A Bright Tech Future – Insights & Programmes from Tech Nation

October 8th 2019

Last month, our friends at Tech Nation hosted the Bristol leg of their Bright Tech Future Tour, a summit to bring together a broad range of stakeholders from the tech sector in the city to discuss the talent challenges faced by technology companies looking to grow.

For those who don't know, Tech Nation are a UK wide network supporting the development of the sector through growth programmes, digital entrepreneurship skills, a visa scheme for exceptional talent, and by championing the UK’s digital sector through data, stories and media campaigns". In short...well worth looking up if you are a tech founder!

This event was hosted at the city centre HQ of Graphcore, Bristol's first "Unicorn" tech business to be valued in excess of $1B. While there is a lot of debate across the region on whether this is actually a helpful reference point for success in a regional ecosystem, for this gathering it was fantastic to set the scene at the home of one of our genuine success stories with global reaching potential.

Over the past year, Tech Nation have led on a piece of research for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS for acronym fans...) focused on gathering data to support the creation of a "fit-for-purpose" talent pipeline for the Tech Sector in the UK. From our own work with founders in science and tech, we know well that attraction and retention of talent is consistently ranked as one of the top challenges to growth.

The report paints a picture of evolution of the demand for specific skills, pay levels and relative costs of living across the different UK tech clusters. Whether you are a founder looking to understand the likely salary costs of a growing team and what skills are most in demand in the region, or indeed if you are considering a career in tech and would like to know what skills are most valued, it is well worth a read - Bright Tech Future Report.

From the report itself and our discussions, there were some interesting takeaways for Bristol, both from the tech talent picture and an investment point of view:

  • While the demand for "software developers" and "engineers" in general has remained relatively flat, demand for specific technical skills has grown substantially in recent years
    • Demand for full stack developers, data scientists and devops engineers have grown strongly (395 total roles in 2015, 1113 roles in 2018).
    • Data Science in particular has emerged from an almost non-existent position 3 years ago, so it looks like growth could well continue going forward.
    • Conversely, the demand for "Project Managers" has almost halved in the same period.
    • This suggests a maturing regional tech economy, starting to focus on higher value business areas.
  •  Perhaps unsurprisingly given the growth in demand, Devops Engineers and Data Scientists, alongside IT Systems architects, also command the highest median salaries of the tech roles advertised.
  • When comparing average wages across different regions, there is a lot variation in median salaries from role to role so it's difficult to draw general conclusions about "the best place to live for tech", particularly when the cost of living is taken into account (as an example Bristol is ranked the 4th best place financially in the UK to be a Software Developer, but 11th for DevOps engineers...). Broadly though, the city is competitive at this stage in most areas, so given the broader characteristics that contribute to our generally high rank of "quality" of living, it should remain an attractive place for tech talent to be located - particularly with the travel time by train to London now dropping to just over an hour.
  • The UK leads Europe emphatically when it comes to venture capital investment in technology – with $35bn invested between 2013 and 2018
  • Bristol has the highest investment per capita in technology businesses of any UK City outside of "Oxbridge" (the definition as a city had a few people scratching their heads!)
  • In the first half of 2019 at $5.0B, the UK has reached an all time record for VC investment - in local terms, OVO's $240M raise was a significant part of this

So what does it all mean? The UK Tech Market and also Bristol specifically are still going through an evolutionary phase but it does look like exciting times are ahead. New roles are emerging and it looks like having "enough" talent in key areas will continue to be a challenge, but we are also seeing continual growth and investment in the sector at a macro level.

Continuing to embrace a collaborative approach, maintaining the support networks and welcoming new voices into the conversation on how we can best support our tech talent is going to be key to maintaining our momentum.

On that note, Tech Nation have recently launched three great programmes to support tech companies on their growth journey. With a support system, peer network and coaching structure at the national level, these are a great opportunity and complement to the regional business support networks that many of our start-ups already benefit from.

If you are a growing tech business in the South West and would like to learn more, you can reach out to our regional Entrepreneur Engagement Manager Vicky Hunter at or on twitter @tn_southwest.


-Marty Reid, Centre Director - Future Space

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