In Manchester’s tech industry work space, SpacePortX, the influence of Steve Jobs is clear. And it’s got nothing to do with iPhones, MacBooks, or iPads …
At SpacePortX, the tech industry co-working space in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, the influence of Steve Jobs is clear. But not just because of the proliferation of iPhones, MacBooks and computer monitors the size of fish tanks. As SpacePortX co-founder Doug Ward explains, the facility also owes much to Jobs’ belief in the power of “collisions”.
When Jobs started work with architects Bohlin Cywinski Jackson on plans for Pixar’s new Emeryville headquarters in 1999, it was this principle that resulted in the building’s large atrium, designed specifically to usher colleagues into making eye contact, small talk and, ultimately, forging successful collaborative relationships.
And, according to Mr Ward, the same idea underpins the environment at SpacePortX – a 6,000sq ft coworking space supplied with a 100Mb internet connection that provides desk room for freelancers and small tech start-ups, who each pay £250 per desk a month. “When you’re building a technology business, your world is pretty much online,” says Mr Ward. “So the last thing you can afford is to be slowed down or unable to communicate by video with customers.”
If you’re in an environment where you’re willing to help the person to the side of you, then it becomes a team.
Communication is central to the successful running of the business. “If you’re in an environment where you’re willing to help the person to the side of you, then it becomes a team,” says Mr Ward. “We think that’s really critical for creating as fertile ground as possible for companies to flourish,” he adds. “We believe in paying things forward. It’s good business to do so and it feels good as well.”
Mr Ward collaborated with fellow founders Shaun Gibson and Martin Bryant to create this hub for the North West’s tech talent, says that environments such as SpacePortX are crucial for the UK’s long-term success. “We’re a small island with a small population and it’s really important for this country’s economic future that we excel in technology – nanotechnology, manufacturing, digital, software and the space industry are all key.”
One of the people to have benefitted from SpacePortX’s ethos of collaboration is Paul Rawlings. Looking for a fresh challenge, he took a desk at SpacePortX as a solo freelancer and soon found other people in a similar position.
Before long, he was part of a four-person team that worked together to create Delivered, a web platform designed for office workers looking for a wellpriced, healthy lunch. Orders are fulfilled by the kitchens of local businesses, which use the quiet period between breakfast and lunch to prepare the meals, and then delivered directly to workplaces.
Connecting those with beards with those who want to stroke beards.
In just six months the Delivered team has tripled in size, and the company continues to expand.
Bristlr, a dating app that connects “those with beards with those who want to stroke beards” has been around a little longer. But founder John Kershaw says the company wouldn’t have progressed to where it is now without the collaborative environment cultivated by SpacePortX.
It was by chance that a “collision” at an industry drinks event held as SpacePortX led to Bristlr becoming part of a Newcastle-based tech accelerator programme, Ignite. Before that, Mr Kershaw says: “I was a guy who had made a stupid app.”
Now, having been given fresh impetus by the conversations and meetings with the advisors that he met at Ignite, Mr Kershaw is planning to take his business to the next level. It will use the existing architecture from Bristlr to create more quirky dating apps. “I’ve been introduced to a larger network of peers and investors,” he says. “They know what fails, and they know what works.”