From analogue Madchester to digital Manchester

haciendaIt is almost 30 years since something started coming out of Manchester. I remember the point it went mainstream about 1988 when I was up there with friends. ITV showed a fantastic video of the drugged-up Happy Mondays around 1.30am. Nothing scheduled, they just decided to broadcast it.

A personal Summer of Love followed. A despatch-rider all week in London, park the bike at Euston station and up to Manchester on the 6pm train. A few beers, picked up by mates, down the Red Lion in Wythenshawe, then Afflecks Palace for some shopping on Saturday morning, a City game at Maine Road, the Hacienda until God-Knows-What-Time the next morning, back at the Red Lion for lunch followed by football in the park, some jazz at the Newcastle Steam Brewery, then back to London on the midnight milk train, ready to call in for work at 7am. Happy, happy days, even happy Mondays if you get my drift.

Much has changed in these three decades. While London is now almost free of despatch-riders because of technology rendering most expensive deliveries obsolete, Manchester has struggled to keep up with London’s ascension as one of the major technology hubs in the world.

But that may finally be set to change with the launch of a new digital festival in the city, highlighted by the Innov8 Startup Award sponsored by Google and UKFast. The festival launches on May 7th and positions itself as ‘the coolest tech festival in Europe’ covering digital, tech, ecommerce, startups, mobile, video, advertising and gaming.

Moreover, in the spirit of the old Madchester days, the typical conference schedule will be broken up by live acoustic performances and DJ sets. Probably no sign of the Happy Mondays or other sundries, but you never know.

I’m going to speak there as well as Martin Bryant, Editor-in-Chief at The Next Web and many others and the Innov8 Startup Award should be an interesting competition to see how evolved the Manchester tech scene has become… the prize package includes £100k of Google cloud credit and an exclusive support package with ongoing mentoring from industry experts.

“The event is the perfect stage to showcase the launch of the Google Developers Startup programme. I’m sure it will be a great event and I hope the first instalment of an impressive future going forward”, said Rupert Whitehead, Developer Relations Programs Lead, UK, Ireland and Nordics at Google.

“We are still an unfunded startup, reaching this point through hard work and passion, without a penny in the bank. To gain the backing of the world’s biggest brand proves that if you have the right team in place and never stop following your dreams you can achieve anything. This is going to rock Manchester and change the face of the digital landscape in the city forever,” said Jonathon Cadden – Founder, Business Rocks and organiser of the festival.

In its heyday, Madchester made the front cover of Time magazine and for a few heady months was the coolest place on the planet. Perhaps those times will come again now that the city is hugging the digital revolution as strongly as ‘refreshed’ clubbers used to do to each other at The Hacienda.

Ah, memories… in the corner of my mind.

The Gaza Sky Geeks bring hope to the Strip

sky_geeksOne of my highlights of 2015 was a visit to Ramallah and Jericho in the West Bank to speak at a conference and meet some of the amazing startups in Palestine.

Under extraordinary conditions, how these companies exist is difficult to believe. Israel has control over the spectrum and still refuses to grant 3G licences to mobile operators who have already paid for them, but Palestinian tech companies are not only thriving, they are also doing business with global companies in Israel itself.

The tech boom across the border in Tel Aviv and other Israeli cities is impressive. Some are spawned out of the Israeli Defence Force, especially in Beersheva and a significant cluster is forming in Jerusalem, but this is all achieved with the help of 4G, a technology Palestinians can only dream of accessing.

Conditions in the Gaza Strip are even worse. Here, operators with 2G licences are still being blocked by Israel and with blockades on all sides, this territory of 1.8 million people is more like a refugee camp than the ‘pene-exclave region of Palestine’ described by Google.

Understandably these people are seething, but while some turn to anger and extremism, others are turning to technology to give themselves an identity. One initiative is Gaza’s only startup accelerator, Gaza Sky Geeks. In December a crowdfunding campaign was launched by global humanitarian agency Mercy Corps means to secure its future and at time of writing, it had raised $142,325, 203% of its original $70,000 goal.

This campaign has now been extended to January 8th, with the hope of raising this amount to $500,000, money that will be spent to keep its co-working space open for all of 2015, expand support for female startup founders, arrange an international hackathon, and coordinate the first Silicon Valley visit by Gazan startups.

“Although humanitarian assistance is critical in Gaza, most youth are craving opportunity, not food. Youth in Gaza are among the Arab world’s most educated young men and women, and they are hungry for the chance to prove themselves in the global marketplace,” said Iliana Montauk, Director of Mercy Corps’ Gaza Sky Geeks program.

Gaza Sky Geeks was launched in 2011 by Mercy Corps with a generous grant from Subsequent financial and program support from Google for Entrepreneurs has enabled Gazan startups to connect with more than 30 startup communities globally, including in Silicon Valley.

Over the last year, GSG has progressed from providing technology entrepreneurship training and facilitating competitions, to bringing in the first private startup investment to Gaza and promoting women’s leadership.

“Mercy Corps has created a vibrant technology hub in Gaza that we’re proud to have supported over the last few years,” says Bridgette Beam, Senior Manager at Google for Entrepreneurs. “We’re thrilled to see this exceptionally talented and passionate community receive the boost it needs to continue growing.”

That boost that Beam refers to is that crowdfunding campaign that lasts until January 8th. While the story of Israel’s startup nation is one of great innovation, perhaps it’s time to even things up and support the ‘startup pene-exclave region’ story of Gaza.

As the song goes, if they can do it there, they can do it anywhere. Good luck to them all…

Great Fridays shores up board with ex-Pearson hire

elephant indoorInnovative product and service design company Great Fridays has appointed Genevieve Shore to its influential advisory board with immediate effect.

Great Fridays advisory board is made up of an illustrious and eclectic mix of experienced Design and Business Leaders including Peter Gabriel (musician, technologist, inventor), Nancy Dickenson (independent design strategy consultant and ex-VP Design at eBay, PayPal, Apple), Peter Skillman from HERE and Josh Ulm (VP of Design at Adobe). Continue reading

Google Glass hitches ride with travel organiser TripIt

tripitTripIt, a travel organising app with more than 10 million users, has launched on Google Glass. The app lets travellers obtain trip information ‘at eye level’ when faced with gate changes, flight delays and cancellations… but the more interesting features are not free, they will cost $49 a year.

This form of, yes you guessed it, Glassware means travellers can keep their smartphone tucked away, while all the information needed to make a journey as smooth as possible is in sight. Flight details are displayed conveniently upon arrival at the airport, followed by a car rental, hotel, and any other travel reservations previously forwarded by email. Continue reading

Through Hired tech talent can ‘auction’ themselves for jobs

hired.comUS startup Hired launches its service in New York tomorrow where tech talent such as developers, engineers and data scientists can find jobs at tech companies by ‘auctioning’ themselves.

Tech companies bid on these people and have to be upfront about salary, equity options and signing bonus. Hired comes to NYC after launching in Silicon Valley; according to the company, there are more than 5,000 unfulfilled tech jobs in NYC. Continue reading