Home Technology & Digital Bradford IT pioneer makes extraordinary pledge to boost home city

Bradford IT pioneer makes extraordinary pledge to boost home city

A leading Bradford IT pioneer is so impressed with plans to improve the city centre that he pledged £25,000 to the proposed Business Improvement District.

Mark Cowgill, co-founder and director of Exa Networks – one of the UK’s leading internet service providers for schools and businesses – said the BID’s plans were so important to the future of the city that he wanted to encourage as many city centre firms as possible to support it.

“We knew our headquarters were outside the original demise area but, for us, it was a no-brainer to support it – even though we were not going to benefit directly from being part of it,” said Mark.

“The fact that the demise area has now expanded to take in Bolton Road, where we’re based, is fantastic – but we were determined to help get the BID off the ground and we put up the money to help ensure it happens.”

More than 600 city centre-based businesses and organisations – including local and national retailers, leisure and hospitality firms, professional and legal services companies and others – will be balloted on whether the BID should go ahead in September.

If the ballot is successful, they will all pay a levy which will raise more than £2.5 million over the five years of the scheme to pay for projects to improve the city centre.

Mr Cowgill said: “I think it’s absolutely vital to Bradford. The city has not lived up to its potential for a long time and I think it’s essential we raise our game.

“A lot of stuff that’s happened here over the last few years, with The Broadway and developments like Sunbridge Wells, has been great but it just needs that little bit more. I believe the BID is how we’re going to do it. It has the ability to give us that final nudge over the line we need.”

Exa Networks was founded in 2003 by Mark, Thomas Mangin and Michael Syree. It is now one of the leading internet connectivity providers for schools and businesses across the UK. The multi-award-winning, home-grown success story’s achievements have included the development of a network tool (ExaBGP) used by some of the world’s biggest companies, including Microsoft, Twitter and Facebook.

It recently introducing the fastest internet capability in the world (DarkLight), to businesses across Yorkshire. The technology is a pure fibre connection which is not restricted by having to use third-party infrastructure or limited bandwidth. It means businesses will not only enjoy ultra-fast connections but will only ever need the one line because it can be scaled up in minutes to meet their needs, no matter how much they expand.

Mr Cowgill says the BID can only be good for business: “Any business that says it’s supporting it for completely unselfish reasons is lying; we all have reasons why we want to see Bradford succeed.

“For us, we’re a growing business, we have staff coming in to work for us but people get their eyes turned like magpies: if there’s something shiny over at Manchester or Leeds, it’s more attractive to go work there. And that’s generally about what it’s like in the city centre, rather than what the job is.

“We support Northern Powerhouse Rail and a city centre station wholeheartedly and the BID is part of working towards that. If we can make Bradford an attractive place to come and hang out and to work in, it’s going to be easier to find staff – and retain them.”
What does he hope the BID will achieve?

“I want the perception of Bradford – as being second rate to some of the other cities around to improve,” he says. “I think as Bradfordians we’ve been our own worst enemies sometimes. Some people say it’s not a safe place because it has a diverse culture but every town and city in Britain has a diverse culture; Bradford’s no different, no better, no worse – it’s just a perception.

“It’s in all of our interests that Bradford is successful and safe and clean and it’s got a night time entertainment area and that it’s a proper, buzzing city.

“And if businesses are thinking about whether they should or shouldn’t support the BID, I’d ask them: Do you want the city to be successful and, therefore, your company to be successful as well? Who’s going to say ‘No’ to that? And if you do, why are you in business? I’d urge every business in the city centre to vote ‘Yes’ when the ballot comes around in September.”

Ian Ward, chairman of the BID Development Board, said: “Mark’s support for the BID is amazing. He’s totally committed to Bradford and we thought his offer to put up £25,000 to support it, no strings attached, was fantastic and a real testament to his belief in the city.

“We’re really pleased that we’ve been able to expand the BID’s demise area and we know Mark and his team will make an extremely significant contribution to the whole project.”