Reflections from San Francisco
To mark the first direct flights from Manchester to San Francisco, a 30-strong delegation from across the Northern Powerhouse’s growing technology sector took part in a Silicon Valley trade mission, showcasing all the region has to offer.
Dr Adam Beaumont, CEO and founder of Leeds-based aql, was one of two leaders of the delegation. Here he offers his reflections on his mission and what it means for the Northern Powerhouse.
How did this trade mission come about?
The catalyst for it was Natalie Sykes, who runs IoD Yorkshire. She invited me to a round table with IoD North West and senior officials from the Department for International Trade (DIT). I’d mentioned the past missions I’ve led to the Baltic’s and they suggested that myself and a business leader from the North West work together. So Scott Fletcher and I led the mission to San Francisco to coincide with “manfran”, the first direct flight between the North and San Francisco. It was a real pleasure to work with Scott on the mission and it’s the start of other work we’ll be doing together.
Did it take much to convince other NPH tech leaders to join you?
Very little! We had a really great group of dynamic businesses involved. The opportunity to do business with companies scaling to address global markets is huge. In 2011, we closed our first deal with a San Francisco startup. The reason that we won the deal, rather than one of our competitors, was that I was prepared to jump on a plane at a moment’s notice. From Leeds, that was a 20-hours-plus round trip and one I’ve made on many occasions. That San Francisco customer is still a huge client to aql and the fact we can now travel there more easily is a real benefit.
Now the first NPH Tech trade mission over, how do you feel it went?
I think we pitched it just about right. What I would comment on is that we probably kept everyone a little too busy. Whilst we hosted some great meetings, it was clear that there were also relationships to be built between the delegates. Planning the next one, we’d definitely include a little more informal time for delegates to get to know each other. Many of the other missions I’m involved with keep an entire clear day for this purpose.
What are the top three things fellow tech leaders in NPH can learn from this experience?
If you’re looking to understand how a city can organise itself to support the exponential platform business, San Francisco is the place.
What’s clear from all the high growth companies is that you can automate the commodity skills to a degree, but the most important asset is people. They all focus on how they can support their people and for them to feel fulfilled. That means supporting their employees philanthropy and community work, supporting them to make a difference. This, to me, is fantastic.
How will these missions benefit NPH?
Never underestimate the power of serendipity. Just getting great people together with a combined aim always creates benefits. For example, aql are now doing business with two of the companies on the trip, and this is as a direct result of the trip. Additionally, another one of the business leaders on the trip is about to join Northinvest, a not for profit platform I founded to align investors across the North, to act as a business angel across the North of the UK. I’d call that a result.
The most important thing is that in each city there are a good handful of business leaders who are well connected and passionate about their region. When you overlap them with their equivalent from other cities, they each act as a gateway into each other’s city, providing opportunities and insights into how each city operates.
When I founded Northinvest, it allowed me to meet passionate leaders from other cities such as Charlie Hoult from Newcastle. Not only have I invested in a startup with Charlie, but I’ve also learnt a lot about Newcastle and he’s learnt a lot about Leeds. That’s two capable storytellers with a large network who can further amplify the virtues of another city.
How are you going to ensure this experience helps other NPH businesses looking to do something similar?
With any national initiative, or in this case, pan-Northern, it’s really important that there’s a trusted point of contact to bring people together. The team at DIT were exemplary. If any other businesses want to set up a similar mission, please get in touch with DIT, or find me on LinkedIn and I’d be happy to help. We have an open door.
I would also add that the Consulate in San Francisco (like every consulate I’ve encountered) have also been excellent. The best gateway to the consulate is through the DIT.
What next for this trade mission team?
I feel we’ve created some really special friendships. We set up a WhatsApp group to coordinate the group whilst out there. We’re still chatting on it. What’s next? We’re already planning a return visit to San Francisco to follow up on the partnerships we’ve discussed with key stakeholders in the city.