Newcastle is one of the best places in the UK to start a business – thanks to low house prices and relatively high salaries – but it still has a low number of startups year on year. So this month the city hosts its first-ever startup week, as part of an effort to promote the city as a place for entrepreneurs to set up in business.
Newcastle Startup Week, running from 15-19 May, is a five-day-and night citywide festival, designed to help more people start or grow a business in the North East of England.
The week covers startups across all industries, but has a solid presence from tech businesses, including some created for social impact.
Newcastle has been steadily building a reputation as a good place to set up a tech business, not least because of its combination of low house prices and relatively high salaries.
According to Tech City UK’s Tech Nation 2017 report, Newcastle has the UK’s best salary:housing cost ratio of any UK tech cluster. It comes second in terms of the proportion of high-growth businesses.
Newcastle Startup Week has been convened by a team led by ‘super connector’ and director of Plan Digital UK, Paul Lancaster.
He is upbeat about the prospects for the city. “It’s a stunningly beautiful city with wonderfully warm, friendly and loyal people,” he says. “It’s also a place that offers a high-quality lifestyle yet low cost of living, five fantastic universities in the region, great transport links and a thriving digital and creative sector that is producing truly world-class products and services.”
But Lancaster is also realistic that the number of startups in the city could be higher, despite the presence of startup hub Campus North and the Ignite tech accelerator. Tech Nation says 211 startup were formed last year.
“There simply aren’t enough people starting businesses in the city,” he says. “That’s largely a cultural thing where people in the North East are still more likely to want, or expect, a job in a large business rather than start their own, or want to work for a startup.”
Across its five days, NSW is hoping to help boost the numbers. It covers the themes of inspiration, getting started, funding & finance, growing & scaling and keep going or pivot.
Among festival venues is the recently refurbished and iconic Boiler Shop. Robert Stephenson built the world’s first purpose-built locomotive factory there, powering the railway industry and industrial revolution.
Lancaster says the idea for a startup for the city week came out of a DigitalAgenda city impact dinner in Newcastle last September, attended by 30 influential figures from the city’s business and government community.
Guests at that dinner heard a call for the city to become a test bed for digital innovation from Mark Tewdr-Jones, the director of Newcastle City Futures.
Tewdr-Jones said that Newcastle’s growing digital community should respond to its own future challenges through experimentation on big data, smart cities and more specialist innovation.
Newcastle is already a specialist base for BIM – building information modelling – with the presence in the city of Northumbria University’s BIM Academy. It is also home to the UK’s only FSTE-listed tech business, in Sage.
The Tech Nation report highlighted the importance to the North East of local support networks including Dynamo and Digital Union, Campus North and also Hoults Yard, as well as local investors like Northstar Ventures.
Visit the NSW website for the full schedule. Tickets/wristbands offering access to all events across the five days cost £60.