By Lal Tawney, Director of Whitecap Consulting Ltd


Lal Tawney from Whitecap Consulting gives us an insight into the ongoing Milton Keynes Tech Ecosystem Project, a report conducting an analysis of the tech ecosystem in Milton Keynes, in partnership with Protospace.

Please tell us a bit about yourself.

I've lived in Milton Keynes ever since arriving here for my first job from university back in the early 90s. I thought I'd be here for two years, and many years on I'm still here! So I'm now a big fan of MK and I’ve got a vested interest in its growth. I love the place. I've worked for several organisations here, such as Abbey National, Santander and the Open University. I'm also on the board of the Stables Theatre in Wavendon and I’m so proud to be part of that.

Please tell us about Whitecap Consulting and some of your key areas of interest in Milton Keynes.

Whitecap Consulting is a strategy consultancy firm which helps organisations with their strategic challenges. We help them analyse what's going on at the moment and look at what might happen in the future, and we guide them through options of what they can do going forward.

We're sector agnostic – for example, we work with universities, manufacturers, retailers, banks. We're based in six cities across the UK, including Milton Keynes, and we’re keen to support and work with local organisations – in all of these cities we've undertaken a local ecosystem analysis. We've looked at a number of sectors in different regions, such as FinTech in Leeds or LegalTech in Bristol and Bath, and we've started to understand what's happening in those sectors from an ecosystem perspective. We've built up an approach to working with different stakeholders in these regions to really understand what the opportunities are for the sector to grow.

Please tell us a bit more about the report you’re working on. Firstly, who's supporting it?

About a year ago, I was in conversation with Oliver Waters from Protospace, which is an organisation that has been supported by Milton Keynes Council to help bring the tech sector together. Oliver and I realised that there's a lot of tech activity in Milton Keynes, but we didn't feel it was as well connected as it could be. We also didn't know the full breadth of what tech assets and tech organisations were in Milton Keynes. We discussed an ecosystem analysis and suggested that we might be able to do one for MK, to understand its strengths, weaknesses and opportunities from a tech perspective, and the assets that we have here, but also what's needed for the tech ecosystem to grow here.

We put together a proposal and, as we have done with ecosystem analysis in other cities, sought a number of different sponsors to support the project. The reason for doing this is that we want a range of organisations behind it; we've got a steering group of them that are helping us move the project forward, made up of Milton Keynes Council, MK College, the Institute of Technology, Santander, the Open University, the University of Buckingham and Mazars.

What's the aim of the report?

The aim of the report is to understand the tech sector, and the assets and strength of tech, in Milton Keynes today, but also to ask some challenging questions to the sector. What is it that we need to do to move the sector forward and to be a real hub for the future? What's missing today? What are we missing in terms of what's required to grow MK as a tech sector, whether that's, for example, accelerators for tech organisations, funding support or the supply of talent into MK? It's really to put a snapshot together looking at today but with opportunities listed and recommendations of how Milton Keynes moves forward.

Lal Tawney

What impact do you think the report will have?

The report will show how important the tech sector is for the economy of Milton Keynes – we’ve calculated the GVA (gross value added) from a tech perspective – and it’s very impressive! The report will also outline the opportunities for continued growth for tech in the city so I do hope the report acts as a catalyst.

What is it about Milton Keynes that shows there is potential for a tech community?

We've done a lot of desk research for this project to understand the tech organisations that are here in Milton Keynes, the strengths we’ve got, and we've also interviewed coming up to 40 stakeholders across the city, including MK:U, some of the corporates and some of the entrepreneurs and the tech networks. So there’s a real breadth of organisations that we've invited to give their perspectives on MK and tech.

From that, we're getting some clarity around what MK has got today in terms of its assets, and I think what we'll find is that we've got a large network of tech companies – there are so many. We've got a reputation for being a test bed location, for example, with autonomous vehicles, robots and 5G connectivity. We've also got some great global organisations in MK – such as Santander, the OU, Red Bull and Network Rail – as well as a big supply of tech entrepreneurs and smaller tech businesses.

Why do you feel that now is the time to be looking into this?

There are a number of things going on that make this the right time. First of all, if I reflect on the conversation that I had with Oliver about 12 months ago, we felt that Milton Keynes could be more connected from a tech perspective. The reason why Protospace was set up is because we're trying to bring the tech network together – there is a need for more collaboration in MK, with all parts of the ecosystem.

Milton Keynes’s smaller businesses and local universities, including MK:U, are becoming much more prominent and I think that means it’s the right time to start to bring these organisations and the whole tech community together for the benefit of MK. And that's the key thing: it's not necessarily about your own organisation; Milton Keynes needs to be an attractive place for tech employees in the future. If you compare MK with somewhere like Oxford or Cambridge, there you'll see a number of organisations – in the tech or life sciences sector, for example – where you can stay in that region and develop your career, move from organisation to organisation, or have the benefit of them being in the same place. And I think Milton Keynes has to think about how to be attractive for future tech talent.

What are you already starting to find about the tech community in MK?

The point around collaboration and coming together for the benefit of MK has been coming through loud and clear from the interviews that we've had with different stakeholders. So we need to ask, what do we need to do to bring that tech community together?

When do you expect the report to be published and how can people follow what you're doing?

Our target is for the report to be published in July 2022 and we have a page on our website dedicated to the project where you can find out more. We’ll also do a further blog post on all of the findings once the report has been published.