Thursday, 12th October 2017

Five years ago I spent a working week in San Francisco and Silicon Valley with a merry band of entrepreneurs and business owners from the UK. We learned a great deal about business, enterprise cultures, the interplay between capital and ideas.

My biggest take-away was the potential for university and business co-operation. Picking up from insights gained at Stanford and UC Berkeley I loved how the entrepreneurs in residence slipped across the borders between business and academia and the investment world. It’s what has resulted in my job here.

Next week, one of my colleagues from Manchester Metropolitan University, Professor Ricard Green, is joining a trade mission to San Francisco alongside entrepreneurs, marketeers, civil servants, journalists and business organisations for the Northern technology sector.

The world has moved on since then. New technologies have moved up the agenda – when we went social media and cyber security were foremost in our thoughts. Now it’s driverless cars, FinTech and Virtual Reality that are on the agenda, figuratively and literally for the agenda next week.

For the last year I’ve been convening and chairing a series of thematic round table discussions with pro-manchester, the networking organisation for Manchester’s professional community. The last one we did was on the potential for Virtual Reality. What was fascinating to me was the background of the people who joined us. Any new industry has to attract people who had been doing something markedly different before this opportunity came along. So, we had lawyers, investment bankers, psychologists, interior designers and games developers.

Around the table with us was John Ryan who I first met when he was producing BBC Radio Manchester’s Live from the Cornerhouse with the late great Anthony H. Wilson. John’s nascent interest in Virtual Reality comes from a perpetual and sustained love of storytelling. “radio is the theatre of the mind, I’m not used to working in a visual medium, but this is starting to get really interesting,” he said. I found this a far more compelling starting point than slipping on a head set to take a tour around a shop, or buy a holiday.

So, back to Silicon Valley. One of the reasons there is so much entrepreneurial activity there, is that there is so much money. Too much, arguably. Bad ideas get funded.

Here in the North of England we have no such luxury. But there does at least appear to be a cluster of acolytes, building new ideas on the shoulders of a creative heritage. I like it. I think it has enormous potential. Who needs to go to Silicon Valley to get insights like that? Not me. Jealous about missing out on joining the first Virgin direct flight to San Francisco. Maybe just a bit.