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The future of North East tech: Five things to consider
Posted by Jamie Hardesty on 31 Mar 2017
There’s no doubt that technology is one of the North East’s most exciting sectors right now.
The recent Tech Nation roadshow, held at The Core, Newcastle Science Central, emphasised the rising GVA of digital companies in the region, proving Newcastle, Middlesbrough and Sunderland to be vibrant tech hotspots with expanding skill and potential.
Yet, typically of the region, the North East continues to strive forward and wants to be better. How do we achieve more growth? This is the question at the frontier of many in the tech sector - and rightly so!
For some time now, here at Bdaily, we’ve followed the sector’s boom and have reported - with great fascination - on plans to push the industry even further.
If you’ve read the Tech Nation 2017 report you, like me, will surely be impressed by what we’re achieving here in the North East. For many, it seems like it’s as good a time as any to be involved with the sector and the report’s findings will have only buoyed the momentum which has been amounting in the past few months.
Join us as we take a look at the hot topics surrounding the future growth of North East tech, as we share some of points to consider regarding the sector right now.
One thing the Tech Nation report really reiterated was the strength of the North East’s startup scene. The region has proven itself as an attractive place to come and start a business. According to research from data analysts Pitchbook, the region was actually one of the top places in Europe to start a business in 2016.
When we look at the size of the North East, even in comparison to our Northern counterparts, many onlookers would be surprised to know that the region is the fastest tech economy in the UK, with the most recent ONS figures showing 14.9% growth. In fact there are 25% more tech companies in the North East than there were just five years ago!
The growth is absolutely astounding. Can the region continue to grow at this rate, punching above its weight? Many signs would actually point to yes - the very core of Tech Nation’s latest report shows how the UK punches above its weight as a whole.
So what about barriers to growth? What forces exist in the region which can potentially hinder growth? One point, and this is something which rears its head at many a digital meeting, is the worry surrounding the region’s political future.
Most recently raised by panelist Steve Caughley at the Tech Nation Newcastle roadshow, many in the region are concerned that the political disunity existing in Newcastle could act as a major barrier in the region’s commercial attractiveness. We want to promote the region, and certainly Newcastle is the North East’s leading tech light with an annual digital GVA of plus £1bn, as a place to come to if you’re looking to start or grow a business.
With the recent, high profile collapse of devolution and it looking seemingly impossible to unify councils on a political front, cause for concern exists over the region’s attractiveness for investing. Would a more unified region, a Greater Manchester perhaps, seem less risky and more supportive for a moving tech firm? Would firms be deterred about support if local councils can’t even support eachother?
Haven’t you heard? The Boro is on the up! Officially recognised by Tech Nation, for the first time, as a tech hub this year, Middlesbrough is actually outshining Sunderland in terms of digital GVA.
Contributing £211m to the economy a year, you could argue that the hub is about a fifth the size of Newcastle which generates £1bn. However, could we see this gap close in the next five years?
When I look at what’s happening in the Tees Valley compared to Newcastle politically, the Valley looks far more organised and unified, with a clear collective drive existing to enact growth.
Middlesbrough’s emergence is no anomaly, it’s a massive part of the North East’s tech scene and it seems only likely to continue to progress.
Ah, the final frontier. Space isn’t the great unknown when it comes to the North East, rather, it’s a massive barrier to growth. Digital companies by large feel that a lack of Grade A, city centre office space throws a huge spanner in the works when it comes to their growth.
Digital Union Leader Jim Mawdsely was voicferous in this point at Tech Nation of late. “Everywhere is full!” he said. And it’s true. Take Newcastle for instance, we all know where the tech hubs are. Our infrastructure may be fantastic for startups but we lack an ecosystem conducive to truly scaling up.
We need more centres and more buildings to match the unprecedented growth we’re seeing.
The next step at large
At most tech discussions and meetups in the region, conversations can inevitably go down the route of ‘... but Manchester has this’. By no means are we wanting the North East to be Greater Manchester but, rather, we want our region to emulate the success Manchester has had in formulating collective plans to drive its digital growth.
What the North East really needs is action right now. Movement not just words or signs of intent. Let’s get everyone aware of a collective digital strategy for the region and let’s express practical, concrete progress as and when it happens.
If you’re not convinced about the region’s excellence as a tech leader, I really do urge you to read the Tech Nation report. You can download and read it here.
Let me know your thoughts. How do you see the North East tech scene unfolding as we move forward? What other barriers to growth concern you most? Can you scale a tech firm in the region?