One of the key challenges for Capital Enterprise in 2020 was to expand its remit to having a wider impact across the UK.
TEAM SY (Technology Ecosystem Acceleration Market-Making South Yorkshire) is an opportunity to apply the lessons learnt we gained from 8 years of ecosystem building. It brings with it £5.9m total funding to grow the tech startup ecosystem in South Yorkshire, an area that has all the starting elements of a thriving community. But like many immature ecosystems, it lags behind in productivity. It’s fragmented, disconnected, and currently lacks a coherent offer to startups in the region.
I know this well as I’ve been working with Sheffield startups in some capacity or another for 10 years. During that time, some enthusiastic techies and I launched Startup Weekend Sheffield, ran a bunch of meetups, and mentored early stage tech startups as well as helping them to raise investment.
It was tough. Territorialism and cronyism was rife. Many people welcomed all the new activity – especially founders – but many existing players were suspicious, negative, and unsupportive. It felt like we were often treading on eggshells, worried about stepping on someone’s patch or creating some drama because we’d gone ahead and tried to solve a problem we’d seen without asking for permission. We were young… and who the hell did we think we were anyway? Entrepreneurs?! Eventually, most of those enthusiastic people tapped out.
I’ve been lucky enough over the years to get a taste of lots of tech startup ecosystems across the world through my role as a Techstars Global Facilitator, as market research for The University of Sheffield, and while I was growing my own company. I met endlessly welcoming and collaborative people in Rio de Janeiro, Porto, Prague, Manchester, Nottingham, Bergen, The Netherlands, Berlin, Lille, Las Vegas, Chicago, Seattle, Cambridge, Oxford, Madrid, Newcastle… and their tech startup ecosystems were thriving.
There’s a lot of research, articles, opinions on the positive effects of clustering, and through TEAM SY, we’ll achieve some of these effects by investing a good proportion of our £5.9m funding into creating a high density of world class pre-accelerator and accelerator programmes in South Yorkshire.
We’re match-funding existing homegrown programmes in the region, co-creating homegrown programmes and embedding world class accelerators from around the world into the SY tech startup ecosystem. We have active conversations open with 25 programmes across the world, eight of which are homegrown.
But clustering isn’t the whole story. Our project runs until June 2023. What long-term good are we doing if all those programmes and activities we’ve embedded come to an abrupt end once our time runs out?
We have an equally important duty to win hearts and minds, to collaborate, and to encourage an inclusive environment amongst and between all of South Yorkshire’s existing startup community leaders.
Things have improved so much in the region’s atmosphere since my days of treading on eggshells. There is a shared longing for positive change and to improve the opportunities, ambitions, and success rates of entrepreneurs across South Yorkshire. Almost everyone we have spoken to so far in South Yorkshire and beyond uses positive language in terms of ecosystem, paying it forward, collaboration, and inclusion.
This is important. Because a welcoming environment, that’s inclusive of everyone who wants to play a role within it, will massively increase the chances of these pre-accelerator and accelerator programmes – and the startups they attract and import – setting down routes and embedding in South Yorkshire.
I’m consistently guided by Brad Feld when it comes to thinking about startup ecosystems. He says:
“For a startup community to be successful over a long period of time, it has to be inclusive of anyone who wants to engage in any way. Leaders have to be inclusive of new leaders, leaders have to be inclusive of feeders, and everyone participating in the startup community has to be inclusive of everyone else.”
If you’re a startup community leader and you’ve been wondering how to make your ecosystem more inclusive and connected, ask yourself: “what would Brad do?” Then smile at the newcomers and ask: “how can I help?”
If you’re an entrepreneur, investor or other player in the South Yorkshire startup community (or if you want to be!), reach out for a virtual coffee and we’ll go ahead and make some things happen together.