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The Great North East

Posted 6 Aug 2018

Margot James, Minister for Digital and Creative at Department of Digital, Media, Culture & Sport visited Newcastle in July as part of the Great Exhibition of the North. Her trip included a tour of Digital Catapult’s North East & Tees Valley Immersive Lab and a roundtable with ten local technology companies from a wide range of backgrounds. Naomi Morrow, Head of Innovation at Digital Catapult Centre North East & Tees Valley, reflects on what was discussed.

Access to finance

We all know the funding landscape is challenging, especially for small companies trying to establish themselves, so it came as no surprise that access to finance was a key issue raised. What was interesting was that although larger companies, such as Zerolight, continue to grow without it, they still felt that further investment would allow them to accelerate their product development and onboarding of new clients.

The lack of consistency within the funding landscape across the UK was highlighted – something which makes it especially difficult for companies based in less established clusters to attract investment. Hopefully, the Northern Powerhouse and North East Fund will result in a shift for Northern businesses, so that they have as many opportunities as those based in London and eventually, investment can be based on merit and not postcode.

Skills

No roundtable with emerging tech businesses would be complete without the skills gap being mentioned! This is increasingly an issue for larger tech companies and was highlighted by several who attended.

To tackle the skills gap, there were several suggestions: Coatsink have had some success in attracting talent from as far away as London by building a reputation for allowing their employees to exercise their creativity. This has helped them overcome the challenge of finding people with the right skillset for the business.

It was also felt that UK government could further support regional regeneration projects, which would strengthen the skills base outside of the M25, leading to more professionals choosing to remain in or relocate north.

Business support

Unsurprisingly, it was agreed that the traditional business support landscape can be quite shallow, consisting of limited support that isn’t in-depth enough because advisors don’t understand the tech sector in detail first. Further work educating the demand side of the market is needed to help create opportunities for technology businesses – this is particularly encouraging given this is part of the Digital Catapult Centre NETV’s approach.

People matter

Perhaps most striking comments came when companies around the table were asked what they felt made the North East and Tees Valley a unique environment for innovation. The room agreed that it is the people.

We can often get lost in a sea of funding processes and business support programmes and forget that our region has a fantastic community (or ‘the village’, as Chief Technology Officer of Tharsus, Dave Swan so aptly described it). With continued support from Government, there is a bright future for start-ups in the North of England.

The North East & Tees Valley Immersive Lab is a facility enabling immersive companies to develop virtual and augmented reality content across a wide range of leading edge immersive hardware.

To find out more and how to book the Immersive Labs, find out here.