In SWTD’s final article on the nominees for the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Tech South West Awards, we spoke to Mike Barritt, co-founder of Software Cornwall and one of the county’s most prominent tech entrepreneurs.
In 2010, Mike Barritt was one of the founding Directors of Software Cornwall, the not-for-profit membership organisation supporting the tech sector in Cornwall.
Toby Parkins, co-founder of Headforwards and one of the founding Directors of Software Cornwall said: “Mike single-handedly started the Agile movement in Cornwall and created visibility for Cornwall’s tech community within the south-west and UK that simply wasn’t there before. Mike helped businesses to transform and I’m certain that without him, there would be no Software Cornwall or Agile on the beach, both of which have been responsible for creating hundreds, possibly thousands of jobs in Cornwall.”
Mike will retire at the end of 2021, but his legacy is already secure. SWTD spoke to him about his career.
How has the tech sector in Cornwall changed since you started what became Software Cornwall in 2010?
Beyond recognition! Growth has been over 250% in numbers of companies and several companies multiplied 5 times or more. Cornwall was recognised by Tech Nation as one of the fastest growing clusters in the UK and it is fair to say that there is now a real tech sector in Cornwall that simply was not there 10-15 years ago. This is not just software companies, but many companies now doing digital transformation and using tech in its widest sense.
What are you most satisfied with in that time?
The real growth of some of the companies that I have worked in and with has been a real source of satisfaction. As important, if not more, is the development of some of the key individuals in those companies.
Helping Sullivan Cuff Software to grow from 12 people to 50+ people and being part of the acquisition by an international company that has just floated on Nasdaq has also been a highlight. Seeing the team there grow into part of a real international operation still based in Cornwall is a real success story. Plus, I've seen some of the individuals I worked with moving up to key international positions within that business.
What are the main factors behind the growth of the Cornwall tech scene?
The enthusiasm and entrepreneurial skills of the many individuals I have met over the years who have served on committees, talked about tech and actually proved that it can be done in Cornwall. Superfast broadband has helped enormously – without the connectivity it would not have happened.
A selected few of the EU funded programmes have helped stimulate growth and innovation. Cornwall getting its own university.
The gradual change in attitude from all the different organisations involved – colleges, universities, council, LEP, the Chamber – where it has dawned that Cornwall needs far more than seasonal, low paid jobs in the tourism and hospitality sector.
What does Cornwall need to take the next step in its development as a home for great tech businesses and innovation?
This problem is very simply put as: “How do we change both the perception and underlying economic model away from low paid seasonal tourism and hospitality jobs to ensure the long-term prosperity of those living and working in Cornwall now but, far more importantly, for the next and future generations.”
So, lots more of the same but with the emphasis on working together for the common good rather than just individual projects and programmes. There are far too many EU and .gov funded programmes being run by too many different bodies without proper and central coordination.
This leads to too much money spent on admin and not sufficient on actual outputs as well as confusing the people and businesses. Also, the short-term nature of these programmes and the “tick box” culture both need changing.
“Levelling up” has become a bit of “buzz word” now but to me this means understanding that salaries in Cornwall must be levelled up to national standards – not necessarily London but to attract the right talent the days of lower salaries in Cornwall are long gone.
Along with this also means businesses must invest in young people and those not in the tech sector to give them the opportunity to live and work in Cornwall to build a local pool of talent. I call this “grow your own” rather than relying on being able to “buy it in”.
Push the ultrafast broadband programme this is essential to keep Cornwall ahead of the game. On top of that, make sure road, rail and air links work and are cost effective – people still need to come to Cornwall.
Housing is becoming a huge issue now as prices are becoming uneconomic for many even those with relatively well-paid jobs.
What does the future hold for Software Cornwall (and for you)?
SWC has a huge role to play in promoting the tech sector and coordinating all the great things that are happening and we are working really hard in providing genuine value for money to members and helping them where they need it most in areas like skills, recruitment, training etc. Of the utmost importance here is motivating and skilling up the young people in Cornwall from primary school right through their education to be ready for the new world of AI, digital, problem solving, being Agile etc. etc. Alongside this is skilling up those looking to change jobs into the tech sector to help fill the “talent gap”.
As for me I am retiring – for the second and final time! From Software Cornwall by Christmas and Agile on the Beach during 2022.