Image Source: photojenni
Jamie Hardesty

Did movement follow mapping? A look at the North East’s tech and digital future

Three months ago Newcastle City Council and Gateshead Council invited me to join a digital focus groupto explore ways in which the region can grow its digital infrastructure and elevate itself as a global tech hub.

The meeting, held at the Toffee Factory in Newcastle, presented findings from a study by Auxin Associates which analysed the current makeup of the sector.

The report culminised with recommendations to the councils on ways in which they could help bolster the region’s technology industry as a whole.

What we had in October was a thorough analysis of sector strengths, weaknesses and opportunities, or simply ‘mapping’ to form a basis to action. Both councils expressed keen intent to grow the North East’s tech scene, assuring private sector digital leaders and attendees that such a goal stands as a high priority amid their economic targets.

I called for movement to follow the mapping, writing after October’s event. If the councils really envisioned a collective drive to better the region’s tech industry then they must themselves demonstrate their willingness to develop the scene, to then incentivise the private sector into working with them.

Indeed it is the region’s businesses which must be the driving force of tech excellence although the councils can certainly play a role in facilitating ways to help realise the North East’s potential as a global hub.

Movement

Yesterday the council again invited me to attend another focus group, an event once again made up of the region’s best and brightest in digital.

Like many, I had my doubts as to what value the meeting would bring. Has anything been done? How has the report been interpreted? Are we any further forward?

It turns out we are.

The excellent Jen Hartley, Head of Tech Sector Strategy at Invest Newcastle, consulted a strategy with the room, formalising council plans to support and boost the community.

Jen has an intimate understanding of the region’s digital prowess. Previously Tech North’s Deputy Head, she has a strong understanding of tech clusters across the North and currently serves as a Dynamo board member, as well as an Ignite mentor.

Jen explained: “We have a great tech and digital community in Newcastle. It is predicted to grow by 30% in the next 3 years - driven by the innovative and enterprising businesses in Newcastle and the wider region. However more needs to be done to support these organisations and ensure continued growth.

“We have strong foundations already with organisations including Dynamo, Digital Union and Campus North making great headway.

“The purpose of this strategy is to pull together and support these initiatives and to profile the sector nationally and internationally, helping to drive national policy and ensuring Newcastle continues to be recognised as a global hub for the sector.”

Simply put, Jen did exactly as I had hoped; she talked about ways to bring together the public and private sectors in order to collectively address the challenges, needs and strengths of Newcastle’s tech and digital sector in order to drive forward growth.

Made up of three themes, people, place and profile, the strategy addresses funding, skills, the start-up and scale-up eco-system, civic data and open data, fit for purpose office space, cross-sector integration, advocacy and inward investment.

Actions

Personally, I measured the success of the morning by looking at what had been achieved since we explored the Auxin report’s recommendations in October.

To remind yourself of said recommendations, you can find them in my October article here.

For me, the key things the councils had to do was to 1. Take action and address the themes discussed, 2. Show public commitment to the cause and 3. Consider brand strategy.

I never, nor should anyone have, expected the councils to move mountains in a mere three months. We mustn’t forget their role as a facilitator, rather than a project leader here.

But what has been impressive is the ground work that’s been done. Action has been taken. The ‘People, Places, Profile’ approach is very much a real thing and it’s something which I believe the tech sector must try and engage with.

Jen revealed that collective skills mapping is currently taking place, the councils are also working on putting together a virtual funding team and they’ve been talking to landlords across Newcastle to try and better prepare the region’s infrastructure to be better placed to house tech hubs.

So thematic problems, such as skills, infrastructure, funding, which we all previously discussed, have been considered.

What perhaps intrigued me the most, however, was the ground work being done on an overall brand strategy - something the region is desperately lacking.

Again, and I do keep reiterating it (I know!), we don’t have all the answers and a ‘solution’ to collectively growing the region’s tech sector. But efforts are being made. Momentum, certainly in my opinion, exists.

I hope we can disucss continued progress when we next meet and that key figures of the region’s tech community will continue to work together and with the councils.

This isn’t a quick fix but things are happening, long may they continue.

What do you think? Are things moving in a better direction? How would you help to drive the region’s tech scene?

Why not share your thoughts with us in the comments section below?

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