A note from Marty Reid: The roadmap to recovery

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Finally, something to look forward to. The announcement of a Government roadmap to easing lockdown is very welcome. With Engine Shed closing and reopening many times in the past 12 months I’m leaning on the side of caution, but it’s great to have a sense of finally moving  towards something better.

Engine Shed is also seeing momentum building on a number of larger projects from emerging industries, including quantum, cyber security, future telecoms and green tech, which should create some exciting new opportunities for the city region going forwards. Unfortunately, it’s a little too early to share our plans for the coming months, but what I can highlight is evidence of ongoing progress with our own technology incubator, SETsquared Bristol.

In a really tough year for small businesses, over half of the 80 startups and scaleups on the SETsquared programme raised funding to reach a total of over £40m.

However, on the theme of building something better, I am more interested in highlighting the progress in leadership diversity of the current SETsquared members: 45% of their founders are women and 24% are from BAME backgrounds. Given generally shocking statistics for diversity within the technology sector, this feels like progress, but really should just be considered as a good base to build from. We will, of course, only really achieve progress if these companies go on to make tangible, broad, societal impact within and beyond the city region.

As a reference point for the challenges we continue to face, it’s worth taking some time to read an article from our friend, and inspirational champion for equality, Zara Nanu. With a great analysis of pay data, for which her company Gapsquare are renowned, Zara highlights that while a great deal of attention has been focused on pay equity for given roles, the ‘jobs of the future’ which are trending towards higher pay (e.g. data, AI, machine learning specialists, robotics engineers) are male dominated. The roles with the largest reduction in demand, and resulting reduction in pay, tend to be female dominated. Without action, our focus on innovation and tech could worsen the broad economic conditions in our region from an equality point of view.

On a similar theme, a colleague shared a preview of an upcoming book by Dan BreznitzInnovation in Real Places: Strategies for Prosperity in an Unforgiving World. An excerpt says our goal should be to find innovation-based growth models that supply vast quantities of good jobs to people with multiple skills backgrounds, instead of a few fabulous jobs that are available only to the graduates of the world’s elite universities. In Israel, whose rapid growth in technological innovation saw it transition from relatively equal to highly unequal society, those not part of the technology industry are now in a worse state – just like the people in Silicon Valley – because everything around them is much more expensive.”

Seeing our local talent develop technologies that impact the world and raise millions of pounds in investment is incredibly exciting, and an easy generator of press coverage, but the Bristol I’d like to raise a family in isn’t one that looks like a mini-San Francisco (our bridge is better anyway).

I don’t believe the answer is to inhibit progress, but we need to take the opportunity to double down on what has made the city region exciting in the first place. To consciously, collaboratively and a little bit rebelliously come together and do things differently from everyone else and change what we see as success, impact or growth.

We are about to take the first steps on the largest economic and social rebuild in modern history, driven partly by significant regional and institutional investment. This is happening in the context of traditional ways of working completely breaking down, greater public awareness, and engagement in the fight against historical racial prejudice and the world’s largest climate change forum coming to the UK this November. These are levers to enact this change like never before.

We’d be happy to share with any interested peers of our journey through projects, partnerships and the support we received to take the first steps towards equal representation in our programmes. We are also committed to engaging with new and existing partners to make sure that the next phase of our growth carries with it impact beyond just investment.


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