C4DI marks a decade of delivery as final piece in Hull tech hub jigsaw completes

A decade of delivery for Hull digital hub C4DI has been celebrated as the fifth and final building within the Fruit Market tech cluster was unveiled.

Innovation has abounded from the closely-knit community inspired by the leap of faith into a bricks and mortar base. It was the toast of the city on a high with its devolution deal and a national spotlight as it hosted the BBC’s flagship news programme following the Autumn Statement. But it was the statement buildings and, furthermore, the activity within and acumen that brought it all together that put the fizz in the room.

With voice of the city David Burns hosting, a party atmosphere marked a very special milestone. Now as the model is rolled out and international partnerships are forged, the architects of the assembled network at the heart of the city’s waterfront regeneration have given their take on the achievement.

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John Connolly, co-founder and managing director, said the real success story is the community that has flourished there, with 350-plus businesses and thousands of people passing through.

Vidly remembering sitting alone in C4DI Beta – a proof of concept office on Queen Street, in Hull’s yet-to-be revitalised Fruit Market back in 2013, he said: “It is an achievement reaching our tenth anniversary, but the real celebration for me is in the number and range of business that we’ve helped on their journey since we started. That’s the success.

He told how when city-based developer Wykeland first floated the idea of building a tech hub in Hull in 2012, it quickly became apparent that it needed to be more than just a physical building.

“We quickly realised that there were a lot of people who were all asking the same question,” saif John, “I’m a developer, I’m a designer, I’m a techie – can you help me build a tech business in Hull?’ Or ‘I’m looking to be the next Google or Instagram, can you help me take my business to the next level?’ Alongside that, traditional businesses were asking us – ‘can you help us fix this tech issue?’

Founding fathers: C4DI's David Keel and John Connolly, right, with Wykeland managing director Dominic Gibbons.
Founding fathers: C4DI’s David Keel and John Connolly, right, with Wykeland managing director Dominic Gibbons.

“Where C4DI has succeeded over the past ten years, and where it’s strength lies, is in bringing those two different groups together to collaborate. We sit between two worlds. The new and the innovative and the established and traditional. That mould is unique to C4DI and how we remain self-sustaining.”

As well as an impressive range of successful businesses which have used C4DI as both their incubator and launchpad to international success, the phased development has also attracted major global corporations to Hull; companies willing to collaborate and capitalise on the innovation and knowhow of the centre’s growing roll call of tech experts.

During the past decade heavyweights such as Boots, Saab, Nestle, Siemens, Smith & Nephew, GXO and GSK have rubbed shoulders with an array of start-ups given the platform and support to grow at C4DI.

Empowered by this local tech businesses such as Rubicon, N-Fire Labs, Vertual, Dojo, Sauce, T=0 and many others have flourished, creating a digital and tech economy and hundreds of jobs that simply didn’t exist in Hull before. In all, around 700 businesses have called C4DI home since its inception. An impressive number, creating footfall to support the regenerating Fruit Market and Marina that it sits in.

“You can look around and there are dozens of examples of businesses start-ups and scale-ups that have been able to grow and employ people helped by the connections that they’ve made with traditional business through C4DI,” John said. “We have big companies in Hull now that have never traditionally done business here in the city, because of this community we’ve built.

“If you sit outside at lunchtime and watch everyone having a bite to eat at Nibble, you can see people from all walks of life. Individual techies, people working for multi-nationals, people running start-ups and everyone in between. Together, that’s creating something really good. That’s well worth celebrating for our 10th anniversary.”

Tenants extra: Occupiers on C4DI.
Tenants extra: Occupiers on C4DI.

His co-founder was David Keel, who continues to sit as chair of C4DI.

Having built the hugely successful digital packaging business Trident in Hull, employing 750 people and boasting customers all around the world, he’s seen first hand that success breeds success.

“I remember when we moved 250 people to our new offices in Beverley, there was a sandwich shop around the corner. The day after we moved in, they were advertising for more staff. It’s not just the thing that you are creating, it’s the knock on effect on everything around it that it boosts as well.

“To have the opportunity to do something like that is amazing. To create something like the C4DI changes the shape of a city. It’s been a huge part of the revival of this area. They even built a bridge to get to this side of town!”

He looks at what the team has achieved in this once derelict area with a great deal of pride. As a youngster, his stepdad would let him steer the New Holland Ferry he piloted across the Humber as a Christmas Eve treat; setting off just yards away from where the jutting C4DI building now stands. You sense it gives him a great deal of satisfaction for life to have come back full circle, with the role played for the next generation.

He says there hasn’t been much time to stop and reflect on the major journey that C4DI has been on since its inception in 2013, but now, on its tenth anniversary and the completion of the tech campus that surrounds it, it may be a good time to take stock.

“I remember when this building opened and we first walked around and thought ‘wow, it’s real’. We had to just take a minute to breathe it in – then went to Thieving Harry’s for a coffee and immediately got back to work.

“For me, the new building isn’t just a new building, it’s a statement of intent, a beacon. You can go to a lot of towns, but it isn’t always obvious that there’s any joined-up thinking behind new buildings. Here it’s obvious, it’s the last part of a very expensive jigsaw puzzle!”

The initial steelwork goes up on the original newbuild.
The initial steelwork goes up on the original newbuild.

What that puzzle solves is the provision of a platform for opportunity for Hull, a whole economy that simply didn’t exist before.

