Exclusive: Leaked Tech North business plan slammed by Northern startup guru

A leaked business plan for the government-funded Tech North initiative has been slammed by a digital startup guru based out of one of the cities that the campaign is aiming to support.

The private and confidential document - sent to Techworld's source by a mole within Tech City UK, the taxpayer-funded quango overseeing Tech North - outlines the vision for Tech North and reveals some of the risks.

"They don't seem to have actually been able to get a strategy together," said the source, a leading startup figurehead at the core of one of the cities included in the Tech North scheme. "I still don't understand what they're supposed to be doing."

The document also includes a breakdown of how Tech City UK wants Tech North CEO Claire Braithwaite, former CFO at financial intermediary firm ClearlySo, to spend her £2 million annual budget, which Tech North was awarded last October.

People costs, which Techworld assumes to mean Tech North employee salaries, account for the highest proportion of the money at £552,000, while events account for £150,000. A full breakdown can be found below.

Tech North, unveiled by former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg and Tech City UK chair Joanna Shields in Sheffield last October, has been established in a bid to coordinate the existing digital technology expertise of Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Liverpool and Newcastle. Its aim is to attract inward investment to the North, while supporting the 20,000 existing tech firms in the region through pooling ideas and resources. Further, it will be tasked with up-skilling the region's workforce and working with startups to help them access the funding they need.

The 18-page Tech North business plan also reveals that the launch is nearly half a year overdue. The initiative was due to be in operation by April 2015 but last week Tech City UK CEO Gerard Grech said it won't be launching until September 2015.

Grech's comments came after shadow business secretary Chuka Unumma questioned MP Ed Vaizey, the minister that oversees Tech City UK, whether Tech North was a "pet project" that ministers have "given up on".

One of the risks outlined in the business plan is: "Tech North deployment too slow". Other risks include "Backlash from other communities outside of Tech North (e.g. Bristol) if they feel they are being marginalised" and "Failure to get northern tech communities behind Tech North".

Over the last few months several of the appointed Tech North staff have been meeting what Tech City UK describes as "influential and important individuals, organisations and businesses at a national and city level". However, Techworld's source claims that the team is failing to idenfity the key people in each of the cities.

"They've totally misunderstood who are the key players in each city and they never came to talk us initially," said the source.

Several of the cities in the Tech North initiative are understood to be disgruntled by Tech City UK's decision to put Tech North's headquarters in Manchester.

"As soon as everything got located to Manchester I think a lot of the other cities lost heart and I don't blame them because it does get everything," said the source. "It's like the London of the north."

Techworld informed Tech City UK last Thursday that it had obtained a copy of the business plan. We also told the organisation of the criticisms voiced by our source.

The following day Tech North officially launched its website and Braithwaite published a blog post titled "We Are Tech North".


Sam Shead

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