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Take a Look Inside the Leeds City Region’s Most Exciting Digital Businesses

· Ali Turner · Discussion

Ever wondered what it’s like to work for a dynamic digital business?

Rapidspike

Leeds City Region has one of the fastest growing tech sectors in the UK, which means there’s a huge demand for local talent. Discover Digital helps and supports people who want to move into the industry. Find out more...

Innovation comes in many forms and nowhere is that more true than in the region’s tech companies…

Behind the scenes, in offices all over the Leeds City Region, businesses are doing exciting, cutting-edge work in the digital industry. There are start-ups with innovative new ideas that will change the way we learn and shop, alongside major players who are forging a path to the future with game-changing technology and clever developments – and we’re shining a light on the best of them. So join us as we travel from Leeds to Harrogate, Skipton to Halifax to take a look inside the most exciting tech companies in the region.

Covea Insurance

If you think insurance is boring, think again. Covea is a forward-thinking company with tech at its heart. They have a dedicated team to review emerging technologies and identify potential opportunities that could add value to the business. As a result, they’re working in all the emerging fields of tech, from AI chatbots to automated voice services, machine learning algorithms and robotic process automation.

Inside their office, which sits in a beautiful converted mill at Dean Clough in Halifax, you’ll find a diverse array of people. “Bringing together the perspectives of people from all backgrounds has created a culture where talent, creativity and innovation can thrive,” Shaun Kelly, Director of Strategic Development and Emerging Technology at Covea, told us. “It also positions our company as one that reflects our customers and the communities that we operate in, and enables us to deliver better results.”

BigChange

There’s a real buzz around BigChange. They’ve created an intuitive, scalable platform that transforms how organisations monitor and manage mobile workforces, but they’re not stopping there. “The most exciting thing we’re working on at the moment is a collaboration platform to connect consumers and businesses with trusted service providers who can fulfil the work on-demand,” Martin Port, Founder & CEO of BigChange, told us. “It brings the technology and the ethos of the gig economy to industries that have always engaged in this kind of work, but at a greater scale and at a greater pace than is possible through personal, face-to-face connections.”

BigChange is a truly inspiring place to work. Aside from the free gym membership, the healthy eats and the obligatory pizza on their ‘Italian Fridays’, they invite a guest speaker into the business on the first Monday of every month. These are inspirational people who’ve overcome real challenges and in the past, they’ve welcomed Falklands veteran Simon Weston and Grand National winning cancer survivor Bob Champion.

Beer Hawk

A company that mixes beer, digital and logistics – what could be more exciting than that? Beer Hawk is an online retailer that scouts out the best beers in the world and delivers them to your door. When it started 6 years ago, it was a 2-man band, but they now have 80 employees spread across their HQ and two warehouses in Wetherby.

They use tech to help people find their next favourite beers and they’ve created a complex ‘brewgorithm’ that uses taste profiles, customer data, reviews and the expertise of their beer sommeliers to recommend beers they think you’ll like. With over 1,200 beers in their collection, it’s no small feat, and they’re constantly looking for ways to improve it. “From a technical point of view, it’s quite complex and challenging, but it’s one of those projects we’ll never finish, because it keeps evolving and getting better and more accurate,” Mark Roberts, co-founded of Beerhawk told us.

Rapidspike

In a world where even minor glitches in the user experience can lose you a customer, digital assurance is becoming more and more important – and that’s what Rapidspike do. They help businesses make their digital services faster and more reliable by improving existing technology and building things no one has ever built before.

Needless to say, innovation is key to their business and it’s defined their culture. They have a flat structure and an open receptive approach to ideas, so anyone, from their CEO to their latest graduate hire, can come up with their next big development. They nurture creativity and productivity with flexible hours, work-from-home options and free gym membership to keep you at the top of your game. But more than that, they’re ambitious – they believe the possibilities of technology are endless and they’ve made it their mission to become Yorkshire’s next tech unicorn.

Shopappy

Shopappy is an online marketplace that champions local independent stores – you can order apples from the greengrocers, steaks from the butcher and bread from the bakery, then pick it all up in one place. It launched in their hometown of Skipton two years ago, so they’re still very much at the beginning of their journey, but that’s what makes it so exciting because they move fast, take risks and learn from their mistakes in a way that a bigger company never could.

When it comes to digital businesses, there’s a perception that you’ll spend your whole day staring at a screen, but that’s not the case at Shopappy. They’re trying to bring the high street to life online, so you’ll often find them travelling the UK, meeting independents and building up their community. Of course, they still use cutting edge tech – usability is key to their platform, it has to be quick and easy to use, which is why they’re exploring the potential of AI and machine learning.

Hark

Now for something a little bit different. Hark uses cloud technology and industry standard sensors that connect to existing infrastructures to provide businesses with real-time data on their environment. What does that mean? You can track CO2, temperature and humidity 24/7. At first, that might sound pointless, but let’s put it into perspective – supermarket chains will know instantly if their fridges fail, warehouses can ensure they maintain the optimal humidity and manufacturing plants can protect staff from carbon monoxide leaks.

“On any given day, anything could happen,” Jordan Appleson, CEO of Hark, told us. “There’s always something new and interesting happening here. We get to speak to so many cool companies of various shapes and sizes because our tech is relevant to so many different industries.” That tech is cutting edge stuff, so they have some really exciting roles, including AI Advocates, Machine Learning Experts and Software Architects. What’s more, they’re big believers in the mantra ‘work when’s best for you’, so the hours are totally flexible, as long as the work gets done.

mHabitat

Digital technology is revolutionising the health industry and mHabitat is at the forefront of the field. They’re a not-for-profit organisation that works as part of the NHS to give health and social care providers the tools they need to do their vital work. From AI and machine learning to behavioural techniques, they use the latest technology to create simple, practical solutions that make a real difference to people’s lives.

