Looking back on a great first year

The philosophy at Web Applications is to cultivate progress by challenging the norm. Consistently nominated for awards that celebrate employee development and investment, WA:UK has focused heavily on the improvement of our most important assets – our people. We’ve implemented an innovative benefits programme, including a personal development time scheme, which allows our developers the freedom to hone their creativity and continually expand their abilities.

In the Spring, we formed a company steeped in that philosophy, aimed at stimulating the growth of our industry and encouraging entrepreneurial thought. WA:UK Tech Angels, an angel investment organisation for digital businesses, was officially unveiled at the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce annual dinner. The creed is simple: with 15 years of invaluable experience managing and expanding IT companies, the Web Applications Group are well-equipped to mentor the next generation of digital businesses in the North West. With Manchester competing to be the North’s top technological city, the need has been great for an organisation to step-up and invest not only their capital, but their wisdom into the next generation of digital business.

Complementary to the open-source and collaborative nature of software development, Tech Angels is determined to use their head start to the advantage of Manchester’s budding entrepreneurs, by providing guidance and support. In the past 6 months, we’ve forged some fantastic relationships, and expect to continue and expand on these associations, as well as make some new ones.

Best of all, we’ve put a smile on some faces.

Hack Manchester 2014 – Headline Sponsorship

Having been a massive supporter of Hack since its inception several years ago, Chief Executive of the Web Applications Group Craig Dean was eager to involve Tech Angels with the influential industry event. Hack Manchester as a concept is where two parts of the Manchester spirit come together. Not merely synonymous with the long-standing industrious reputation of Greater Manchester, Hack also exemplifies the digital future that’s in store for Manchester. Out of the mill smoke of the early 20th century, came some of the most important scientific and technological advancements of the modern era, and this is set to be a recurring trend of the future with the success of events like Hack. Start-up incubators are springing up everywhere, and innovative businesses like WA:UK Tech Angels are increasingly important to the growth of industry.

A 25-hour hackathon, Hack involves competing, alone or in a team, to program solutions to challenges set by companies and sponsors. Though there is often a recruitment element to a company’s involvement with Hack (rightly so – the calibre of talent seems to get progressively higher), there is also that sense of ‘giving back’ to the industry that Tech Angels is all about. It’s refreshing, too, to see our contemporaries such as LateRooms recognising the boons of Hack by getting involved as a sponsor.

We see it as an important personal development process for our employees: there were 23 Webbies in total at the event over the weekend, including 2 official teams. We’re eager to continue our excellent working partnership with the folks behind Hack @Rubygem, @Squarejazz, @TheAllSeeingPie: look forward to seeing you next year!

A Grand Idea

As an alumni of the University of Salford, Co-Founder of WA:UK Gordon Pearce actively maintains a relationship with the institution, and through that channel we began to hold talks about potentially running a digital business competition for students of the university. What began as a brainstormed idea over a conference call quickly snowballed into a large-scale project, and the Grand Idea competition was launched. The premise was simple – we invited enterprising students and alumni of the university to pitch their start-up ideas to us, and we would select 3 winners at a final “dragons’ den” style pitching event. The winner would take home £1,000, with runner-up and 3rd place taking away £300 and £200 respectively. Salford are currently investing heavily in the enterprising nature of their students, an encouraging atmosphere that was palpable every time we were on campus, exemplified by their choice of lawn furniture:

We invested a lot of time into the competition, and were delighted when the initial deadline for feedback passed, and we received 29 applications from people interested in our competition. CE Craig and Managing Director Craig Kennedy personally met with several of the applicants to give guidance and feedback for the final pitch. It’s telling that roughly 50% of the students we delivered direct feedback to made it to the final stage.

The dragon’s den event, on the 3rd at MediaCity, exceeded all expectations. Part of the Creative Entrepreneur Event, organised by (from what I saw of them) a fantastic team from the university. The atmosphere on the day was fantastic, and even caused famously casual Co-Founder Gordon to remark that he regretted wearing trainers! The quality of the presentations was astounding. Commiserations and good luck to those who missed out on the day: SMRTREG, Teach4U, and Shuruki. If any of our business partners are looking for creative, tenacious young entrepreneurs to work with, look up the guys behind these pitches.

Our 2 runners-up were both businesses we had our eye on from the start. The bold idea behind SWIFT Parking, and the great response to feedback from Printlife’s founders were enough to guarantee them a prize on the day. But we were bowled over by Vinejuice, the ticket-vending and promotion portal for Christian events. Vinejuice had been one of the very last applications in the final batch, and we made them finalists based on a gut feeling they were the sort of team that got things done. Our suspicious were confirmed when they delivered an outstanding presentation that, I don’t think anyone will mind me saying, left nobody in any doubt as to who would be taking the £1,000 prize on the day.

From start to finish, the project was a joy to be part of. On behalf of Tech Angels I’d like to say special thanks to Jan Bradley, Aleksej Heinze, Lauren Adams, Dominic Martinez, Chris Procter, Alex Fenton and all the team behind the scenes at Creative Ent and Salford Enterprise. Huge high-five to Justyna Orzechowska, my opposite number at Salford, who worked tirelessly and made the organisation process incredibly easy.

Don’t just take my word for it. Vinejuice Co-Founder Lavinia’s infectious smile at 02:53 says it best!

I feel strongly that we’ve done some good work this year, and I’m proud to have been a part of it. In partnership with people like Hack, and the University of Salford, we encouraged many young people to take on board that philosophy I wrote at the top of the page: creating progress by challenging the norm.

Enough looking back – time to look forward. Here’s to a fantastic 2015!

To see more about the Grand Idea competition and Salford Business School, visit their blog, and see Chief Executive Craig Dean’s guest blog.