Exploring the ecosystems of the UK & Ireland

Since ADV launched at the end of 2016, we’ve travelled across the UK and Ireland to engage with the entrepreneurs, investors and ecosystem supporters that are shaping the future.

ADV is a sustainable investment engine, designed to source, support and supercharge the best global technology businesses. And we also recognise that generation-defining entrepreneurs and products can scale more successfully when they are supported by thriving ecosystems. That’s why we’ve spent a lot of time on the road in the last six months – in a different city every fortnight – to gain a deeper understanding of the tech clusters across the UK and Ireland.

In January 2017, we met with the ten winners of Northern Stars – a pitch competition to find the best tech startups in the North of England. Not all of the companies were raising investment but each are a fantastic demonstration of why a UK-wide investment engine is vital. This took place at The Landing, in MediaCityUK and we’ve since joined as mentors on a new incubation programme based in the space. Support for entrepreneurs in Greater Manchester is increasing rapidly as it aims to become one of Europe’s leading tech hubs. The second pre-accelerator programme from Ignite also launched recently at The Federation, a new tech-focused co-working space in the centre of Manchester run by Coop Digital. A recent summit organised by new mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, saw industry leaders from across the region come together to input into his strategy on making Manchester a leading tech city. Let’s hope this leads to more Push Doctors being built…

Late in February we visited Bristol to spend time at the Engine Shed, an incubator which is central to the South West’s ecosystem. We met a broad range of guests at an evening event to share stories of business building; understand more about the specialisms of Bristol and Bath; and meet some of the inspiring entrepreneurs creating companies in this corner of the UK. We’ve since been back to take part in office hours at the Engine Shed, to mentor to local startups. With strong support from the university and local authority, Bristol’s ecosystem has developed into one of the UK’s most prominent and established locations to build an innovative tech company. Bristol Robotics Laboratory is a perfect example of the city’s support from academia (both UWE and University of Bristol are partners) with 50,000 square feet of facilities focused solely on the future of robotics. Definitely a region ready to compete (or com-pute) on a global scale.

From the South West, we moved on to the North East and the offices of Northstar Ventures, the VC firm based in Newcastle which has been supporting entrepreneurs for almost 15 years, especially in the North East of England. We committed to making our first investment during this trip, after a group of fantastic pitches – which was a landmark moment for our team. Newcastle has been a driving force behind much of the growth in the North of England for many years, which has been partly fuelled by the power of Sage and companies like Performance Horizon and the Ignite accelerator, which recently launched its new model with support from ADV.

Our next stop was Edinburgh and two days spent at Codebase, the hub at the heart of the city’s tech sector and where tech unicorns Skyscanner and Fanduel started out. After some inspiring pitches from local entrepreneurs, we hosted a community event to bring together Codebase residents (more than 90 businesses) and others working in the local ecosystem. Since our visit in March, we’ve announced an investment into one of Codebase’s rising stars, Care Sourcer (with BGF Ventures). As well as a fantastic incubator with a track record of supporting scale-ups, Edinburgh has better access to finance than most UK cities, with Archangels, Scottish Enterprise and Pentech providing support across stages. There will be more Edinburgh unicorns on the way.

The UK is home to a growing number of digital tech businesses, but equally so is our neighbour across the Irish Sea. Dublin is a hotbed of tech giants such as Google and has a wealth of startup activity – with a ranking of 8th in the Digital City Index for ‘startup readiness’ in Europe. We spent a day at the Guinness Enterprise Centre (GEC) which houses over 150 companies in the shadow of the city’s famous beer factory, at the start of April. That evening we brought together entrepreneurs and investors for a group of short pitches from local entrepreneurs, as well as delivering the customary introduction to ADV from our chairman, Keith Teare. The second day of our trip was across town at Dogpatch Labs, a co-working space and incubator which that day was graduating a group of Agri-tech startups from its Alltech Accelerator programme. According to TechIreland, there are 775 Irish startups with headquarters in Dublin. There are also 230 global tech multinationals and per capita, Ireland has more venture funding than any other country in Europe.

After Dublin came a second trip to Greater Manchester and another event at The Landing, titled ‘MVP to IPO’ and featuring founders of two of our portfolio companies (although not announced at the time) – Charlie HR and Push Doctor – sharing some inspiring lessons from their respective journeys in entrepreneurship. Attendees included recent graduates from the first Ignite accelerator programme in Manchester, nine of which we’ve invested in. We were also lucky to have Martin Bryant (Tech North) with us, who later wrote a short blog about what he’d heard. The next morning we announced our first investments.

After time in Scotland, Ireland, the North and the West of England, our next stop was in Cambridge and two days at Barclays Eagle Labs. The local ecosystem is full of excitement following the success of global chip manufacturer ARM Holdings, the former home of our head of investment, Michael Dimelow. As well as ARM employees, local angel investors and ecosystem supporters such as St John’s Innovation Centre, we met some truly innovative entrepreneurs that evening as we hosted another community event. Attendees were probably the most diverse of any events we’ve hosted in terms of role (investor, support or startup) and stage focus. Cambridge has historically been the heart of the UK’s real tech innovation with ARM, Autonomy and DeepMind all achieving huge exits. Next step is to unlock the capital which will enable businesses of this significance to grow further still, whilst remaining in Cambridge.

Six months into the journey and for the first time our full team travelled to London for a couple of days at Runway East, home to our portfolio company Charlie HR and many more exciting tech startups. ADV investment lead, David Fogel, has since provided office hours to businesses in the space. On our first evening in London, we hosted our biggest event yet at the SVB office on Finsbury Square, on the topic of ‘Innovation in Venture Capital’. The event was an opportunity to bring London VCs and microfunds together for an important discussion around how venture capital must innovate to become more scalable. With speakers from Episode 1, Highland Capital, Seedcamp, Downing Ventures, Force Over Mass and of course ADV, we enjoyed an intense debate especially focused on the withdrawal of the EIF.

As we reached the halfway point of our first year in business, we announced our biggest investment to date, leading a $26.1m Series B round in Push Doctor. We’ve learnt so much already this year, meeting entrepreneurs and investors from so many backgrounds and disciplines. We look forward to exploring many more tech ecosystems, spending the time to understand how they work and figuring out how we can help support them in the future. We want to knit together each of the ecosystems above and more, creating pathways and opportunities for high growth businesses to raise capital. The funding gap in the UK is restricting growth and stifling entrepreneurship: we’re working hard to plug that gap.

If we haven’t yet met you along the way, please get in touch and if you are looking to raise seed, venture or growth stage investment from ADV, complete the application form on our website.