Data Ventures North

HyperFinity's Peter Denby takes a look at how Leeds became a data powerhouse, and the companies within the city that are leading the charge.

Leeds is not just a bustling metropolis filled with history and culture. It’s also a hub for cutting-edge technology and innovation.

Specifically, in the realm of data, Leeds has established itself as a leader in the field, driving the next wave of groundbreaking advancements that will shape our future. From pioneering university spinouts, to established global brands and innovative start-ups, this vibrant city is home to a community of data enthusiasts who are taking the world by storm.

We explore what makes Leeds a force to be reckoned with in the data industry, and why it’s a city that should be on every tech enthusiast’s radar.

Leeds, the Northern data powerhouse

Perhaps it should come as no surprise that Leeds has become renowned for producing high achieving data companies, given its prominent role in the industrial revolution. After all, engineering and science are common threads which have been vital to the success of both. In fact, many of the original textile mills have been repurposed for modern technology and data businesses.

Since Harvard Business Review declared in 2012 that ‘data scientist’ would be the sexiest job of the 21st century, there’s been growing recognition of data’s place and importance in the world. A little-known fact is that Leeds led the way in producing stand-out data companies as far back as the early 90s.

What eventually became part of the global Transunion empire started off life as EuroDirect Database Marketing and GMAP, before rebranding as Callcredit Information Group. EuroDirect were pioneers in the provision of database marketing services and GMAP led the way in data-led location planning. All this before the term data scientist had been coined, and when the first thing that came to mind when AI was mentioned would be Hal 9000 from Space Odyssey 2001.

The Leeds data trifecta – academia, corporations and scale-ups

The University city

Leeds has a big reputation as a university city, given the presence of University of Leeds, Leeds Beckett University and Leeds Trinity University. University of Leeds, in particular, has forged a reputation for data innovation, being home to Leeds Institute of Data Analytics and Consumer Data Research Centre. Combining educational rigor with commercial outcomes has been key to their success.

The astounding success of Amazon, Google, Apple, Meta and others is in no small part down to their intelligent use of data. Every major business intent on surviving and thriving has recognised the need to put data at the heart of their operation.

Home to global names…

Leeds is home to behemoths such as Asda, SkyBet, NHS Digital and others. Each of these organisations has invested substantially in their data capability. Doing so has allowed them to compete successfully in incredibly tough markets (in the case of the former two) and tackle an unprecedented health crisis, in the form of Covid-19, and its subsequent knock-on effect.

Even the global phenomenon, Snowflake, chose Leeds as a base to expand its presence in the UK. Still the world’s largest tech IPO, Snowflake continues to grow at a breathtaking pace.

…and trailblazers

Perhaps the most exciting area of modern business is scale-ups. Companies who have lit the blue touch paper and are growing rapidly. Leeds has its share in the data space.

The Oakland Group is a full stack analytics, process and governance company, working with clients across all major industries on their toughest data challenges. The Data Shed specialises in data transformation projects, single customer views, and managed support services, helping the likes of GAMSTOP protect 300,000 vulnerable people from gambling across 250 operators.
Panintelligence is democratising access to data by embedding analytics, dashboards and reports into the heart of SaaS applications, on a global scale.

Last but not least HyperFinity is helping retailers unlock the value of their data to create better customer experiences and make profitable decisions faster.

Leeds united

Ask the people working in the Leeds technology ecosystem for one word to sum up the city and invariably you’ll hear ‘collaboration’. Leeds’ data ecosystem embodies this.

The Data Crowd, a joint venture between The Oakland Group and HyperFinity, was established to create a community for those currently or aspiring to work in data.

No Code Lab has pioneered a movement which lowers the bar to working with data, AI and software. Several other groups cater for those with a passion for data, software and IoT.

In fact, many of the characteristics that define Leeds are clearly apparent in all the companies and communities mentioned. Grit, determination, pragmatism and a focus on delivering results.

Time and again these traits are highlighted as reasons why leading companies the world over favour Leeds-based data companies over their counterparts from other geographies. Gone are the days when high prices, low quality and apathetic service are accepted by the companies buying data products and services.

And for those seeking these services, Leeds continues to be a quality source. This has played a significant part in fuelling the growth of Leeds’ data scene, allowing the city to move to the forefront of the data economy and become a true powerhouse for tech in the North.

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