Tech, Intellectual Property and Unicorns: The Green Shoots of a Revolution in Liverpool

**First Published 19th of November 2015 on (currently offline).

“If we sit here in four years I think we win a title, I’m pretty sure.”, Liverpool FC’s New Manager, Jurgen Klopp in his first press conference.

Kloppmania has gripped Liverpool, whether you are a red or a blue, it has been impossible to avoid. I believe the reason for this, in part, is because this is a SMART objective. Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time Sensitive. Ok, I’m a Liverpool fan so the ‘achievable’ bit, I am biased on. But it is achievable.

In the next 8 years, we can have a tech start-up that is valued at $1 billion+, created and built right here in Liverpool.

I believe this is a SMART Objective for the technology sector in Liverpool.

Is this achievable? Well, if you can read this whole article and confidently disagree with me, then the Baltic Triangle is not something you should concern yourself with. Having worked in and around this sector for over 5 years, I think the 60 companies, and others I have undoubtedly missed, would also agree that this is going be a difficult target to reach. But, it is an achievable one.

You may think this is unachievable for a host of reasons, not enough companies in Liverpool that are in tech. If there are, none of them can ever be valued at $1 billion. 8 years is not long enough to create a seismic shift. There is no wider tech/startup eco-system in Liverpool. Nobody is going to make this happen.

This article has been written to show that the goal is achievable.

There are not enough companies in Liverpool that work in the tech sector

In a separate article there is a list of 60 companies, all of which in the last two years have spent time, money and resources creating intellectual property. The following companies are based in Liverpool, and with the described products and services on the post, are working on software, technology or web based assets that they own.

I strongly recommend reading this list, I am confident that even if you live and work in the city, you will be surprised by the quality and reach of the companies listed. Certainly some very exciting green shoots.

On the list, you will see innovative, forward thinking companies of varying sizes all based within a 2 square mile radius of Liverpool city centre.

But none of them will become a $1billion company!

Is there a billion dollar startup on that list? Maybe, but probably not. Are there a few companies listed above that can exit for £10 million+? Definitely.

And that would be a start on the journey to establishing a European Unicorn (a tech company created in Europe that is valued at over $1 billion), in Liverpool. There are currently 168 tech unicorns in the world, at the start of the year the figure was at 149. As I mention below, things can move quickly in the tech space.

Why is it important we get multiple £10 million+ exits from the list above? Because when we do, the hope is that those entrepreneurs and financiers who profit, go again. They invest their money (in a big way) back into the city’s people, technology and future.

Just as is happening right now, today, in Elevator Studios, with the commendable Martin Kenwright putting his own cash towards The StarShip Group.

The goals of Livewire Capital, a fund looking to invest in 50 tech startups in the next four years is also a helpful addition to the scene.

With multiple exits comes more wealth, more interest and more money for the city, its people and importantly for the creative service providers (so they don’t have to keep thinking about or opening/maintaining London office/travel expenses).

But there’s no start-up ecosystem in Liverpool.

You are sort of right, but if the tech ecosystem of Liverpool gets the right engagement & support from angels, local media, lawyers, financiers, VCs, marketers, technologists, universities, the council, the government, education establishments, landlords, incubators, policy makers, accountants and commercialisation experts then there is no reason why Liverpool cannot become a global powerhouse in the global tech start-up arena.

The 60 companies listed, are in close proximity. So I am writing this post to create debate, inspire action and to get the people of Liverpool behind a sector that is building things that have global potential, are scalable and are all located within a 2-mile square radius.

I am also writing it to shine a light on the under-capitalised entrepreneurs and organisations that are slaving away, trying to build products and services that create value.

The 60 start-up’s listed and others are working in sectors including health, transport, education, social, public services, media, telecommunications, virtual reality, finance, crowdfunding & shipping.

By shining this torch, my hope in Liverpool is that service providers, universities, the council, students and potential employees are at least aware of the companies in the list. So that they may find it easier to support them and the eco-system that these stakeholders already exist in, knowingly or not.

If you could think about helping them out, spending some time with them or going out for a beer/coffee with them, it would start to have a real impact on this exciting and growing sector. I’m reasonably certain that every business leader from the list above will give you the time of day.

8 years isn’t long enough.

Slack, an internal communication tool that can replace email, was launched in August 2013.

In the last round of funding, less than 2 years after it launched, the company raised $160 million at a $2.16 billion valuation. Slack was built by a games development company to help them communicate better as a team. Safe to say, they pursued Slack, instead of the game. To be clear, it is not a difficult or complicated piece of technology at its core, it’s instant messenger (circa 1997) with some bells on. Innovation can happen anywhere at any time.

Technology has the power to change how our society, economy and environment operate. And quickly. Years ago, you didn’t need a smartphone. In October 2007, exactly zero iPhones had been sold in the UK. A lot can change in 8 years.

You may be worried we don’t have the people to support this eco-system and a $1 billion goal. Well, WhatsApp has 50 engineers and 900 million users. It was bought by Facebook for $19 billion. I think Mark Lawler from the Baltic Creative can squeeze 50 more heads in somewhere.

But nobody is going to make this happen.

Writing a post is great, but I’m all about Making Ideas Happen. Here are some actionable options that anyone reading this, who is remotely interested in the stuff I am now irrefutably waffling on about, could do to help make it happen…

  • Watch Season 1 of Silicon Valley. Whether you are an owner of an existing tech start-up or a student with some ideas, try and work out whether you are missing an Erlich, Richard, Gilfoy, Danesh or Peter Gregory. If you’re a supporter of the eco-system, then work out how you can engage and help pave the way for this sector to explode.
  • Sign up to the Liverpool Startup Digest. Written by Simon Holgate of Sea Level Research each week, full of great reading, event pointing and content from entrepreneurs doing things right now in the city.
  • Read & promote ‘Start Up Communities’ by Brad Feld to colleagues & friends, it could help to frame a debate & highlight some of the issues we are certainly facing.
  • Forward this list of companies to any VCs or Angel Investors you know

With some joined up thinking, some action, and some collaboration from the parties mentioned in this post then maybe a European Unicorn, born in Liverpool, could reveal itself at some point in the next 8 years.

Given the creativity and passion exuded by the people I see in action, every day in this city, I don’t think its too much to ask for this to be the list in years to come.

Silicon Valley. Silicon Roundabout. Baltic Triangle.

Thanks to the contributors of this article, Zarino Zappia, Awesome Liverpool. Andy Goodwin, Open Labs LJMU. James Noaks, Mayoral Advisor. Simon Holgate, Sea Level Research. Nik White, Brabners.