A new direct flight between Manchester and San Francisco could provide the North of England with a welcome boost.
The Virgin Atlantic flight will give entrepreneurs in the North of England easier access to the deep pockets of Silicon Valley venture capitalists and the big tech firms in California, according to a number of people working in tech in the North of England that Business Insider spoke to.
Virgin Atlantic is launching the flight in summer 2017 when it will operate three times a week, taking 11 hours and 20 minutes.
“This is great news for any tech company in the North of England, not just the North West,” said Michael Gould, who cofounded $1 billion (£690 million) enterprise software firm Anaplan in a barn in Yorkshire in 2005.
“All technology companies need good connections to San Francisco — for better networking, attending conferences, forming partnerships with other companies, understanding technology trends, seeking funding from VCs, etc,” Gould told Business Insider via email.
“From our office it’s a ten-minute walk to York station where a direct train takes you right in to Manchester Airport.” This will make reaching San Francisco so much easier than having to take three trains to reach Heathrow (York to London, then the Tube and Heathrow Express). I do this trip myself around once per month and have to leave home about six hours before my scheduled flight time.”
Gould added that San Francisco tech companies are increasingly looking at where else they can locate additional research and development teams. “Direct flights to the North of England could have a big impact on opening up the relatively untapped talent pool here,” he said, pointing to the computer science department at York University, which has expanded over the last few years and is now one of the top computer science departments in the country.
While Gould sees the direct flight a positive, he argues that the North of England needs more investment in public transport, particularly linking business hubs such as Manchester, Leeds and York. “Trains are often very crowded, and faster journey times would be beneficial for all,” he said.
The tech scene in the North of England has struggled to compete with that in London but cities in the North will start to catch up over the next few years, according to Alex Depledge, cofounder of Hassle.com and a former board member of Nick Clegg’s Tech North initiative, which was set up in a bid to boost the tech scene in the North of England.
“There is absolutely no geographic reason why the [UK tech] sector needs to be in London,” Depledge said last December. “It can be spread throughout the UK and help rebalance the economy.”
Hugh Campbell, cofounder and managing partner of GP Bullhound, an investment banking firm that provides tech companies with advice on venture capital raising, said: “This is a recognition of the international potential of northern tech. With greater access to the funding, insight, and talent available in the Bay Area, the growth of the north’s digital economy will surely continue to accelerate. It has been a long-time coming, but this could be a watershed moment for the region’s tech entrepreneurs.”
Virgin Atlantic is also launching flights to Boston twice weekly.
Erik Varwijk, executive vice president of commercial at Virgin Atlantic, said in a statement: “We’re delighted to be able to offer our customers these two new direct flights to the USA from Manchester Airport. In addition to our current services to Atlanta, Las Vegas, Orlando and Barbados, the new routes to San Francisco and Boston really open up America for our customers.”
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