Digital Yorkshire

We met up with Adam Beaumont, founder and chief executive of aql, at their new state-of-the-art data centre.

Situated on Leeds South Bank, this digital hub was recently opened by Northern Powerhouse Minister Andrew Percy.  The facility represents a significant investment in digital infrastructure and will help to drive growth in the city.

Talking to Adam, it’s clear that aql’s offering is more diverse than first impressions appear.  Behind the unassuming façade of semi-deteriorating red brick holds an assortment of surprising spaces: a functioning bar, exhibition space and cathedral-like auditorium grab our attention.

Adam explains how the business operates: “Aql is a wholesale telecoms platform company.  What that means is, pretty much every service that you could leverage from fixed line telecoms operator or a mobile operator, we supply a developer-ready interface. The fundamentals of this succeeding are that we do the heavy lifting between software applications and consumer.”

Looking at Leeds City Region, aql saw that it was starved when it came to digital: there was a shortage of sites where large network carriers passing through the city could interconnect.

“In answer to Leeds’ lack of digital investment, we have built in the city centre and on the periphery a series of data centres which house the North’s internet exchange. Aql are the first internet exchange outside London to allow different paths around the country, and different fibre operators; one network can also offload traffic to another. The Internet is a connected series of networks; if you don’t have these nodes (or hop-off points), it doesn’t work as well.  We wanted the traffic to stay local as this increases the amount of available bandwidth and the quality.”

It’s clear that the investment and commitment to quality have paid off in attracting the right attention.

“We have many content providers who sit here in some of our data centres”, added Adam.  “They are providing video-streaming and updates to most major smartphone manufacturers.  This means that, when you download applications and stream its content, it’s likely it comes from here.”

Adam and aql’s commitment to Leeds City Region goes beyond the digital heart they have created for it.

“Something we are passionate about investing in, is the eco-system. We always work with partners to deliver solutions, and a lot of those partners are software companies with specialist software to service a particular vertical. However, our latest investment has been in an eco-system company. We call it an eco-system company because it helps bring people together; it’s a media company based around exemplifying what’s right in technology for social change.”

 “Wherever we see a gap, we try and fill it with a for-profit company that will address that market or an eco-system company that will help expand that.”

“One example of an eco-system company is Digital Agenda. They approached us in their start-up phase, wanting some seed-funding. A Newcastle-based angel and I collaborated and funded the group and its move to Newcastle. The great thing about moving a company to Newcastle is that they have to pass through Leeds to get to London. It’s the best of both worlds but, for me, it’s about building exciting start-ups with interesting angels because you are doing two things at once: creating a partnership and working out ways to work with new and interesting people, and bringing cities closer together.”