THE BLOG
30/09/2013 06:03 BST | Updated 27/11/2013 05:12 GMT

Finally, a Northern Alternative to London?

The BBC may have claimed the flagship role in the public eye, but the shamelessly geeky digital and technology startups that shared their communal spaces impressed the most. This is no token effort at Northern development, potential for investment is very real and great things are already being accomplished in digital content production and user experience development.

I'm going start this off with a confession: I am a Northerner. Yorkshire to be precise. I've never been to Tech City and, although I laugh politely whenever someone makes a joke about the congestion charge, I am not in any way fluent in 'London'.

It's not a bad life though, being from the North. I've owned and operated my own car since high school, I receive pleasing comparisons to some of the more rugged protagonists in Game of Thrones, and I can still expect to pocket change from a tenner after a few real ales and a meat pie in my local.

However, it is quickly becoming apparent that nowadays there is much more to the wind-beaten urban centres and grassy plains of the North than meets the eye - we are witnessing a real uprising, led this time not by the grizzled swordsman of the Stark Family, but by a surge of economic activity and investment.

I recently participated in the UKTI Global Graduate Entrepreneurs Festival, held in Manchester. Exactly 150 years after it was granted city status, Manchester played host to 175 graduates from over 40 countries who came to forge relationships, advance business ideas and drink the pubs dry.

Dreams were big, egos were bigger. There wasn't much time for reflection in between interacting with panels of successful entrepreneurs and brainstorming sessions, but I'm positive every single attendee was awestruck by the city as the adrenaline seeped away on their journey home.

As a proud Yorkshireman it's going to pain me to say this, but right now Manchester is the future. Efficient street trams shuttle professionals in between the city's quarters - each with their own distinct character. The impressive straight-line architecture of Spinningfields subtly displays flashes of the high end designer brands it houses, enticing passersby to explore its towering corridors.

During the festival we also visited Old Trafford - an iconic structure instantly recognised by UKTI Festival Attendees hailing from Merseyside to Mexico. The former attempted to hide their appreciation of the stadium beneath a sneer, while the latter packed out the gift shop to buy the ubiquitous shirt of the Red Devils for family members back home.

All of this is capped off by Media City - the glittering £650 million jewel in the crown of Manchester. Until recently I, like many people, knew it simply as 'that place the BBC moved to', so I received a shock upon arrival to find a thriving infrastructure of big businesses mingling with bleeding edge tech startups, complete with integrated amenities and housing to keep the young talent entertained.

The BBC may have claimed the flagship role in the public eye, but the shamelessly geeky digital and technology startups that shared their communal spaces impressed the most. This is no token effort at Northern development, potential for investment is very real and great things are already being accomplished in digital content production and user experience development.

The overriding impression Manchester left with me as I was whipped back to God's Own County on the TransPennine Express was that it is becoming a sort of 'London Lite' - offering virtually all of the flash and promise of its Southern counterpart but with considerably more value for money.

It seems likely that in the next decade or so, as places like Manchester continue to attract a bigger slice of digital talent, people both in the UK and abroad will start to warm to the North as a serious economic prospect. London will always be a fantastic city, one of the true global centres for creativity; however the illusion that the UK stops at the M25 could begin to evaporate as people realise that places like Manchester can offer the big city experience, complete with opportunities for investment and career advancement, at a bargain price.