The mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street, took to the stage for his opening address at Venturefest 2023, showcasing innovation and technology strengths and initiatives in the region and welcoming the finest of our innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Andy set the tone for the day by telling the story of where we are as a region…
Last year we launched our Plan for Growth putting a spotlight on clusters of incredible strength and high growth prospects for our economy. A particular front runner is professional services, having been our largest sector across the last two decades and its revolution is a testimony to the power of technology.
The West Midlands is the fastest growing tech sector in the UK, a position it has proudly held for the last two years. The region is now home to more than 2,300 startups that have collectively raised more than £850m in venture capital funding since 2020. The UK’s fastest-growing tech hub, home to ‘Silicon Spa’, is now valued at £15.3 billion too, up from £11.5 billion in 2021. The West Midlands could be set to create 52,000 tech jobs and see the sector grow by £2.7 billion, according to new government figures.
Andy stressed that these good news stories should not make us complacent. We have our challenges but if we exploit our assets in the right way, we have an opportunity to fulfil our future growth aspirations to become the leading UK economy outside of London by 2030.
We do exceptionally well at start-ups with ever increasing levels of business birth rates but the challenge to the region has been the survival rates after 3 years, for which we are 10% behind the national average. We need to address this challenge if we are to create the unicorns of the future. We are addressing this by supporting rising talent levels to provide the human resources to drive business growth. In addition, funding is available through the Midlands Engine Investment Fund and the soon to be announced West Midlands Co-investment Fund. Our call to action is to attract the attention of angel investors.
The West Midlands has above average levels of private sector investment in R&D but performs poorly when it comes to public sector investment. When it comes to ‘Levelling Up’ we should be translating this government agenda to spread opportunity more equally across the UK into increased confidence that the West Midlands is a safe bet when it comes to R&D investment. We are on the right journey, securing investment for the soon to launch Innovation Accelerator programme and a trailblazing devolution deal which will empower the region to accelerate economies of the future.
As a region, we must also capitalise on our connectivity. Physical connectivity means you can access 90% of UK markets within four hours’ drive, we house one of the fastest growing UK airports and HS2 will be a game changer in terms of rail to the capital. Digital and physical connectivity, especially when it comes to 5G now sees 50% of the regional population has access to 5G connectivity and exploitation of 5G driven innovation through our regional accelerator programmes. These attractors saw the likes of HSBC come to the central Birmingham and we must now stand loud and proud to advocate for the region for further inward investment.
Introducing the West Midlands Tech Commissioner…
To the point on advocacy, Andy introduced the brand-new West Midlands Tech Commissioner, Martin Ward.
“I love technology. It creates great opportunities and prospects. It’s a great leveller so today you can achieve things with some passion, a little bit of knowledge and a small amount of investment that would have cost millions and taken a long time before, so I’m very passionate about the sector.”
Martin is from Wolverhampton and has studied at Imperial College in London and across the US and Europe. He bring 35 years’ experience in the software sector having worked with the great and the good in his time. He’s twice been a cofounder, so enjoyed the thrills and the lows of bootstapping your own business and taking it through trade exit and now he is a private angle investor and tech advisor, using his wisdom and resources to stimulate growth companies across the region.
Martin explained that it used to be hard to have a good tech career in the West Midlands but things have changed. Tech Week and the passion for tech in the region is now unbelievable and he brings a commitment to continue the growth trajectory of this important golden thread across our economy.
Hear more on Martin’s appointment here.
You can access speaker slides here.
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