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What Really Goes On Inside the Tech Hub at Platform

· Ali Turner · Discussion

Get a glimpse of the exciting work going on at Platform.

Platform

On its mission to create innovation districts, Bruntwood SciTech has reinvented a Leeds landmark and transformed it into a hub for technology businesses. Platform is a focal point for the region's digital talent and a showcase for international investment. Find out more...

With 100 cutting edge tech businesses all under one roof, who wouldn’t want to be a fly on the wall in Platform?

Platform’s reputation precedes it. This 12-storey behemoth has become the city’s leading tech hub, a space where freelancers, start-ups and scale-ups work side-by-side. It has a unique ecosystem where entrepreneurs can get peer-to-peer support and meaningful advice to help them take their business to the next level. But what really goes on inside and why has it become so important so fast? We caught up with three of the coolest businesses at Platform to find out…

Powering innovation

Bruntwood Platform

Credit: Ben Blackall

From creative agencies that are re-thinking traditional client relationships to trivia platforms that put your favourite pub quiz in the palm of your hand, Platform is a hub of innovation. But no one is more focused on it than DisruptionHub. They help organisations understand how emerging technologies and changing consumer behaviour are disrupting the market, so it’s at the very core of their being.

Over the last 20 years, we’ve seen an influx of new technologies that have had a profound impact on business. In order to thrive in this ever-changing world, companies have to adapt at an unprecedented speed and scale. Video streaming is the perfect example. It’s changed the way we watch movies, TV shows and even the news. Yet in 2008, Blockbuster CEO Jim Keyes famously said that Netflix wasn’t even on their radar. Two years later, they filed for administration. Netflix is now worth $119 billion.

It’s not just that businesses have to embrace new technology – they don’t know where their competition is coming from anymore. With tech start-ups like Monzo and Uber hinging their businesses on new technology, even industry leaders aren’t safe. Knowing what’s coming and how to adapt is essential to success, so DisruptionHub highlights what’s happening and how this will impact companies, not just in terms of the technology they use, but also their wider culture and business model.

DisruptionHub

The publishing industry isn’t immune to the transformational impact of technology, so they have to practice what they preach. They’re continually changing and adapting to keep up with the times. As a result, they’ve moved from a more traditional publication format towards a community-based solution. Their latest product, Disruption Club, will help its members turn disruption into a competitive advantage by bringing together the thinkers and innovators reshaping the future of business.

It’s a big move for a business that only started in 2015. In the space of four years, they’ve gone from a kitchen table start-up to a six-strong business recently acquired by The Panoply PLC, who will help power their growth going forward. They’re now gearing up to launch Disruption North, a new programme that will explore how new technology and business models are being used in Northern companies. It will culminate in a series of content and events in partnership with Platform and they’ll be working with businesses across all Bruntwood SciTech’s Northern sites to make it happen.

“What Platform has managed to do very successfully is create an environment for getting work done, but also for engaging with other companies,” Rob Prevett, Founder and CEO of DisruptionHub, explained. “Amy, their Head of Partnerships, has been fantastic at introductions. She knows most of Leeds, particularly in the tech space, so she’s made lots of great introductions, which have lead to new client relationships and new contributors.”

Driving growth

In 2011, when the government began its campaign of austerity measures, the creative industry lost a lot of its support structures. Creative England has helped fill that void. Their mission is three-fold – to invest in creative businesses, to help them grow and to lobby for support in the wider industry. They have offices around the country, but their Leeds base is in Platform and it couldn’t be a better fit, because their objectives are perfectly aligned – they both want to help start-ups to thrive.

They have an evergreen investment programme that provides scale-up finance to the UK’s most promising creative businesses. It was started with government money, but it’s been invested, repaid and recycled to create a continuous stream of funding. They’ve worked with a string of businesses in Bruntwood SciTech. In fact, The City Talking was one of their first investees back in 2012 – the Leeds start-up has come a long way since then and established itself as one of the region’s leading media companies.

While their remit is ‘creative’, many of the businesses Creative England supports are grounded in tech. There’s a strong focus on media and film, but their programmes extend to support gaming and immersive technology companies too. Through their Games LAB, they helped fellow Platform residents Cooperative Innovations move into immersive technology and virtual reality – they’re now industry leaders and the core technology behind their VR and AR experiences is used by developers around the world.

