The North East seems somewhat remote in the digital Northern Powerhouse discussion – but that’s changing.
Newcastle is home to accounting software giant Sage, which continues to drive employment and innovation in the area, and boasts some of the best support for start-ups scrabbling for a foothold in the business world.
Chris Blaxall is chief finance officer at Performance Horizon, a SaaS (Software as a Service) solutions firm which is headquartered in Newcastle and was ranked 16th in the 2015 Deloitte UK Technology Fast 50.
He does not see the extreme Northern location as a barrier to growth.
“In terms of people, we have 113 and hope to add another 50 – 30 of them in Newcastle – by the end of this year,” he told a BusinessCloud roundtable in Newcastle.
“Our business is truly global. We’re dealing with some of the bigger brands around the world so we have to have our sales and marketing people where those brands are headquartered, in London, New York, San Francisco, Sydney, Tokyo.
“But we do all of our development here, all of our first line of support here, all of our finance and payments here.
“We track business in 181 countries, we’re dealing with about $350m of payments a year, we’re growing at a rate of about 90 per cent.
“Being headquartered here isn’t actually driving the growth, but it certainly doesn’t hinder it – and it helps us enormously in terms of having a great base of people here, in terms of the right people to help drive the business.”
Technology is embedded everywhere, meaning that any large organisation based in a region can boost its tech offering almost by default.
Charlie Hoult, who chairs the Dynamo North East tech conference and serves as MD of the Hoults Yard office complex in the Ouseburn area of Newcastle, believes the existing network of call centres has helped build a solid base.
“Shared service centres is what we’re good at,” he says.
“The front end of that in the 1990s was call centres because people like the accent – but a call centre these days is a contact centre.
“I think we rate on density for jobs. The Department for Work and Pensions is massive here, HMRC is massive here, the NHS runs its prescription pricing authority from here, student loans is based in the North East… so you’ve got this core of government computing, which spawned university support.
“We’ve always had this kernel right from the start of the digital information technology revolution which has then spawned companies like Sage.”
Shared spaces such as Campus North, which is helping to train teachers as well as boost start-ups, are a boon for the area.
Stuart Lynn, CTO of Sage, highlighted the success stories of the wider region for BusinessCloud in a separate interview and said it has a history of regenerating itself following the demise of the mines and shipyards.
“Nissan are a massive car manufacturer, the leader in Europe,” he said. “The Japanese are now coming to Sunderland to find out what it is that we do that is so special because we’re outperforming them.
“We’re experts in off-shore technologies – a lot of wind farm technology is built in the North East.
“In services we’ve got fantastic companies like Accenture and HP Enterprise.
“Some of the big conglomerates haven’t got their headquarters in the North East, but they’ve got their engineering or R&D functions here.
“Gaming is very strong: Ubisoft, Tombola… it’s bizarre how that starts to breed.
“A lot of it is down to our fantastic academic set-up. We’ve got five great universities within a stone’s throw: Northumbria, Newcastle, Sunderland, Teesside and Durham.”