The city of Sheffield has come to be synonymous with a variety of things over the past couple of centuries. Steel may be an obvious one, but it is also home to the world's oldest football club, and in more creative fields the city punches above its weight when it comes to providing musicians – from renowned vocalist Joe Cocker, through 1980s legends Human League, Def Leppard and ABC, to more contemporary acts such as Pulp and the Arctic Monkeys – and it has been the setting for various films, including the Full Monty and the History Boys.
Another string, however, that the city is adding to its considerable bows is its growing reputation as a hub for digital media and information and communications technology (ICT).
A big plus
One person who exemplifies Sheffield's ICT excellence is Lee Strafford, the co-founder of internet services provider Plusnet. After selling the company to BT in January 2007 in a deal worth a reported £67m ($103m), Mr Strafford has been putting his energies into what he describes as “helping young people outdo me”. While working with the Sheffield City Region Local Enterprise Partnership, local councils and universities, Mr Strafford co-created CloudCity Programme, a scheme designed to attract more tech-related jobs to the region. The initiative, which was launched in November 2012, has a particular focus on supporting green data centres and cloud providers.
“CloudCity is all about our recognition of what works in the area. We have immense potential, and where we have failed until now is in identifying what assets we really have, and what we can offer,” says Mr Strafford.
One of the first to recognise these assets was David Richards, the co-founder of Wandisco, a company that creates specialised software for distributed computing. Soon after founding the company in Silicon Valley in 2005, Wandisco's founders started looking for a cheaper location to outsource part of its operations.
Mr Richards is originally from Sheffield, but he says that his decision to locate in the city was not based on sentiment. “We actually tried London first, but we could not find the right candidates for the remuneration we offered at that time,” he says. Then, in 2009, Wandisco approached Sheffield's city council to ask about potential incentives should the company move part of its operation to the city and create 10 jobs.
Fast-forward four years, and Wandisco's Sheffield office employs 70 people (nearly twice the headcount of its US office), with Mr Richards stating that the company, which in April 2012 floated on the London Stock Exchange, owes much of its success to its Sheffield connection.
Sheffield's creativity is celebrated with its annual documentary and media festival Sheffield Doc/Fest, which this year celebrates its 20th anniversary. One of Doc/Fest's more innovative ideas is MeetMarket, a matchmaking service between film-makers and sponsors.
“When I was appointed in 2006 the festival was losing visitors. I thought that we needed something to bring together busy people from the movie industry in Sheffield. MeetMarket makes their time worthwhile, judging by the number of visitors, which is growing at an unbelievable rate,” says Heather Croall, director of Doc/Fest. According to the festival organisers, between 2006 and 2012 more than $41m was raised for 369 new productions thanks in no small part to MeetMarket.