As of 2022, Manchester is Europe’s fastest growing tech city. The sector is already worth £5bn to the economy, employs 58,000 people and is made up of 10,000 individual businesses. These numbers are are key drivers behind a brand new digital strategy unveiled by the council in March, outlining plans for the continued development of associated industries and cementing our metropolis on the global futurist’s map.
Here at Finest, we’ve long-since celebrated this success story, from game-changing innovations like graphene, and the not-s0-inconsequential moment someone built the first stored program computer, to our collaboration with groundbreaking web3 and NFT team Known Origin, we’re proud to shout loud about game-changers in the city. So is Nicola McCormick.
As COO at Pro Manchester, she occupies a leading role in the organisation’s 150 or so annual events. The next of which is all about platforming the best tech innovators and innovations in the area. Fitting named Trailblazing Tech, the conference features exhibitions of next-level ideas, and speakers from regional and national technology firms. Held at The Lowry Hotel on Friday 24th June, the fourth annual event is open for registration now, and welcomes experts and the public alike.
“Tech runs through the heart of Manchester,” McCormick says when we speak on the phone, before explaining the conference moves at speed, mirroring the industry. “We run it as a very quick, fast-paced event. So the keynotes are 20 minutes and panel discussions, with four speakers, are 30 minutes. It means you quickly go from one topic to another.
“We cover the key sectors for growth in Manchester within each session. So instead of being focused on one area, it gives you a really broad overview of lots of different areas, and the challenges and opportunities that are coming up,” she continues. “So we’re covering metaverse, green tech, health tech, fintech. Anything with tech at the end of it, basically. There’s obviously a skills gap and everybody talks about that at every event, so we’re trying to do it from more of a positive angle. Retail also feeds into it, as does creative and digital.”
The list of speakers is impressive. Representatives are on board from N Brown and Arighi Bianchi, alongside national supermarket giant ASDA. Sykes Cottages, renowned for its digital strength and vital apprenticeship schemes, are also involved. As are Northcoders, Magnetic North’s Lou Cordwell, with a final session — looking at where we go from here — presented by Ant Morse, head of innovation at Virgin Media. In total, 36 experts will take to the stage over six hours.
“I think our infrastructure is amazing. I think there’s so many incubators within our city and everybody wants to do what they can to help, especially with new tech startups,” McCormick replies when we ask how well-placed Manchester is to build on past and present tech success. “Then we’ve also got the universities. If you think of what’s come out of them, graphene etcetera. There are so many examples where we’re succeeding. And from a cost of living point of view, the cost of starting a business, we’re not cheap but we are better value for people. We’re doing a lot of good work to attract talent and have everything we need to build.”
In addition to panels and presentations, next week will also feature the Trailblazing Tech Awards. Submissions have long-since closed, and the event team have whittled those down to a final shortlist of three, which will see their products and systems put before attendees, who get to cast a final vote and decide on the overall winner. Naturally curious, before our conversation comes to a close we asked McCormick about the contenders. Unsurprisingly, we were quickly blown away.
“There’s Candle, which is a mental health app. The idea is that it alerts your support network when you need help, or you’re low,” she explains. “You press a button, on your phone, or wherever you’ve got it, and it alerts those people so they can immediately get in touch, by phone, email or however you’ve requested. From a personal point of view, that might be friends, family, your counsellor or doctor. Business-wise, maybe you’ve got mental health counsellors at work, your line manager, or a group of people you want to let know.
“Then we have Space3D-VR. You can put a headset on and enter different situations. So it could be you’re viewing a house or office. Or you’re walking into a retail store and talking to people, maybe going around a conference, looking at stands,” McCormick continues. They’ve got 3D logos they can produce, which are scanned with a QR code and come to life. And they have the idea, with this technology, of using it for people in care homes who can’t get out, but want to sit at the dinner table with family. You could create that world for them, create memories they can’t have anymore. We were saying it would work even better for people like us when we’re older. We all have lots of memories collated in digital form now, and they could be recreated.
“The third is Dream Agility. They’ve essentially created software for digital ads. People spend a certain amount of money with platforms like Google ads, but the vast majority of what you spend goes to waste. These guys have a system that reduces waste,” McCormick tells us, before citing the brand’s own words. “‘We use our proprietary machine learning and visual AI developed in house in Ramsbottom to optimise and manage Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Instagram advertising… Most digital advertising spenders wasted approximately 97%, so the biggest opportunities for growth are from minimising that waste’.”
Trailblazing Tech runs at The Lowry Hotel, Salford, on Friday 24th June from 8AM – 3.30PM. Virtual and IRL tickets are available now.