Collaboration is key, say software start-ups
In the heart of Sunderland city centre, the £10m Software Centre has helped support hundreds of businesses since it first opened its doors and rolled out its pixel patterned carpet back in 2013.
As one of two tech focused council-run centres - the other [Evolve Business Centre] dubbed “Sunderland’s Silicon Valley” by The Guardian – The Software Centre is home to a growing community of creative, digital and technology high-growth businesses ranging from web designers to game innovators, app creators, TV production companies and marketing and communications experts.
At the heart of the centre’s success is the collaborative spirit instilled into tenants by organisations such as Sunderland Software City, Digital Catapult North East Tees Valley and Sunderland Digital, a networking group led by Consult and Design.
Sunderland Software City works alongside Sunderland City Council, Sunderland College and the University of Sunderland to support the growth of businesses in the North East’s software sector and has been based in the centre since day one.
“Sunderland Software Centre is a fantastic example of how tech-focused business centres, can ensure creative, software and technical businesses can easily collaborate to generate innovative new technology,” said David Dunn, Chief Executive Officer of Sunderland Software City.
“Over the past six years we’ve worked with hundreds of companies and have heard so many fantastic success stories. The growth we have seen in the tech sector in Sunderland is staggering and as we look to the future, it’s showing no signs of slowing down. It’s a very exciting place to be right now.”
Roar Motion Ltd, an award-wining filmmaking company offering filming, editing and animation services, is just one of the companies that has benefited from the networking opportunities available at the Software Centre.
The company, founded by University of Sunderland graduates Matt Eyre and Rob Parsons, recently worked on a project with bullet time photography specialists New World Designs and web design agency RGB Media - both of whom are based at Sunderland Software Centre - on a major rebrand and web development project for a luxury classic car restoration business in County Durham.
New World Designs was the company leading on the project and brought in support from Roar Motion and RGB to share the workload and bring new ideas to the table. Roar Motion co-founder Matt Eyre said: “It’s not every day you get to work on a project as unique and exciting as this and we were delighted when Steve and Ian from New World Designs asked us if we would like to get involved.
“This project has been a great collaboration of creatives. Working alongside New World Designs and RGB Media has been an absolute pleasure and being based in the same centre made the process so much easier; it was seamless.”
Iraa Kadchha, director of RGB Media, echoed Matt’s thoughts, adding: “It was fantastic to be able to work with Roar Motion and New World Designs on this project. Working on collaborative projects with multiple partners can sometimes prove difficult due to long lead times and lack of communication however, the fact that we’re all based in the same centre meant we could massively reduce lead times and save the client time and money.”
The Software Centre was set up to help both new and up-and-running businesses achieve their goals quicker, whether this is in the provision of office space, providing access to funding or providing guidance and encouraging collaborative working. Another company which is a shining example of this is Oculus HR, a human resources consultancy headed up by entrepreneur Louise Kennedy.
Louise set up the business in 2013 after being made redundant when her previous employer ceased trading. She originally set up a virtual office at the Sunderland City Council-run Evolve Business Centre at Rainton Bridge, but as work increased, she decided to move to a new base at the heart of Sunderland’s thriving tech sector.
“MAKE it Sunderland (delivered by Sunderland City Council) has been fantastic in supporting us since we launched,” Louise said. “When we started out, Evolve Business Centre had everything we needed to help us get the company off the ground but as it continued to grow, we knew we’d have to relocate to a larger office.
“This led us to Sunderland Software Centre, which is also operated by the council, and we’ve never looked back. Not only has it given us the space required to continue growing our team but it has also allowed us to network with like-minded businesses and secure new work. We couldn’t be happier with how the move has panned out for us.”
It’s not just start-up businesses and SMEs moving into the Software Centre, either. Global technology solutions provider Saggezza boasts seven offices across the globe and originally set up its UK headquarters in London before ‘North-shoring’ to a new head office in Sunderland.
The company opened its Software Centre office in 2015 and has grown rapidly since. Initially employing 15 members of staff, it is now home to almost 50 highly skilled workers and the company has ambitious plans to double its headcount over the next 12 months.
Martin Williams, UK managing director at Saggezza, said: “We looked at a number of locations and found that Sunderland was the best fit for us. The council’s Business Investment Team were extremely supportive and really helped us to hit the ground running from day one. We have been moving forward at pace since then.
“The centre is a fully-equipped, top class office building which has been fitted out better than most of the buildings we looked at in other cities across the UK. This was one of the key motivators in our move as it’s a much more viable location for growing, global businesses like ourselves.
”Since moving to the centre, we’ve worked with PR and Marketing agencies, video production specialists and have generated leads with fellow tech firms based here, some of which have come about through a chance conversation in the communal kitchen. It’s a fantastic place to be for growing tech companies like ourselves.”
It has now been six years since Sunderland Software Centre first opened its doors and it has been transformational for the city’s digital economy. So much so, that a recent report by Tech Nation found that Sunderland was home to one of the UK’s fastest growing digital technology clusters outside of London.
The 2018 report named Sunderland as one of the top places for job creation, with the number of people working in the sector growing by 26% over the past four years. It also revealed that the city’s digital technology businesses turned over approximately £118m last year, averaging around £78,000 for every employee working in the industry.
Patrick Melia, chief executive of Sunderland City Council, concluded: “We have worked extremely hard over recent years to establish ourselves as a city at the forefront of digital technology and we’re really starting to reap the benefits.
“The sector is now one of our fastest growing industries and is helping shape a new future for the city, making it a more competitive and prosperous place. The fact that we can compete with the likes of Manchester, Leeds and even London, is testament to the hard work put in by everyone involved in the sector over recent years and hubs like the Software Centre are pivotal to this.”
For more on Sunderland’s burgeoning software sector, visit www.makeitsunderland.com or call 0191 561 1194 or follow @TheSoftwareCtr.