Lessons from Tech Climbers: From Unicorns to Zebras, IP strategies and AI impact

Last week I had the pleasure of joining the Tech Climbers Yorkshire Launch event in Leeds, bringing together founders and tech enthusiasts and advisors from across the region’s start-up and scale-up communities.  

While technically networking events and the like have been back in person for a while now, I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling a sense of rustiness post-pandemic (are handshakes still a thing?). Happily, this event was a great success, and kudos to the organisers and the brilliant host, Chris Maguire, executive editor of BusinessCloud. Here are five insights I took away from the events advisory and founder panels: 

1. There are many ways to skin a… Zebra?  

The prized ‘unicorn’ status is still highly coveted in the start-up world, but especially in a tricky economy, there’s a growing realisation there is more than one way to grow a successful tech business. ‘Zebra’ is a label that’s been emerging more and more in recent years, referring to businesses that are more focused on organic growth and building revenues as opposed to the traditional hyper-growth, VC funding-backed approach. The advisory panel discussed how these principles are starting to win out, producing quietly resilient start-ups that are coming out of recession and VC purse-string tightening era stronger than ever.   

2. Founders – shout up about your ideas! 

Zandra Moore, CEO and Co-Founder at data analytics firm, Panintelligence, gave her brilliant advice to startups and founders: “shy bairns get nowt” – or, in other words, if you don’t ask, you don’t get! She urged others starting out to tell as many people as you can about your idea, get support and get feedback. Keeping great ideas close to your chest will only slow you down.  

3. And when you’ve hit success, re-invest 

Speaking of founders and entrepreneurs, Zandra also called on those who’ve already hit the big time to reinvest in the industry and support new and emerging tech founders. This is starting to happen, she said, but much more is desperately needed especially for businesses outside of London and those founded by women.  

4. The only way to protect your IP? Get ahead  

When asked about their IP strategy, Alex Craven’s advice – co-founder of The Data City – was interesting. Instead of paying too much attention in the early stages to safeguarding and gatekeeping your IP, focus on always trying to stay “six months ahead” – with the idea being by the time your competitors catch up, your technology has already far surpassed it. Perhaps easier said than done, but a logic you can’t knock.   

5. Yes, they did talk about AI. No, it’s not going away.  

It wouldn’t be a tech talk in 2023 without mention of Artificial Intelligence, would it? Interestingly, even the lawyers and accountancy specialists of the advisory panel called out how important it is becoming even to professional services businesses like themselves. The resounding feeling? AI isn’t perfect, but it’s here to stay whether you get ahead of the curve or not.  

The Tech Climbers event was an energising gathering of tech leaders that truly showcased the strength of British tech beyond the traditional capital hub. Well-curated panels were brimming with fresh insights and perspectives: from redefining success beyond unicorn status to the power of sharing ideas and reinvesting in the industry. 

Founders new and old feel more optimistic about the future post-downturn, and I sense that by embracing these new, evolving definitions of what growth and success look like is going to be critical to making a new breed of more resilient, adaptable startups.