Bruntwood Platform

Credit: Ben Blackall

Right now, Creative England only has one desk in Platform, but they’ve certainly made their presence felt. They helped lobby for Channel 4 to bring their National HQ to Leeds, and they know from experience what an impact it can have because they were based in Media City when BBC moved to Manchester. Now they’re focused on bringing more investment to the region as they prepare to launch their new Yorkshire funding programme in Spring 2020. It’s part of their ongoing commitment to show investors there are great opportunities outside London in an industry where over two-thirds of investment goes to the capital.

Once the programme has launched, there’s a strong chance that some of that money will go to businesses in Platform. Not because they’re biassed, but rather because they’re surrounded by the very businesses they support – small, innovative and primed for rapid growth. In an environment like this, a water cooler conversation can quickly turn into an opportunity. The team at Platform have already proved themselves invaluable when it comes to making introductions, and Creative England, in turn, has done the same – which means everyone’s working together to the benefit of the businesses inside.

“Businesses like the ones we support can be a little bit invisible. They’re doing amazing work but they can be pretty anonymous, the work certainly isn’t but their visibility can be. Organisations like Bruntwood SciTech give those businesses a presence that otherwise they would struggle to get,” Jim Farmery, Head of Partnerships at Creative England, explained. “For smaller businesses, having an address like Platform adds a bit of kudos. It’s not just a space, it’s given the tech community a focal point. It’s become symbolic of the strength of the tech community in Leeds.”

Closing the skills gap

The tech industry is facing the biggest skills shortage in more than a decade. There simply aren’t enough people to fill all the vacancies, not just here in Leeds, but across the UK, and it’s costing the UK economy an estimated £63 billion per year in lost GDP. We need to attract more people into the industry and we need to train them to do the job, which is why Chris Hill started Northcoders. The idea came to him in 2015, when he was working as a Node.js developer at Sky – they just never seemed to be able to get enough software developers, so he decided to make more.

How? By launching a coding bootcamp, an intensive crash course in full stack software development. It started in Manchester, with a group of 10 people – eight of them went on to become software developers, and just like that, Northcoders was born. They now have two floors in Federation House and they’re moving into an even bigger space in Bruntwood SciTech’s Manchester Technology Centre in January 2020, but as you’ve probably guessed, they’ve also opened a second site in Leeds and it was made possible by their new neighbours at Platform. Creative England invested £100,000 in Northcoders to help them move their Manchester operation and expand to Leeds.

It’s easy to allocate their success to the growing skills gap, but it’s more than that. They work fast. The course is short and intense, it covers all elements of software development, including most of the modern tools and frameworks businesses use, so their graduates are industry-ready in just 13 weeks. That’s right, industry-ready. Their curriculum is fluid, which means they can respond to employer feedback and make changes quickly. As a result, they’re creating a rapid flow of new talent and helping companies like Arup, The Data Shed and fellow Platformers Synap to bolster their teams.

Northcoders at Platform

Credit: Northcoders

When they moved to Leeds, they wanted to immerse themselves in the tech community, so Platform was the obvious choice. It’s become the epicentre of the city’s tech scene, a vibrant community brought together by a packed programme of events – and that’s exactly what their students need. They have access to the industry from day one, they can meet their fellow programmers over a coffee or chat to potential employers at one of the many talks, socials and tech meet-ups held here, because it’s all happening right on their doorstep. And that’s invaluable.

It’s not just their students that benefit either. Northcoders use those same events to meet companies looking for innovative solutions to the skills gap – and at the end of the day, that’s why they’re there. Bruntwood SciTech have made it their mission to create opportunities for their customers, to help them share their problems in the hopes they can solve them together. And it works. Northcoders have already bagged one new client and they’re in conversations with many more as a result of Platform’s events or introductions.

11 months after they first moved to Leeds, Northcoders have doubled the size of their office and their team. They now have 2,000 square foot split across three rooms – that’s used entirely for teaching, so they’ve also taken desks in the co-working space to accommodate their eight-strong team. That expansion could have cost them a lot money, they were ready to take on a major renovation project on the seventh floor, but Bruntwood SciTech did what they do best – they’ve removed the obstacles. “We were happy with the way we were going to expand, but actually, they came up with a better solution that ultimately saved us money, money we would have paid to them, which obviously you don’t expect,” Chris explained.