedy.

The consensus is that it takes longer to find people in Liverpool, but these people want to stay in a role here for a long time. They want to go on a full journey with the company and grow within a role. There is great experience in the city, but we need to make sure we are nurturing the talent that’s here.

One big talking point around this is keeping the doors open for the next generation. Anna and the Active Profile team ran a webinar recently for those looking to get into the industry. 50 students and graduates joined to learn more from the team and she feels it’s important that whole teams, not just leaders, are the gateway for graduates to get involved in tech careers in Liverpool.

Orcha are also doing great things getting healthcare tech into schools through digital learning and inspiring young people to look into the tech industry.

One change jumping back to Covid, is how the industry can maintain visibility with newcomers and graduates without being in a physical office. Is remote working going to negatively impact graduate schemes and programmes within the industry? Time will tell but as a community the panel agreed that increasing education and visibility of the sector for newcomers is crucial for the next generation.

How do we make our city better?

As a group, the consensus is that people have seen things slowing down over lockdown, but across the board there seems to be a bounce back. Collaboration and working together with companies that can help each other is important to help everyone at this time.

As with many Liverpool wide questions about the tech sector, comparisons were made with other cities. There was agreement that we shouldn’t be comparing ourselves to other cities such as Manchester, but we do have an extra challenge in Liverpool because we can be overlooked geographically by the sector.

Jayne made a good point that “The Manchester tech community is more established than the Liverpool tech community and maybe we could look at what they’ve done” and because “Manchester has been doing it for longer, it doesn’t necessarily make it better. We have always had film, creative, music in the city and we do it so well. There isn’t any reason we couldn’t be as established as the likes of Manchester and Leeds.”

We do need bigger and more established and growing companies to invest in the city. This brings support, employment and a level of stability that will support the next generation.

Overall, the one and a half hours raised many questions around the tech industry in Liverpool at the moment, with just enough Covid without letting the virus take over. This city is a thriving hub of tech experts, all finding different ways to tackle the current obstacles, yet all very positive for the future.

Attendees: Gavin Sherratt (Managing Director – Mashbo) Liam Kelly (CEO – Make Liverpool) Jayne Croft (Corporate Associate – Napthens LLP) Matt Latham (Co-founder – tickr) Lorna Davidson (CEO – Redwigwam) Dean Ward (Co-founder /CTO – Evoke Creative) Andy Kent (Angel Solutions) Saira Arif (Implementation Manager – ORCHA) Anna Heyes (Managing Director – Active Profile)

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