Kate Adam in Tech & Digital

20/07/2015

I Love Working In…Manchester - Skylab

Manchester is a thriving hub of creative activity. From MediaCityUK in the newly redeveloped Salford Quays, to the bustling offices littering the city’s creative corridor, the area has no shortage of ingenuity and innovation. 

Nigel Collier

To find out what makes the city so welcoming to creative businesses, we spoke to Nigel Collier, Managing Director of the Manchester based digital agency Skylab who specialise in digital strategy and the creation of apps, websites and video platforms.

After a storied career that saw him work at Sony, create a series of games for the Olympic Committee and fight off the likes of Electronic Arts and Konami to with the BAFTA award for Best Sports Game of the Year, Nigel relocated to his native Manchester to lead and create his own digital studio.  It’s here where his team created the MediaTank platform which allows start-ups to manage all video content for all projects in one place.

Here, Nigel explains what Manchester has to offer creative entrepreneurs and why he loves working in the area…

How long have you been working in Manchester and the North West for? 

In my role as MD of Skylab, it’s around 10 years, having started the company in 2005. I’ve travelled the world prior to that but I was born and bred in Manchester and I am a big fan and advocate for the city.

In your opinion, what is it about Manchester that makes it a great place for creative companies to work?

Manchester is a creative hub that embraces music, art, design, film and video production as well as technically creative areas such as programming, architecture and many other skills and sectors that blend design and technology. There is very definitely an attitude that says, ‘Let’s invent the future’.

Skylab_Meeting

Despite having lived in various places around the UK such as London, Birmingham and Newcastle and despite living abroad in places like Holland and Canada and working on projects that took me to the US, Japan and Australia, I’ve always been a big fan of Manchester for its never-ending stream of creative talent. With apologies to Morrissey for paraphrasing and probably getting this completely wrong but I think Morrissey said something like, ‘the reason why there is so much creative talent in Manchester is due to the weather. If we can’t go out and play, we stay indoors, write music and get creative’. Having said that, I don’t think the weather in Manchester is that bad at all but I absolutely understand what he was saying about people staying in and being creative. I used to do that…a lot! 

Why did you decide to set up the Skylab / MediaTank HQ here?

I’ve worked on projects in many countries and the sheer scale of Manchester’s creative community and the ambition of the city for the future is as good a reason as any.

How supportive is it to emerging creative companies?

I believe Manchester has the opportunity to become an important international hub for digital companies. The desire is there on a local government level, specifically with the leadership of Sir Howard Bernstein who I admire for his drive and ambition for the city but there is still a shortage of digital skills that could cause us to stumble. We need many, many more programmers in the region than we have currently and we need many more female programmers as well. We also need more medium and long-term initiatives from central government to help support digital education, digital jobs and digital companies, before we can realise that ambition.

We are at the very beginning of the Internet Age and this is the most important time in human history. Manchester has an opportunity to take a global lead in various areas of the digital world. However it feels like Manchester is putting itself on the digital map out of sheer effort and bloody-mindedness, rather than by central government saying, ‘Let’s really get behind the creation of Manchester as a digital city’. The opportunity that central government has now is to invest heavily in Manchester as a digital city, then for Manchester to capitalise on that expertise and sell it around the world. Maybe the devolution agenda will see new digital models emerge?

Skylab office & Employees

From your experience, what is the creative scene like in Manchester?

Effervescent.

How has working in Manchester specifically influenced MediaTank or the formation of Skylab?

Skylab was formed in Manchester. Not only is it where I’m from but when I chose the lesser trodden path of starting a digital agency, it seemed like the perfect place, due to the large creative pool of talent.

MediaTank definitely has Manchester in its heart as it’s the result of the freedom and desire to invent, a theme that runs right through Manchester’s history.

MediaTank is an online video platform that allows anyone to broadcast anything to everyone. That’s a pretty all-encompassing global vision and I think that fits in well with Manchester’s vision to be a leading city on the world stage, specifically when you consider that Manchester is leading the way in the devolution agenda.

Do you think there’s a distinctive style to the ideas that come out of the North?

The ideas that are born in the North are anchored in world-class vision and are brave enough to fight through adversity and invent the future.

Why do you love working in Manchester?

Manchester is full of very talented, very creative people who have the potential to change the world. Marry that with great music, great art, great sport, great nightlife and great commercial opportunities and it’s a pretty enticing blend.

To find out more about how Creative England supports regional businesses, visit our Business page.

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