The view from here – Jem Henderson, Tech Nation

Jem Henderson, sat at table during event and looking away from camera

In this series we ask key spokespeople from across the region and from our core sectors to share their insights.

This time we catch up with Jem Henderson who is Yorkshire Entrepreneur Engagement Manager with Tech Nation, the national network connecting ambitious digital tech entrepreneurs across the UK.

We chat about what’s happening at Tech Nation and what she sees as the main opportunities for tech businesses across our region.

What’s happening in the Tech Nation world for our region currently?

It’s one of our busiest times as Tech Nation members know, particularly if they’re part of the Leeds Digital Festival. We’ve delivered nearly 300 events and got a triple call out for our flagship growth programmes:

Rising Stars, our pitch competition for early-stage companies; Upscale – which helps the UK’s most promising mid-stage tech companies to accelerate their growth and unlock their scaling challenges and Future Fifty, which focuses on later-stage companies, bringing together the country’s most successful tech companies to build a powerful network and problem-solve with their peers.

We’re getting great take-up on those programmes, which is testimony to the strength of tech businesses across the region and the forward-thinking approach of the entrepreneurs behind them.


Is it a positive landscape for tech entrepreneurs?

Recession is with us, which has considerable challenges for many businesses of course, but we’re also seeing some incredible success stories for companies whose products and services have played a vital role in dealing with the impacts of the pandemic and who have adapted to the new challenges and opportunities as we navigate the new world.

Business intelligence software specialist Panintelligence, for example, opened in Boston last year and has seen the US market open up significantly, despite the challenges of lockdown.

Your own Nexus member, Vet-AI, which continues to transform the UK pet healthcare industry, has seen incredible growth – with veterinary services restricted, owners needed to look after their pets through lockdown, of course and app-based consultations were a vital support.

And parents will give their undying gratitude to Twinkl – the learning resource specialist for home schooling, which began as a free resource and is now trading internationally.

Tech businesses have seen 36% growth ( despite the lockdown and freezes in economic activity.

The sector is strong and networks like ours and innovation hubs like Nexus are there to provide tailored support for key stage-specific growth challenges and opportunities.


What about access to funding?

We’ve actually seen more in the last six months than in the previous two years. We’re bootstrap* companies in Yorkshire – building stuff that makes money from the get-go and which scale really efficiently.

And it’s much easier to access investors now – we’re all on Zoom and Teams delivering incredible online pitch decks. Being based in the capital or travelling there for meetings is no longer necessary.

Funding can always be a challenge, of course, but the balance is changing. Being up North has major benefits. Office space and salaries are less expensive and there is increased access to finance and mentors.

I want to help funders understand that there’s a healthy, vibrant ecosystem of tech businesses in our region and everyone is keen to lend a hand, give their advice and offer moral support.

* Bootstrapping your startup means growing your business with little or no venture capital or outside investment. It means relying on your own savings and revenue to operate and expand. It’s not easy to do, but it’s incredibly rewarding.


Why is Leeds such a successful location for tech businesses?

The region is full of brilliant innovators, but it’s also about the sense of community here, all collaborating to grow their revenues and make the region the best place to work and live.

Yorkshire folk are friendly: we like to help each other out and we’re genuinely caring. Our Tech Nation virtual lunch catch-ups, for example, have been really popular with teams and individuals throughout lockdown.

Innovation hubs like Nexus also play a vital part – as a facilitator, focus and catalyst for business owners not to mention well deserved winner of this year’s Leeds Digital Festival ‘Facilitator of the Year’ award.

We’re also at the heart of the new ideas community for MIT REAP (Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Programme) which presents significant opportunities for entrepreneurs.

And Leeds’ is a major centre for medtech, of course, with NHS Digital and NHSX based here, which are key drivers for tech businesses across the region.

Now could well be the time for Yorkshire’s next unicorn business – we have the brilliant entrepreneurs, academic minds and support networks to achieve that. Watch this space…


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