November 5, 2019
From 2020 the North East needs to focus more on start-ups (not scaleups) and more on international collaboration (and less on interregional competition). While on the face of it, these two things might seem contentious or difficult to achieve, if we get them right they will add significant value and advantage to the wider region as a whole.
I believe for too long there has been a focus on scale-ups; everyone is searching for those elusive high-growth businesses. However, without a constant flow of new, innovative start-ups, we will not have any future scale-ups to support.
As with many policies, a return to focusing on start-ups shows a cyclical return to the economic policies of ten to 15 years ago – but this is no bad thing. Focusing again on start-ups – persuading and supporting smart, savvy people to consider setting up a business – will this time come with a decade’s worth of additional knowledge and insight.
Such knowledge will help dispel the myths that surround starting a business: that jobs have to be surrendered to try business creation or that running a business requires the founder to have numerous degrees or previous experience.
Surprisingly this is valid for the tech sector as well as broader industries. At Sunderland Software City, we have seen a significant swing in the last ten years by those starting businesses. In 2009 many of those seeking start-up advice were technically proficient but perhaps lacked business acumen. They were able to code and create technical systems but couldn’t forecast cashflows or sell to customers.
Nowadays many of those coming through the door come from a broad range of backgrounds. Chief to their desire to start a business is their recognition and understanding of a problem. A problem for which – if a solution is found – there will be a sizeable market willing to pay good money. These people may not come with technical skills but they can raise seed finance and get their product or service built. Indeed, many do it while continuing their day job until a point comes where they feel secure enough to move full-time into the new, growing business.
Onto the point of collaboration or, more accurately, less parochialism. The increasing shift towards small areas of geographic control is inevitable and, in some cases, bring welcomed funding. But this must not lead to increased competition for business, jobs and economic growth.
One area cannot expect a strategy – which is identical to an adjacent area in all but name – to succeed unless there is collaboration, dialogue and joint goals. And this outward-facing approach to success shouldn’t stop at local borders.
I truly believe now is the time that broad and ambitious plans should be put in place for the North East – and all its constituent parts – to cooperate internationally. By doing so we can affect regional impact as well as making the region a significant national and international player.
Sunderland Software City
Sunderland Software City is partfunded by the European Regional Development Fund as part of the Digital Innovation Partnership.
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