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SYMCA debrief

An update from the latest SYMCA Business Advisory Group Meeting.

This month Sheffield Digital Co-director, Mel Kanarek attended the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority (SYMCA) Business Advisory Group to represent the region’s tech sector. Here are some of the main points of interest including an update on the government’s ‘Investment Zones’ (of which South Yorkshire is one), details of a very exciting aerospace start-up coming to Doncaster and information about Northern Gritstone’s vision to create the Sillicon Valley of the North.

Economic update

Lewis Adams, Corporate Policy Officer at SYMCA, presented a review of the Spring budget and his key points were:

  • Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) are now being wound down, however as Sheffield City Region LEP is already well integrated with SYMCA there will be less impact in our region than others.
  • South Yorkshire is one of the 12 Investment Zones announced by the government as part of its ‘levelling up’ initiative. Going live in 2024/25, the focus is on supporting businesses to make investment. Whilst the proposed plans for South Yorkshire’s Investment Zone aren’t ready yet, Andy Gates from SYMCA said they would be able to give an update soon.
  • The local economic picture is starting to show the impact of uncertainty caused by inflation. This is affecting business decisions around investment and hiring, with unemployment levels creeping up.
  • Whilst energy prices are starting to fall, the biggest concern is inflation along with interest and business rates.
  • Dan Fell, CEO of Doncaster Chamber, commented “South Yorkshire is badly in need of a win. How do we get the message out to build confidence?” No one had an answer to this, other than to note that it’s a question everyone’s been asking for years. SYMCA’s policy team is exploring areas of growth including digital, advanced manufacturing and culture.

Mel’s take: The Investment Zone opportunity is very interesting and definitely relevant to our sector and the continuing development of South Yorkshire’s digital cluster. The key will be making sure that we are considered within the planning. As soon as we hear more from Andy Gates and his team, I expect we will be asking the Sheffield Digital community for your views – but feel free to get in touch if you have thoughts now.

The issue of “how do we get the message out” is something I’ve been hearing ever since I moved to Sheffield (30+ years ago!). As I see it, the problem is that people get hung up on trying to figure out what the message should be, although we have seen some excellent work by Mark Mobbs and his team at Sheffield City Council. My take on it is quite simple – make a proper investment into marketing expertise and resource for the region because, apart from going to MIPIM, that’s something we’ve never done. We have no shortage of great stories to tell – just no resource for telling them.

Introducing Hybrid Air Vehicles

Hybrid Air Vehicles is an aerospace start-up that is about to set up their production base in Doncaster. Their product, Airlander, is a modern take on the airship and its technology means it provides a 90% reduction in emissions compared to like-for-like large aircraft. Hybrid Air Vehicles aim to be a replacement for regional aircraft (20-30% of their market) and surface transport (60-70%). They want to have a prototype produced in Doncaster in the air by 2025 and to have aircraft in service by 2027.

The start-up expects to create around 1200 highly skilled, well paid jobs in the region and they want to be an inspiration for the region, particularly for young people.

Tom Grundy, CEO of Hybrid Air Vehicles, spoke at the meeting and explained that the start-up secured £7m as an investment loan from the region. He also said that the region had done a good job of attracting them and creating positive conditions to set up here. The company will bring additional inward investment which they are hoping to have in place by the middle of this year.

Mel’s take: this is a very exciting development and one I can’t believe I’d missed. It is bound to create opportunities for our region’s tech businesses. Tom was interested to hear about Sheffield Digital and said that he would like to understand more about the region’s tech capabilities and how we could support their operation. I’ve made contact and hope we’ll have more information to share before too long.

A presentation from Northern Gritstone

This followed on from Andy Hogben’s presentation at the last SYMCA meeting about The University of Sheffield spin-outs.

Duncan Johnson from Northern Gritstone spoke, sharing these key points:

  • Universities in the North of England are very good at research – Leeds, Manchester & Sheffield are world-leading – but the challenge is turning that excellence into world-leading businesses.
  • The importance of place – the role of investment in catalysing a whole tech ecosystem in the North; Northern Gritstone wants to create the Silicon Valley of the North.
  • Duncan emphasised the need to attract human capital to the region and he described infrastructure as ‘patchy’ across the North, saying that the AMRC is amazing but we need to talk about it more – it’s still a “best kept secret”.
  • They have raised £250m so far and will end up at £350-£400m. They have already leveraged 4 times that much with other investors, and have an impressive list of co-investors.
  • SYMCA are backing the fund, as are the other Combined Authorities in Manchester & Leeds, plus South Yorkshire pensions.

You can have a look at Duncan’s presentation here.

Mel’s take: Northern Gritstone has already invested in South Yorkshire companies Iceotope  and Opteran , and most recently in Phlux. Duncan is absolutely right that having a strong investment offer is a vital part of building a vibrant innovation ecosystem and he also mentioned the importance of community. If you are interested in making connections with any of Northern Gritstone’s companies, let us know and we’ll try to broker introductions.


A quick update on Doncaster airport – they are still fighting to re-open it, there is private sector interest, support from the local authority and a possible use of the compulsory purchase order process. They are creating a fighting fund and a project team.

Share your views

Do you have questions or feedback about anything covered in this meeting? Is there something you’d like us to raise at the next Business Advisory Group meeting? Please email us on