Needless to say, the work comes with real feel good, but that’s not what makes it exciting. You see, they bring patients and practitioners together with digital innovations, health tech companies and academics to solve real problems – it’s a collaborative approach that feeds innovation and it’s resulted in some incredible products, like a new NHS app that will allow users to book appointments, order repeat prescriptions and access their GP records 24/7. Oh, and another reason to envy them – their tight-knit creative team includes Bibi, a Pets for Therapy dog.

Infinity Works

Infinity Works has grown from 0 to 200 staff in the last 4 years, and though they’ve now expanded outside the city, more than half of those jobs are right here in Leeds. Their team of engineers, technologists and consultants work with clients to find lasting solutions to their problems. But it goes deeper than that because they stick around after the project is complete to help embed change, manage services and train staff.

“We strive to live and breathe a culture of learning, sharing and excellence where great ideas are collaborative and everyone helps everyone else to improve their skills and be the best version of ‘them’ they can be,” Neil Dunlop, Practice Lead at Infinity Works, told us. But it’s not all work and no play. They’ve got ping pong and foosball tables, their own private bar with a range of hand-pulled ales and a calendar of evening events that ranges from African drumming to yoga.

yboo

Tucked away is Holmfirth, yboo is the tech start-up to watch. They’ve built an app that runs in the background and measures your usage, so when it’s time to renew your phone contract, they can recommend the best sim-only tariff for you. But that’s not the only purpose of the app – with all that lovely user data at their fingertips, they have a unique insight into what customers want and they use it to help mobile companies build products that match consumer requirements.

It’s really taken off, so the company is growing at a rapid pace. In fact, they’ve gone from 2 employees to 11 in the last 6 months alone. And once you’re in, you’re in – they have an employee share pool that’s 5% of the value of the company, so staff can invest in the company and profit when it does. But that’s not all – they also have a masseuse in every month to help ease away the stresses and strains of the day.

Event Genius

Reshad Hossenally came up with the idea for Event Genius in 2008, while he was studying at the University of Leeds, but it’s come a long way since then. In fact, it’s now one of the biggest online ticket agents and event technology providers in the UK.

They offer an end-to-end solution that includes everything from a white-labelled online booking system to barcoded ticketing and scanning, but it’s continually evolving. Two years ago, they introduced Event Genius Pay, an award-winning payment system that lets you load money onto a wristband or card, so you can go cash-free at events. And in the next few months, they’ll be adding a new fan app that will allow customers to combine ticketing, cashless payments and loyalty rewards for the first time ever.

Chameleon

Chameleon is the future of the energy industry. They design, engineer and manufacture in-home displays for smart meters from their office in Harrogate – but that’s just the beginning. Right now, they’re working on I•VIE, a cloud platform that uses real-time data to help customers understand and control their energy consumption in new ways.

“We are on the cusp of a huge change in energy. Digitisation and electrification of our energy supply and the growing use and requirement of renewables will bring unprecedented change. Smart meters, and the real-time data they generate, are key to unlocking benefits for consumers and businesses,” Jennifer Woodhall, Head of Marketing at Chameleon, told us. “Imagine being able to empower your energy platform to choose when to buy, use and store energy, when to use renewables, and when to turn your appliances off and on, so that your energy spend is lowest, but your home comfort is maintained.”

Synap

Start-ups. They’re exciting by their very nature and Synap is on the verge of hitting the big time. It was created by two students who wanted to make their own revision easier, so they designed an app to quiz them ahead of their exams. By the time they left university, thousands of people had downloaded it, and they realised that their side-project had become their new career.

Since those early days, Synap has become a multi-faceted learning tool used by students and corporations alike. From GSCE level to med students, US airforce pilots to taxi and train drivers, the applications are endless and the technology is constantly evolving through a process of feedback, tinkering and testing. “This year has been formative for us because we took a platform for students to wider applications. What we’ve built is an interesting, scalable software solution for learning,” James Gupta, CEO at Synap, told us.

Jaywing

When it comes to data, Jaywing is leading the way. They have 200 members of staff in Leeds and 1 in 10 of them are data scientists. They use that huge pool of expertise to create innovative, first-of-its-kind products. Take Decision for example, it’s an AI-powered PPC management platform that continually learns and optimises itself to deliver more sales with less spend. And let’s not forget Whisper – their social listening tool analyses millions of data points to help businesses identify who and what is influencing people’s behaviour.

Jaywing is at the forefront of AI and machine learning. They’re continually developing new tools to help their clients utilise the power of data, so the work here is interesting, challenging and incredibly diverse. But it’s more than that – they’re also helping to nurture the next generation of talent. They work closely with the University of Leeds Business School to help get graduates industry-ready. They even have their own ‘micro-agency’ scheme that gives two students a year the chance to create, shape and run a not-for-profit digital marketing business.

Sky Betting & Gaming

Sky Betting & Gaming is one of the fastest growing businesses in the UK and it’s easy to see why. They’re leading the way – they were the first betting and gaming company to let customers create their own bets with Request a Bet and this year they launched the industry’s first group betting tool.

But it’s not just what they do that makes this a really exciting place to work – it’s how they do it. They have a strong learning culture that nurtures talent and drives development, with a graduate academy that helps students make the leap from university into the real world. And if you’ve got a great idea in your back pocket, you could get the time, funding and support to turn it into a reality with CoLab, Sky Betting & Gaming’s pioneering tech accelerator.

Want to get into tech? Find out what’s out there, where you could work and how to get your foot in the door…

Cover image © Copyright Leeds-List 2018 by Jeremy Kelly