On building a healthy tech ecosystem: the benefits of open collaboration

One of TechEast’s six manifesto commitments is ‘to be recognised as the UK’s most open and collaborative digital tech cluster, where new companies can thrive and grow in a supportive environment’. In practice that means connecting different parts of the regional ecosystem, and then amplifying the resulting effects on a national and international level.

Over the last year I’ve been fortunate to witness many examples of open collaboration in action; and two from this month stood out.

 

Caption: The tech showcase at Endeavour House, Ipswich

Public sector meets private sector – fusing two worlds

How does a large local authority solve some of the biggest challenges in delivering public services? For Suffolk County Council, a key part of the answer is by embracing digital to transform its approach. Recognising the role that the cream of our regional tech businesses can play in this journey, an Innovation Showcase was held at the council’s headquarters in Ipswich on 4 December where local authority managers experienced, first hand, the latest innovations from the tech community and set out some of their challenges from social care and transport, to digital inclusion and economic growth.

We were delighted to support the event by bringing a number of TechEast member businesses from Suffolk and Norfolk to the Showcase (including Liftshare , Inasight, Wiggly Amps and Coderus) and the event was supported by several TechEast ecosystem partners including Cambridge Wireless and the Ipswich Waterfront Innovation Centre (IWIC).

Bringing two different worlds together means both elements learning the different mindsets and needs of the other. SME tech businesses can find it difficult to engage the right decision makers and understand their procurement processes. Meanwhile the public sector recognised that it is ‘often quite rightly, risk averse’ but also that it ‘must learn to fail faster’. During an afternoon meeting of senior council managers Interim Chief Executive Sue Cook sounded the rallying call ‘let’s be really ambitious’.

At the end of the session, event organiser Kevin Wegg from Suffolk County Council said ‘the whole day has created a real ‘buzz’ and rest assured we will be keeping that momentum going’. We look forward to much more of this intentional collaboration in 2018 and beyond.

 

Caption: Tim from TechEast meeting the two10degrees team

Caption: Chris Bally, CIO and Assistant Chief Executive outline’s Suffolk County Council’s Digital Business Strategy

 

Network effects – what happens when networks combine?

TechEast runs quarterly TechEast I/O engagement workshops in both Norfolk and Suffolk to update the community on progress, gain feedback and listen to new ideas for developing the regional cluster. On 13 December we partnered with the hugely successful SyncNorwich meetup group, now nearly 1,500 strong to hold our last event of 2017.

The evening brought together a diverse mix of business leaders, developers, designers, marketeers, professional services firms, academics and investors. We believe that all these skillsets are needed for a tech ecosystem to function fully.  Hosted by Whitespace, the home of Barclays Eagle Labs and TechVelocity, we had an update on progress with the new Norwich accelerator from CEO Kris Jones.

SyncNorwich who organise the celebrated Sync the City 54 hour startup weekend (read our report here) always invite the winning teams to share their experiences of this intense event in a relaxed atmosphere. We heard inspiring stories from judges’ overall winner the Safepoint team (previously LoneSafe) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8aNbRnYIffE  and Elena Lockyer 2nd year student at Norwich University of the Arts whose Unwind, a simple confidential wellbeing app, won the peoples’ choice award https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=4&v=bqQmNzgdY_8

We then held an interactive session exploring how use of data and visualisation could help raise the profile of the cluster with investors and new talent, and enable better connections between businesses from startups, scaleups, SMEs and corporates.

Combining our efforts was a great way for us all to meet new faces and forge fresh connections. As attendee Kara Langford put it ‘I had some incredibly valuable conversations with people and I thought the workshop activity drew out some really great ideas’

Caption: Elena Lockyer ,Unwind, won the peoples’ choice award

Caption: Safepoint (previously LoneSafe) – Sync the City Winners

 

Measuring progress

How should we measure the effects of these collaborations? TechEast is committed to hard, tangible targets: to support the creation of 5,000 new jobs and increased economic productivity of £650m GVA by 2020. However, we believe that without the ‘soft power’ of an open community, these goals will be much harder to achieve. As Gerard Grech, CEO of Tech City and Tech Nation put it during his recent visit to Norwich to deliver the keynote for Sync The City ‘What a warm, supportive tech community you have’.  Our thanks to every one in the East of England who has made 2017 a year of step-change in working together by joining the dots of our amazing cluster.

With all good wishes for the festive season!

Tim Robinson, Chief Operating Officer

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