Tech North illuminates the path to regional growth with Northern Stars.
Jonny Bradshaw _ April 2016
As a fast-growing startup on a mission to make call centres home to happy staff and great customer service, our work is closely linked to the businesses and people of the region we call home - The North.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, the North of England was at the bleeding edge (literally) of technological innovation and became known as the Global centre of the industrial revolution. Characterised by its industrial centres, from the mill towns of Lancashire, textile centres of Yorkshire, shipyards of the North-East to the mining towns found throughout the North, the prosperity of these areas and their technological prowess eventually dwindled to the point of stagnation as heavy industry systematically closed.
Combined with the common (mis)conception that it is perennially “grim up North”, (a myth perpetuated by many-a-southern-fairy over the years), generations were held back as confidence and self-belief ebbed away and thousands were left to the mercy of the only viable employer left standing - the dreaded call centre…
Despite such headwinds and with the rise of the much misaligned political concept commonly known as the “Northern Powerhouse”, which intends to corral the region’s population into a collective force - the North is back! And, so is Northern technological innovation nurtured by Tech North, a government funded organisation set-up to support and accelerate regional growth.
In November 2015, EvaluAgent applied to Tech North’s Northern Stars initiative, which connects and champions the best digital startups in Northern England. We entered in an effort to better understand the regional network of service providers, to identify peers who could provide support and to play our part in the blossoming Northern technology ecosystem.
After being shortlisted, we presented our three-minute pitch at the Northern Stars Grand Final in Manchester to a panel of expert judges, a large crowd of peers, journalists and tech fans - and we won! EvaluAgent became just one of ten technology business who could describe themselves as a Northern Star!
Since then, we have enjoyed a plethora of prizes intended to maximise our exposure to journalists, industry experts, investors and prospects as a Northern Stars winner. In other words, that nervy three-minute pitch led to a business nitro-boost and a super-charged journey from Manchester, to London, Liverpool and Texas.
An exhibitor’s stand at TechCrunch Disrupt was the first Northern Stars prize and it wasn’t long until we were interviewed by Mike Butcher about how we were challenging the status quo in the call centre industry. We were then invited to Bloomberg’s London offices and met with a multitude of high-powered and very interested tech investors. In Texas, we joined Indie band Hooton Tennis Club and sailed down the Colarado river as part of the enigmatic SXSW festival. Finally, we came suited and booted to the GP Bullhound Northern Tech awards and WON the overall award in the Northern Stars category!
We’ve had loads of fun and learned many diverse lessons - master of pitchcraft John Bates taught us how to use neurobiology to deliver even more persuasive sales pitches. We learned what it’s like to start one of the world’s biggest and most successful companies from Steve Wozniak of Apple at Manchester’s Business Rocks conference. We even got to cross-off bucket list items by brushing shoulders with the likes of 90’s hip-hop revolutionaries, Wu-Tang Clan and “Dirty South” rapper Ludacris.
We learned the true value of proper PR. For example, we understand what it means to get a lead article in an online publication like The Next Web. We can also directly attribute a huge amount of inbound sales interest from upward of 50 relevant organisations in the UK and North America, who commonly recognise our mission to make call centres better places to work - all thanks to the Northern Stars award.
Although these are all fantastic benefits that other tech businesses in the region can look forward to as prospective Northern Stars candidates, the most important "prize" has been gaining access to the Tech North network. We found out who else exists (shout-out to North East favourites GeekTalent and Leaf.fm, and North West friends, Gnatta and Peak), what they do, and how we can help each other grow. Being able to discuss challenges that are common to companies of our age with other startups in the region has been truly invaluable.
Everyone at EvaluAgent has massively enjoyed our grand Tech North adventure. We hope we can continue to play an ambassadorial role and one day exist as an exemplar of North-Tech success (after all, Sage is getting on a bit now). But, before we get carried away with ourselves, and no matter what the outcome, the opportunity to combine our passion for making call centre agents happier alongside the promotion of the North-Tech agenda is a dream we entered into business with.
We’re delighted to have been recognised by Tech North for our contribution to date and shall always be proud and grateful to be known as one of England's first Northern Stars.