Manchester: an unstoppable city

BY Sarah DrummSeptember 24, 2019

Right now, Manchester is laser focused on reinventing itself as the tech capital of the North. Mayor Andy Burnham is doing what he can to turn these tech-filled dreams into reality, investing heaps into the city’s universities and incubator schemes

Last year, more new buildings were being put up in Manchester than LA – including two million more square foot of office space. A big chunk of this is being carved out for start-ups: Colliers International reckons the total amount of flexible workspace in Manchester will increase by 50% to over 60,000 square foot by 2022.

We’re excited to be a part of that. We’ll be opening our new Digital Lifestyle and Media hub in the heart of Ancoats, one of Manchester’s most creative neighbourhoods, next month.

The Northern opportunity

To get an idea of why everyone’s suddenly so interested in Manchester, just look at the numbers.

Home to household names such as Boohoo, The Hut Group and Autotrader, the Northern city sits shoulder-to-shoulder with tech hubs across the globe. In total, it’s produced five Unicorns  (just one less than Amsterdam, which receives three times as much investment per capita), with two more expected to hit that magical £1BN valuation soon. In 2017, Manchester’s tech sector generated more than £5BN and employed more than 108,000 people – in other words, more than 4% of Manchester’s workforce.

Start-up city

Manchester makes sense for founders, especially those who cringe at the ‘struggle porn’ narrative. Cash goes way further here, with the cost of running a business about 40% less than in London (thank you, affordable real estate and talent markets). Without worrying so much about operating expenses gobbling up revenues, founders can grow their businesses on their own terms – not their VCs.

An ecosystem has emerged to support the nearly 14,000 tech start-ups that call Manchester home today. Our new workspace accelerator hub hopes to join the likes of Tech Nation, Manchester Tech Trust and even GCHQ on the mission to help Manchester’s businesses thrive and scale. They’re already doing a pretty great job: last year, the number of start-ups in the North East grew by 78% – even London couldn’t keep up. 

Who will help Manchester grow?

Manchester has two big challenges still to overcome: funding and talent. Significant, but not unbeatable, problems. 

It’s no secret that funding’s harder to come by up North, with London start-ups still swiping the lion’s share of investment. Of the £7BN invested in the UK last year, 57% went to London startups; just 4% found its way to Manchester. 

More funding would be welcome, obviously, but businesses here are pretty used to doing more with less. The talent problem, however, is trickier. 

The UK industry network Tech Nation, which runs a regional hub in Manchester, reckons there are roughly 164,000 roles still open in the city’s digital tech sector. The competition for tech talent is fierce.

Beyond tech talent

It’s not just full-stack developers that are in demand: Manchester’s tech heavyweights rely as much on HR experts, accountants and sales staff to keep their operations running smoothly, with non-technical workers making up 36% of Manchester’s digital tech economy.

‘What we fail to recognise when supporting tech in the UK is that it takes a lot more than a full stack developer to support a company – and that’s particularly the case in Manchester,’ says Head of Insights at Tech Nation, George Windsor. ‘Talent is top when it comes to challenges for fast growing companies. They can often get the investment, but if Boohoo can’t hire quickly enough, that could curtail growth.’

Getting students hyped up about the range of roles on offer at start-ups will be essential. ‘Short term courses like North Coders and Code First Girls are good to give people the skills they need to engage in critical tech work,’ George adds. ‘We hope to raise awareness among young people about the opportunities in tech – and not just technical jobs, all jobs.’

Keep on growing

Manchester has reinvented itself before – doing it again shouldn’t be a problem. 

Before the Industrial Revolution, Manchester was a relatively insignificant market town (population: sub-10,000). In the space of 50 years, it transformed. By the 1850s, it was England’s second largest metropolis, having embraced the textile industry boom. This time, the revolution will be led by tech.


Sarah Drumm