“We’ve now got people from some of the biggest businesses in the world coming to Hull to work with us. It’s remarkable how many of these people say they’d never thought about Hull before. One of my favourite stories is talking to one of the bosses from one of these big global companies, sat outside having something to eat, and he said ‘it’s actually really nice here, I think I’ll bring my partner back one weekend for a look around’. That’s the sort of thing that realty helps leave a lasting legacy.”

While it is chiefly about the people, regeneration plugging into the pioneering delivery of gigafast broadband had been the foundation, with KCom’s fibre network propelling Hull to the top of UK connectivity charts, thanks to its celebrated vision.

Wykeland managing director Dominic Gibbons said: “Some thought it was going to be like a gym membership for techies, something that people joined and people used only occasionally, but it quickly became clear it was completely different from that. It was a place where start-up and scale-up tech ventures came together to collaborate and where traditional businesses could come for help from these innovative smaller businesses bursting with ideas and innovation to help them embrace technology to move and adapt quicker.

“As that first year progressed, it gave us the confidence to press the button and build the first @TheDock building, which was C4DI.”

What had started out as a speculative vision to unlock the region’s pent-up tech and digital potential, quickly gathered pace.

Following the completion of the landmark, first C4DI building, looking out across the Humber and River Hull, more development has followed. Phases of development within @TheDock and the wider Fruit Market area, have created the environment for major international players, such as Saab, and the UK’s leading safety wear and equipment specialist, home-grown Arco, to collaborate with pioneering tech businesses.

Building two was up in 2016, a third in 2018 and the fourth – delivered through Covid – in 2021. There’s also a second campus under the brand, at a former prison in Northallerton, North Yorkshire. Inbetween these key dates, everything from world-beating cancer treatment software to integrated fintech card payment machines, worldwide distribution for dance music and industry-leading healthcare tech – have all rooted themselves in the community, building global reputations from this rejuvenated corner of Hull.

The completed C4DI @The Dock tech hub, at the heart of Hull's Fuit Market redevelopment.
The completed C4DI @The Dock tech hub, at the heart of Hull’s Fuit Market redevelopment.

The @TheDock development also includes eateries Nibble, Next Door By Nibble and Berts, as well as the successful 350-seat amphitheatre over the listed Central Dry Dock.

Dominic takes up the present day tale. The final building within the @TheDock development marks the culmination in Hull – a decade of delivery indeed, and a dream longer in the making – and reflects business’ role in the environment too. The 11,000 sq ft addition is a net zero building, with green roof, solar, and EV charging.

He said: “I’m delighted to see this final phase of the development complete and ready to welcome even more innovative tech businesses as well as major global brands who collaborate with the ever-growing digital community.

“It’s great when you reach the conclusion of a major project like this, that has gone from a concept to a major development and the creation of a new digital community. People don’t see the trials and tribulations of developing and delivering a project such as this, but looking back over the past ten years, we are immensely proud of what has been achieved collaboratively.

“We talk a lot about ‘patient capital’, which is investing for the long term, knowing that, if you have the right strategy and people in place, it will all come together. That’s what C4DI, @TheDock and the wider Fruit Market regeneration has been. It takes time and patience. Being born in Hull and, with Wykeland being a local business committed to this region, it means so much to see decisions made 10 years ago make a real, lasting impact on the city and wider area.”

It stemmed from a 2010-commissioned Hull City Council report into the tech sector. With KCom and the university, Wykeland had hosted workshops and online questionnaires. It was how John was introduced.

“The conclusion we came to pretty quickly was that it wasn’t about the building itself; it was more about what was going to happen inside, it was about people. Obviously, great buildings help. It was important the first C4DI building was a statement – it had a striking design and set the tone for the @TheDock development and the wider regeneration of the Fruit Market.

“But, before we got to the design stage, we had to work out what the building’s purpose was – and that was people working collaboratively to create a sustainable tech community.”

The C4DI @TheDock compex is an impressive statement build on Hull's waterfront.
The C4DI @TheDock compex is an impressive statement build on Hull’s waterfront.

Pioneering fibre to the premises played a key part

KCom chief executive Tim Shaw said: “If you go back ten years to when C4DI started it was around the time that we started to roll out our fibre network – and fibre wasn’t as readily available in the UK as it is today.

“If you look at how tech businesses survive it’s not just in isolation. That’s what so special about C4DI – it’s working in partnership with others to create an environment where everyone can thrive together.”

By working together, the trio of KCom, Wykeland and C4DI managed to achieve something that was greater than the sum of its parts, Tim said. “KCom can bring the infrastructure, creating the most connected city in the UK. Wykeland is a fantastic property developer with the foresight to build the environment and C4DI provides the way to bring people and businesses together. Neither one of us would’ve succeeded on our own of we had tried to do it but, actually, the coming together and forming the partnership that we’ve had over the last 10 years has created something quite special here in Hull.

“There’s not many places I’ve been to around the UK that have this level of innovation and digital skills in a campus style environment, like they do at C4DI.”

“C4DI works by bringing customers and clients into the centre to innovate and collaborate with them. Once they’re here, the best way to do that is by connecting to them seamlessly and instantly – and that’s what KCom has provided during the last decade.

“If you just look over the last 10 years and see how this campus has grown – and continues to grow – it’s a phenomenal achievement. It’s extremely rewarding to see all the new local companies coming through and more international brands working with the C4DI team, using our infrastructure, to innovate and take their products forward.

“And I’m sure this is just the start and there will be plenty more to come.”

Original artice – https://business-live.co.uk/all-about/yorkshire-humber

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