Bradford languishes at number 374 – out of 389 – in the UK Prosperity Index. Unemployment is higher than the national average, educational attainment is lower, cultural divisions are rife and an astonishing 25% of the city’s population is under 16.
What Bradford does have going for it is a forward-thinking chief executive in Kersten England, who got talking to Rob Pye and Prem Gyani of Ethos, not about Bradford’s problems, but about the potential of the city’s huge youth population.
‘An obvious belief would be that these young people are tech savvy,’ explains Gyani. ‘So could we help create the same kind of tech start up environment in Bradford as in London or Manchester or Silicon Valley?’
The city had an initiative called Tech Bradford, aimed at attracting young people to create start-ups but it hadn’t moved forward much.
‘This was partly because it was lodged with the universities which were naturally focused on how to get more young people into higher education, and how to attract more funding,’ says Gyani. What was needed was a new, collaborative approach, which is where Ethos comes in.
‘What we do in Ethos is to work from the inside out, and the outside in, to try and understand the difficulties and the opportunities of a complex problem.’
Ethos talked to schools, colleges and universities, to local start ups, SMEs and large businesses, to local investment angels as well as the council, strategic planning groups, social services and youth services.
‘We asked them ‘how successful do you think you are in creating aspiration in young people to start their own businesses?’ Education typically offered business studies and hoped that was enough. Businesses felt their typical employee didn’t have the creativity and drive to start up own businesses. Part of this is cultural: Bradford’s history is of textiles, manufacturing and engineering, not dynamic start ups. Young people are expected to be an employee or a professional, not an entrepreneur. And they have no local heroes – no James Dysons, no successful role models. ‘
Next Prem and the team talked to groups of young people, from 14-22 years, face to face and via internet surveys to ask ‘have you thought of starting own tech company?, ‘how do you feel about that’, ‘what would that happen?’.
Gyani, who has delivered similar schemes to other regional councils and Local Enterprise Partnerships, says: ‘At Ethos our approach is unique in that we start with a blank page, we have no self interest. Our inside out/outside in view uncovers some innovative and interesting ways of doing things. For instance, we asked organisations about allocating office space for young people to use for start ups. Organisations offered a quiet space to work, desks with internet access, a phone, maybe a laptop and somebody on reception. But young people said they don’t want a desk phone, or a laptop because they have a personalised device, they want to work 11-8pm and they don’t want quiet, they wanted buzz. Our aim is put together something as close as possible to what young people want.
‘Beyond this, our goal is to ensure that what we create is financially sustainable. There are any number of Government initiatives that run for a couple of years then drop off because the funding runs out. Our aim is to ensure ‘Tech Bradford’ becomes financially sustainable so we are engaging with the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund, the LEP, City Council, the Clydesdale and Yorkshire Bank, local Bradford ‘angels’, to put together a private-public financially sustainable method of funding.
‘It’s an approach we believe can work in any area. Each area has own social, financial and employment challenges.’
Why not talk to Prem Gyani about what Ethos could do in your area?