Innovation led by the Old Skool?

Just back from visit to my home town, the claimed birthplace of Marxism, Rolls Royce, computing, Marks & Spencer, atom-splitting and railways. Things have changed in Manchester.

Most obvious are the discretely shuttered high-end shops on South Deansgate. Remaining estate agents in the parade stick out in a gap-toothed grin in the rain. A dozen expensive red metal wedges get wet outside the Ferrari showroom. I wondered when this town, which has waxed and waned more than most, will see its next boom. Rather like the high tech industry, fathered here, some sort of rebirth has got this way to come.

Perhaps the answer already exists. A bright new poster at the Trafford end of Deansgate (the end nearest to global brand Manchester United’s ground) proclaims ‘Welcome to Manchester’. The renaissance of the only team in the Premiership founded by a woman, is an example of an underperforming brand receiving much-needed overseas investment and dusting itself off in the bad times in search of better.

Meanwhile, amid tech industry despair that start-up funding has dried up, maybe the ‘Old Crew’ will also be the catalyst for new hope. Microsoft has finally responded to the decline of its core markets, challenging its decades-younger rival, Google and collaborating with others like Yahoo! Software As A Service, has finally lured the once sceptical European goliath SAP to act like a David and serial speed-dater, Oracle has waltzed another fine San Franciscan filly up the aisle.

In times of boom, innovation comes from the disillusioned, the hopeful and the nimble. Down times signal the revenge of the patient. Most likely the Next Big Thing is already coming to a software company and perhaps a town-centre near you, but it may be incubating inside the survivors – because only they write the history books.

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