10 May 2017

Nurturing a digital and creative ecosystem in Hull

Laura Harper, Partner and Head of the Creative Industries & Digital team at national law firm Shoosmiths, reflects on the potential impact of Hull 2017.

Hull’s status as the epicentre of UK culture this year is fantastic and exciting in equal measure.

It was wonderful to be among the 25,000 people who joined the launch celebrations for what I believe will be a defining moment for Hull.

Just as Derry – Londonderry in Northern Ireland, a previous host city, enjoyed a reputational sea-change and saw increased investment after 2013, and I’m sure Hull will benefit from a similar halo effect.

But whilst it’s important that we change perceptions and increase tourism this year, we must look ahead to the legacy of 2017 too. The bigger goal must be to ensure that the City of Culture status energises creative thinking and collaboration, unlocking investment which can help to deliver economic growth.

There’s no reason why a cultural renaissance in Hull couldn’t spark a boom in jobs in the creative sector. I’m a great believer in the power of cultural regeneration, and the direct economic effect of investment in arts and culture – and the fact that the brightest and the best will stay in or be attracted to a culturally rich city or region.

The 2017 Technation report found that Hull’s digital sector is worth more than £250m. It describes the city as having a “burgeoning reputation as the epicentre of East Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire’s digital tech community”.

Around 7,000 people are working in the digital sector in Hull, with strengths in software development, advertising, games development and publishing.

Of course the backbone of a successful ecosystem is having the right people with the right skills, so it is hugely positive to see the University of Hull offering progressive courses such as Game and Entertainment Design, Computer Science for Game Development, Creative Music Technology and Digital Design. The city’s first University Technical College is due to open in the autumn, specialising in digital technology and mechatronics – the combined study of computing and engineering – which also highly significant.

The challenge for the city is to offer graduates great career opportunities here, halting the brain drain to London and hubs like MediaCity in the North West. The fact that Hull is home to Ash TV, one of Tech North’s top 10 2016 start-ups and a business making great strides in mobile TV advertising, bodes well for the future.

As well as intellectual assets, it’s important too for there to be physical facilities with super-fast broadband connectivity, supporting the creation of a collaborative and vibrant digital community. It’s great news that CityFibre has named Hull the UK’s next ‘Gigabit City’ and is rolling out ultra-fast connectivity in partnership with Pure Broadband.

I am a huge advocate for the power of partnerships and it is great to see evidence of this in Hull with C4DI, the Centre for Digital Innovation, offering co-working, tech incubation and corporate innovation in a collaborative, forward-looking atmosphere.

Supported by a range of major businesses, ranging from Humberside’s own KCOM to the likes of Siemens, PWC and Amazon Web Services, C4DI is exactly the kind of early-stage seed accelerator we need to see, if our goals are to be achieved.

There are of course some other essential tools that a creative digital community needs to thrive – namely access to finance and to professional advice. While access to finance for tech start-ups in the UK isn’t always easy to come by, organisations like Tech North are working closely with the investment sector and doing a great job of addressing this.

From a professional services perspective, it is important that creative and digital sector entrepreneurs have access to the right quality of advice to help them protect their business and Intellectual Property (IP). At Shoosmiths, I am proud to say, this is one of our core specialisms. Our national Intellectual Property & Creative Industries group has deep experience of working with a huge variety of businesses across the creative, digital and media sectors. We understand that no business issue is the same, and we take time to really add value to our clients by understanding what makes them tick, and helping them achieve their goals.

As a Yorkshire resident myself, it’s been a real thrill for me to see the firm opening its first office here. It’s very early days, but the response to our investment here has been great, and I am looking forward to being part of our growth story in Hull.

I don’t think one can over-estimate just how powerful a force civic pride can be, as a motivator to drive people and businesses forward. From what I have seen it’s here in spades in Kingston-Upon-Hull and the East Riding, so the sky is truly the limit.

Laura Harper is a partner at Shoosmiths, an innovative national UK Top 40 law firm and Hull 2017 Supplier.

She has deep experience of working with the creative and digital industries, not only by advising individuals and businesses, but through collaborating and creating the intellectual networks essential for the sector to thrive.

Laura has close links to major Northern creative and digital hubs such as The Sharp Project in Manchester and is also a respected media commentator on the sector.

She is a commercial intellectual property (IP) lawyer and head of the Northern IP & Creative Industries team – a team of leading intellectual property lawyers advising on all copyright, trade mark, design right, patent and confidential information law matters which also has specialist knowledge and experience of working with those businesses and individuals which operate within the creative and digital sector.

Laura advises companies and individuals whose businesses are reliant upon intellectual property (IP) – from “hard” IP i.e. patent and design rights (e.g. chemicals, biotech, electronics and manufacturing companies ) to “soft” intellectual property – such as copyright, trade marks and confidential information. Clients in this area include advertising and design agencies, games companies, digital, film and TV companies, musicians and music companies.

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