How the technology sector can help drive the region’s recovery

An interview with Deb Hetherington Head of Innovation for Bruntwood SciTech in Leeds

Please introduce yourself and your role at Bruntwood SciTech.

Deb Hetherington, Head of Innovation for Bruntwood SciTech in Leeds. My role is to help science and technology businesses based in Platform to form, scale and grow by helping them to access finance and funding, talent, mentorship and a range of professional services.

I’m also actively involved in the growth of the digital and tech sector across the Leeds City Region as a whole.

What is Bruntwood SciTech and what are it’s aims?

Bruntwood SciTech is the UK’s leading property provider dedicated to the growth of the science and technology sector. We’re creating a network of thriving innovation districts, working closely with local authorities, universities and NHS trusts which will help to create over 20,000 high value jobs over the next 10 years.

How are your premises different to other office spaces in Leeds?

Platform has very quickly become regarded as the home of tech in Leeds. It offers everything from coworking space to serviced offices and larger managed spaces, providing the perfect environment for digital and tech businesses of all sizes from startups and early stage businesses through to scaleups and larger more mature corporate organisations. It also offers a specially curated ecosystem, to ensure that all the companies based here complement one another with a strong focus on fintech, medtech, legaltech and software development to help drive collaboration and new opportunities.

We don’t just provide space, we provide tailored support to help the businesses based at Platform to scale and grow. We do this through a structured programme of 1-1s with our customers, to really understand their business, their goals and aspirations. We help them create business plans, secure funding, talent and access to new markets through our unrivalled partner network. It also has a great community feel, thanks to our range of social, health and wellbeing events such as a running club, mindfulness and yoga.

How have you adapted your office space as we recover from COVID-19?

Office design and space planning is what Bruntwood SciTech does. We very quickly implemented a range of measures to support companies in return to the workplace safely.  This included re-space planning all of our coworking and serviced offices to ensure compliance with recommended social distancing measures; implemented dedicated up and down only staircases and lift restrictions, introduced hand sanitiser in all common areas and increased the frequency of cleaning for high touchpoint areas such as door handles, lift buttons and shared kitchens. We also temporarily closed our meeting rooms and reduced the occupancy of our lounges and roof terrace.

How do you expect the tech sector to perform in the next year(s)?

The tech sector is a rapidly growing one and one that will likely not struggle as much as other areas of the economy during recovery.

Over the past several months, organisations have had to be nimble and react with speed. Those that have a digital mindset, and the capabilities to ensure productivity remains high as well as morale, will be far more likely to weather the ongoing storm. We have seen a huge increase in remote working, which has resulted in higher demand for hardware and software, which is only likely to continue. Laptop sales, connectivity infrastructure and use of software like Zoom, Teams and Hangouts has soared. Increased remote working also calls for increased cybersecurity, which has been flagged as a growing sector of tech that hasn’t necessarily been given the attention required in recent years.

Blockchain as an infrastructure will see a rise in interest, along with IoT and Artificial Intelligence capabilities and an increased recognition of data importance.

Consumer habits have also changed fairly dramatically over a short period of time, with individuals spending more time at home, online retail, experiences and streaming services are already seeing a rapid increase in use.

These trends are likely to continue, and there is room for more than just the big 4 in the space. A Platform alumni, who is currently looking at a surge in growth, is local tech company Kwizzbit, who provide online, interactive quiz solutions for both personal and business requirements.

What can other businesses learn from Bruntwood SciTech’s businesses?

The digital and tech industry is clearly one of the sectors that is thriving throughout Covid.

Our newest business, Jublo, is a full service agency with translation services and is a great example of that, who has grown the skills in their business and found a market where they can rapidly scale up. Their business is busier than ever and their growth has been exceptional, having been founded in 2008 as a digital tech company and then expanding into global language translations in 2016. They now work with over 160 people across 39 countries, and earlier this year appointed 110 new translators to work on a project for a world leading e-retailer, resulting in them now translating over 4 million words a month.

We also saw angel group NorthInvest pivot very quickly in the first quarter of 2020 offering online virtual pitch events which helped IP-rich start-ups based in the North of England raise almost £2m. This novel approach is something they’re looking to continue in a hybrid fashion going forward, allowing investors from further afield to dial in which is good for time, resource and the environment.