Cornish software company Headforwards is celebrating its tenth birthday having grown to be one of the largest tech companies in the region.
The £7 million turnover business, with almost 100 staff, was co-founded by directors Craig Girvan and Toby Parkins in 2011 after a chance conversation at a barbecue with a company that was having difficulty finding a good outsource software development provider.
Parkins said: “They were talking about how you never get the right people, and how outsource companies just pull anyone off the bench to work on a project. I knew instantly that I could put together a brilliant team for them – and the whole concept of Headforwards was founded in that moment.”
Parkins took his thoughts to Girvan, a computer science graduate and software developer who had cut his teeth with IT multinational Logica, and latterly Tesco as a software project leader.
Between them they sketched a vision of a new kind of outsource company, one that would create hand-picked software teams for individual clients.
Girvan said: “It’s about picking the right people for each client, rather than running a bench that you just throw problems at. It may be slightly less efficient for us, but the client gets much better quality and value, and that’s what matters.”
Headforwards’ approach has created teams that are with clients for the long-term, so knowledge can be built up, shared and retained. And clients are directly involved in picking their teams, creating a more collaborative, productive and trusting relationship.
It’s an approach that has certainly paid off. NTT, the global technology services provider, was one of Headforwards’ first clients a decade ago, and still is. Today Headforwards builds custom software for a range of businesses across a variety of sectors, from retail giant John Lewis, to insurance multi-national AXA, to regional motor dealer Helston Garages Group.
Earlier this year the company moved from its previous home in the Pool Innovation Centre to new offices on the edge of the Cornwall College campus, which it has called FibreHub.
As well as being a home for Headforwards, FibreHub offers lettable space for other digital, software and tech organisations, and includes co-working facilities, café and access to networking events taking place in the building.
But FibreHub is the precursor to a much bigger project called FibrePark, which would see the creation of an entire tech campus with 7,000 square metres of employment and creative learning space, next generation connectivity and a new Digital Academy on the Cornwall College campus.
The £4 million project is part of the Camborne Town Deal, which secured £23.7 million from the Government’s Towns Fund in June.
For Parkins, FibrePark will be the culmination of a personal crusade to drive forward Cornwall’s tech sector. The former maths teacher turned tech entrepreneur set up his first tech business, a web development company called UKNetWeb, in St Agnes in 1999. He is a founder and director of Agile on the Beach, the annual global software conference that brings world-class developers to Cornwall, and he is a director of Software Cornwall, a non-for-profit industry-led initiative to support Cornwall’s tech community, especially when it comes to inspiring young people to follow a tech career.
He said: “Pool was once a huge mining area and a crucible for the industrial revolution. The headgear of what was Cornwall’s last working tin mine, South Crofty, dominates the skyline and we can see it from our office.
“We want FibreHub and FibrePark to be the modern-day equivalent emblems for a new tech revolution in Cornwall. We want young people especially to see that there is cool stuff going on so that they want to be part of it.
“The problem at the moment is that the tech sector is disperse and invisible in Cornwall. People don’t realise that we employ a multi-national team of people working for clients around the world right here in Pool, and our average salary is £45k, which is more than twice the Cornwall average.
“Cornwall needs more high-paid jobs which is why we want to foster a cluster of tech businesses in Pool where we can work directly with local schools and Cornwall College to inspire people into tech careers and create the pipeline of talent that our tech businesses need.”
Meanwhile Headforwards continues to grow. The business has just launched its latest recruitment drive and it is looking forward to the formal opening of FibreHub next month.