Interview

Under starter’s orders… 

Through the development of history-changing inventions like the lightbulb and the steam train, to being the global epicentre of the shipping and mining industries, the North East is known the world over for its entrepreneurial spirit.

But while the history books tell these stories, many of the region’s great successes aren’t widely shared among the people who are born and bred here.

Standing in the impressive library of the Institute of Mining in central Newcastle – a building many North Easterners will know exists but have no idea what lies behind the front door – Paul Lancaster shares a story that illustrates that very problem.

“There was a school set up in 1795 in Crawcrook for sons of local farmers and colliery operators, and some of the men this school produced became the entrepreneurs who went on to make our mining industry the global success it was. I’m from Crawcrook and I didn’t know that until I found out about it here. Such a brilliant story that isn’t told, and there are so many more,” he says.

“I do think the region is still suffering some of the hangover from the decline of heavy industry. Too many people still feel they are lucky to have a job and are made to feel they should be grateful to have a job. But we have so many great people here, and great businesses too, many of which started in times of recession. It’s not an ability thing, it’s confidence. We really need to start shouting about ourselves much more.”

Paul, well known throughout the North East and wider UK as a champion of small business and a ‘super connector’ for his access to a vast network of support for such ventures, is committed to making this happen. Through a joint ambition to shine a light on the past, as well as showcasing our talent and future potential, Paul has founded Newcastle Startup Week.

The five-day programme, running from May 15 to 19, is a jam-packed diary of social events, presentations and workshops to help provide support, inspiration and guidance to pre start-ups and fledgling businesses alike, as well as to showcase the talent in the city and wider region to potential inward investors and successful North East ‘ex-pats’. Each speaker has been hand-picked by Paul as someone who has supported or inspired him during his career.

The event, some sessions of which are expected to draw up to 500 people, is attracting people from around the globe – including a senior Microsoft executive from the US, and a business owner from Missouri who is coinciding her relocation to the North East with Newcastle Startup Week – and events have been planned to showcase the city to the full. Venues including Science City, Tyneside Cinema and the Mining Institute will help give an insight into the past, present and future of Newcastle.

Interestingly, while Paul has spent more than ten years helping hundreds of small businesses to achieve their potential, he is himself new to being an entrepreneur. Previously he held senior positions with household names like Tech North, Shell’s Livewire programme and Sage – during his time there, he was credited with redefining the Sage One product, to make it accessible and relevant to its target SME market – he has amassed almost unrivalled experience in the area.

But by establishing his business, Plan Digital UK, only a year ago, he now understands the challenges of a small business owner in the current climate, as well as the reservations of those yet to take the plunge.

“I’ve spent more than ten years reading all the books, hanging out with entrepreneurs, working closely with businesses, speaking to all the right people. While I had thought about setting up my own business for a while, I wanted to wait for the right time so it was the right thing for me,” he says.

“I’m 40 in March and I have a wife and two kids. Setting up your own business can be done at any stage of your life. It always has its challenges whatever your circumstances, and I understand from my own experience it’s a huge decision. When you have a family to support, you do have to think very long and hard about whether you’re doing the right thing about starting your own business; can you pay the bills, can you make it work? You need to go into it with your eyes wide open.

“What I find very important is to hear from people I can relate to. It does make a difference that you can relate to their experiences, even that they have a local accent. Often at conferences you get the very top people from huge organisations, who, when you’re just starting out, can seem very remote and a world away from where you are. It’s important to showcase people who are just like you. The more you can shine a light on people from the local area and what they have done, the more real it becomes.

“Newcastle and the North East is a strong supportive community; people genuinely want to help you succeed. I think a lot of people aren’t aware of just how much advice and support there is out there, which is another message we want to get across through Newcastle Startup Week.”

Clearly a passionate champion of start-up businesses and his native North East alike, Paul’s excitement about showcasing the potential of both through Newcastle Startup Week is obvious.

“We have been inventing the future for hundreds of years and we are a region with so many success stories. I really do think we have some businesses bubbling under here in the North East which are capable of becoming billion-dollar businesses, and when they rise to the surface, they will help to put the region on a global platform yet again,” says Paul.

“Through Newcastle Startup Week, hopefully we can help pave the way for the launch and growth of yet more successful North East businesses, who can play their role in helping to shape our future.”

Newcastle Startup Week
To register your interest for Newcastle Startup Week, or for more information, visit www.newcastlestartupweek.com

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