The UK needs to embrace its entrepreneurs to ensure the country is still great in years to come, according to a Tech Britain founder.
Doug Ward co-founded TechBritain.com, which is an attempt at mapping out the UK tech community.
Ward left university to start his own company. “I dropped out of uni to do photography, which was actually selling keyrings to drunks in clubs. In the end, I had 50 staff in 10 cities and we did pretty well, but I realised I needed to look into other business ideas,” he said.
“Entrepreneurs are just like any other professionals – they're not geniuses, they're on a journey and need to fail in the process. We need to embrace entrepreneurs more and encourage them not to always take the £1bn cheque but to want to really change the world,” Ward added.
“We need to think big and to take on the rest of the world. To do that we need to become more digitally-savvy. Adding computing to education has sparked a conversation to make Britain great again and to ensure that it's still great 20 years from now.”
Ward said the best thing he has ever done is learn to code. “I spent a year doing a Harvard computer science degree online for free. I couldn't believe I could access the same education as people like Steve Jobs. I did high-level languages and low-level computing,” he said. “Now it’s about using that to make tech less scary to the masses. To make it more approachable and less scary.”
After Ward had learnt to code and was starting his own company, he had several offers to move to the US to start his business, but decided to stay in the UK.
“I had offers to go to the US and dismiss the UK entirely. So I thought about where's the best place to base a startup in the UK. There seems to be pressure for businesses to be London-based,” he said. “My business partner, Shaun, and I took a Mega Bus and interviewed everyone across the country, from hackers to startups to journalists to venture capitalists and corporates like Google.”
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During the tour. Ward and his business partner mapped out the UK’s tech startup community: “I wanted to do something cool for the country and that was the plan. I want Manchester to be in the top five European startup destination." Ward calls this #MCRTOP5.
He explained that he wanted to increase the credibility of startups outside London: “There is an argument that innovation happens outside of the city, with more return on investment. There is a pressure in London. We need to overcome cities' inferiority complex to London and to have faith in our local economies.”
During his tour of the UK, Tech Britain caught the attention of the government. “We had a tweet from the cabinet office after our tour. Tech City UK heard about our story and Joanna Shields brought us into be founding members of the Tech City UK Cluster Alliance,” he said.
Ward is a founding member of the Tech City UK Cluster Alliance and technology advisor to Greater Manchester, Manchester University and the prime minister’s office.
The aim of the Tech City UK Cluster Alliance is to combine the strengths of cities to create clusters under one brand. Ward said this will help global investors and businesses take northern startups seriously. Under the alliance, cities are following in the footsteps of London’s Tech City, with the likes of Tech City North launching last year.
Ward was a former co-founder to TechHub Manchester, and now SpaceportX, which provides technology co-working space. The space is used for tech meet-ups for talent, investors, press and the likes of Google and Twitter when visiting the city.
He also organises the weekly Silicon Drinkabout Manchester and a monthly startup breakfast called Startup Brew.