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A keynote speaker can set the tone for a conference – and Climb23 took things to a whole new level.

With former Microsoft CTO Jennifer Byrne, Blue Prism founder Alastair Bathgate and prominent investors including Check Warner set to speak over the two days, there was no shortage of headliners.

But on a sunny West Yorkshire day, the packed audience at Leeds Dock was treated to the singing of Britain’s Got Talent star Dante Marvin – who suffers from brittle bone disease – followed by Leeds rapper and beatboxing world record-holder Testament and world champion DJ Woody.

With a freestyle rap which encompassed growth, neurodiversity and no-code, there was energy in the room. “Today has been really different: the way the event started, and the focus on diversity and inclusion really stood out for me,” Zandra Moore tells TechBlast.

“Climb23 is a really good opportunity to showcase the talent, the ecosystem, and really get people thinking about how we could do something differently around innovation.”

One of those differences is the no-code lab hack, run by No Code Lab. Founded by Panintelligence CEO Moore and marketer Georgia Halston, CEO of Halston Group, No Code Lab runs monthly online events to help people without a coding background rapidly create minimum viable products.

“It’s the favourite thing I do!” Moore tells us in a room where 10 teams of non-techies are busily building a tech solution for the first time. “I’ve got people from the age of 16-83 in this room building MVP in no-code – nurses, students, lawyers, accountants, charity workers, volunteers. 

“By the end of the day, they’ll go away with something that they can use in their organisations that will solve a problem. That is digital inclusion: building not just a diverse pipeline for the digital tech ecosystem, but helping people that don’t usually see tech being for them to find a way into it. 

“There’s an awful lot of sectors like charity, not-for-profit, third sector that aren’t digitally innovating. They don’t know how to. That is how we transform organisations and change people’s thinking: the digital economy isn’t about being a developer, it’s caring about a problem and realising you can solve it yourself using tech tools.”

Investment challenges

Climb23 is hosted by Investor Ladder and provides content-rich sessions and networking opportunities to help investors and businesses overcome the challenges faced when accessing potential beyond their own local networks – and accelerate investment into regional ecosystems.

Interactive workshops, roundtables and keynotes cover some of the latest trends and challenges for businesses at all stages of their growth journey.

Chris Jones, an investment readiness regional champion for Innovate UK Edge, has a focus across the North of England. “There’s a real buzz about the place. I’ve already had several really good conversations,” he tells us. 

“But I’m also getting a lot of information from the plenary sessions and roundtables which are concentrating on areas which I know that the UK government has real interest in – for example Net Zero and impact investing.”

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Innovate UK Edge aims to introduce the right capital to small- and medium-sized companies in order to allow them to grow, innovate and internationalise.

“Not all money is the right money – different investors are looking for different things,” says Jones. “And they don’t always gel with companies… an opportunity like this is to come and talk to a whole range of investors in the same room to start to join the dots.

“The funding ecosystem is fractured and we’re trying to pull a lot of that together.”

North East

Dawn Dunn of Invest Newcastle praised the venue and Climb23 for bringing people from around the North together with funders from the South.

“One of the reasons I think it’s important to have North East representation at Climb23 is to show the 100 or more investors who come here from London and the Southeast that the North is really serious about attracting the right money into the right businesses,” she says.

“And although I think it’s sometimes an overused word these days, the collaboration piece is so important – I don’t think you can underestimate the power of learning from other people… the things that they think they could have done better, or learning how to replicate the things that worked.”

South Yorkshire

The cities and towns of a neighbouring county were also represented, with the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority pitching its new Tech Welcome Grant – which offers up to £10,000 funding for bright tech businesses to relocate – to likely startups.

Makauley Baron, based at Barnsley’s Digital Media Centre, says the town has a launchpad to help startup support services and runs a range of programmes and projects to help innovation support tech growth. 

“The aim is to help build a tech ecosystem within Barnsley and then wider in the region – to make Sheffield, Barnsley, Doncaster and Rotherham a place for tech businesses to grow and succeed,” he says.

“It’s really good to see such a busy event with people of a similar mindset.”

One startup which has already relocated its headquarters to South Yorkshire is Nigeria’s AppLatch, founded by Samson Opaleye.

AppLatch, a tool which can be used to lock certain apps for a set period of time to guard against smartphone addiction, has 34,000 users mere months after launch – and the plan is to create a billion-pound business based in Sheffield.

“We’re looking to grow in this market and raise investment,” Opaleye tells us. “The event is actually very functional: the right sort of people are here. I’ve met a couple of people that I think I will be engaging with afterwards.”

On his reasons for coming to the Steel City, he says: “I read an article online that showed that outside of London, Sheffield is the perfect city for startups to grow. And it’s true: there’s a lot of support in Sheffield.”

VC buzz

Ben Davies, marketing director of Praetura Ventures – and formerly of Social Chain – is firmly embedded within the North’s tech ecosystem.

“Climb23 is incredibly exciting. So much of the North’s ecosystem all together in one place,” he reflects.

“Investor Ladder and the Climb23 team have done an amazing job of pulling together investors and founders – there’s a real buzz about the place, and people from all over the UK. You aren’t just speaking to the same people.

“From our point of view, more events like this are essential if we’re going to continue on this trajectory that we’re on – and also connecting Leeds to Manchester to Newcastle to Liverpool. It’s not a competition: on a global stage, we’re one region.”

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