I am an annoying, impatient man. Throw in my natural cynicism and ever-reachable soapbox, it’s clear why I don’t get invited to many parties. You don’t order your piña colada and expect it served with a hearty dash of tech-fuelled, jibber-jabber from Jamie Hardesty. I get it.
But I do like to talk about the North East’s technology sector. Conversation breeds opportunity. I believe that to grow the sector and strengthen our ecosystem, it’s paramount that we keep talking about the incredible people, organisations and assets that we have here.
We do a grand job of coalescing what we have within the region. Though, while we may know our story, externally I’m not so sure that the brilliant innovators and problem-solvers are truly seen. I’d like that to change. (Kudos to friends at TechBlast & BusinessCloud celebrating the region’s tech startup scene with both a feature and pitching event this month, by the way!)
I grow weary of seeing the North East, the place where I love to live and work, perennially top national tables of low investment or productivity rates. I get infuriated when I see lazy narratives peddled in the media, reducing the region to tired-out tropes or sweepingly untrue generalisations. I feel disillusioned when the successes we do have don’t get the attention or fair crack of the whip that I believe they deserve.
Perhaps this is where I should point out I’m an incredibly polite and tidy house guest if you are planning on hosting a party. It’s not all doom and gloom…
I’ve been writing about the North East’s technology sector for over 10 years now. During this time, I’ve seen many startups come and go, while some have scaled and become pillars in our ecosystem. Nurturing the nexus of future-facing businesses, working with those creating and developing new, unique technologies, gets me out of bed in the morning. It’s exciting.
It’s this ecosystem, this coming together of humans and forces from varying angles and backgrounds, which fascinates me. While we have our challenges, we have our triumphs. It’s important we champion such triumphs and help unearth new relationships and networks, not on a whim but well-directed, to strengthen our potential and create further opportunity.
I believe in tech’s potential to unlock transformative change. Whether we’re looking at an individual or at a regional level, tech can act as a leveller. I’m passionate about social mobility; I love the proven fact that anyone can be an entrepreneur. Indeed, privilege helps being a tech founder but it isn’t prerequisite.
Particularly since Covid, Sunderland Software City and Digital Catapult have been encouraging and facilitating the cross-pollination of technologists, operators and founders via a series of programmes and events. Bringing people together from varying backgrounds is a good thing, it creates a proliferation of ideas and shared support. Trust me, innovation is here in these hills!
Yet growing innovative tech companies in this part of the world is difficult; going up against well-funded market competitors, thriving in more mature ecosystems across the globe, isn’t exactly an easy gig, is it? Yet activity is very much alive and real here, with startups, spinouts and scaleups actively shaping our region’s technology scene.
In the past month alone we’ve seen healthy raises from the likes of Ceto AI and Luminous Group as they attempt to scale, Durham University spinout Kromek has won a string of high-profile contracts with the US government and there is a plethora of support which entrepreneurs and teams can turn to.
For instance, the North of Tyne Combined Authority (NTCA) has invested £10 million to support the growth of the digital sector across the North of Tyne, pursuing an ambition of accelerated digital growth and innovation. Funding projects such as the Ignite accelerator, Digital Pathfinders and Digital Cluster to name a few are helping to bring more startups to life.
Moreover, the region’s universities recently have received £4.75m from Durham County Council and NTCA through the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF) to work together to help strengthen business in the North East, driving forward the Levelling Up agenda and growing the region’s economy.
I’ve no doubt we will continue to have things to talk about, to champion and to share with the world when it comes to North East tech. I’m excited to be a judge at ‘Pitching night: North East and Tees Valley Startups 2.0’ this month, this is as good a chance as any to see startups and founders from an array of backgrounds share their innovative businesses.
Why not join us on the night and see for yourself? I just can’t promise I’ll not interrupt your piña colada.