Head start

March 5, 2019

This year, North East Times has partnered with Newcastle Startup Week, an annual festival that aims to inspire and inform budding and existing entrepreneurs and business owners. Here, founder Paul Lancaster, explains what 2019’s attendees have in store as the five-day event – now in its third year – gains momentum regionally, nationally and internationally

Tell us about Newcastle Startup Week…

Newcastle Startup Week is an annual five-day (and night) festival that takes place in multiple venues across Newcastle and Gateshead in May.

Each day has a different theme covering ‘Inspiration’, ‘Getting Started’, ‘Funding & Finance’, ‘Scaleup’ and ‘Keep Going or Pivot?’.

Our aim is to inspire, motivate, encourage and support more people to start or grow their business in the North East.

The 2017 and 2018 events both attracted more than 600 delegates from across the UK, Europe, USA and Asia and we’re aiming to make our third event on May 13-17 even bigger!

What are the short and long-term objectives of the festival?

Our first year was all about shining a light on all the great entrepreneurs, businesses and support networks available for new and growing businesses in our region. We wanted to create a platform where people could come together and find all the best help, advice and funding in one place – giving them in five days what it would normally take them five months or even five years to find on their own. The second year was about repeating and refining the event, and trying to attract more people from outside the region (we have a map on our ‘Sponsors & Partners’ page, which shows where people came from last year and this included 33 people from Manchester and 25 from London).

This year, although the primary focus is on helping more people start and grow a business in the North East, we also want to give the event more of a national and international focus and have been building bridges with and tapping into other startup communities around the world.

How will this year’s festival differ from previous years?

We are expanding the programme by having more events that will appeal to an even wider range of people from different sectors. In previous years, the main activity happened in the afternoon with some after parties and evening networking events. This year, we are running additional, more niche events each morning, too. For example, day two will feature an early morning VR/AR showcase event at PROTO, followed by a creative industries- focused event at Gateshead College next door, before the main ‘Getting Started’ event begins at St Mary’s Heritage Centre next door to The Sage Gateshead in the afternoon.

Which speakers are you looking forward to hearing from in 2019?

We have more than 60 speakers taking part at Newcastle Startup Week and every one of them has been invited because they are inspiring, motivational or proven experts in their chosen field. Someone who I think will blow everyone away is Steven Bartlett, the 26-year-old old CEO of Europe’s hottest social media agency – Social Chain Group. If you’re looking for some inspiration and a better understanding of the millennial mindset, you need to come and see him on Day 1 @ The Boiler Shop.

How is the North East business community supporting the festival?

We’ve had huge support from the North East business community from the very beginning, which I’m eternally grateful for. To go from a standing start to 600+ delegates in year one and again in year two would have been impossible without the support from our past and present sponsors who have enabled us to keep our ticket prices as low as possible – currently just £75 + booking fee for a five-day ticket until April when they increase to £100 each.

What has been your festival highlight?

There have been too many to mention but bringing hundreds of people together to learn, be inspired, help each other, start businesses or projects, and help them pursue their dreams and fulfil their potential is the biggest highlight for me.

What’s been the biggest challenge?

The North East of England is too heavily reliant on European funding, which means that everyone has become addicted to ‘free’. From the very beginning, we didn’t want to make the event free to attend but at the same time knew we needed to keep the price as low as possible. I’m obviously biased but tickets for Newcastle Startup Week (and Newcastle Scaleup Summit which takes place on day four) are insanely good value for what is on offer versus other events in the UK and around the world. Another challenge is that we’re finding it easier to attract people from Manchester, London, Edinburgh and Glasgow than from smaller towns and cities here in the North East. This is disappointing so if you know someone thinking of starting a business who isn’t based in Newcastle or Gateshead, please encourage them to attend so they don’t miss out on something that has been created just for them.

Has the festival supported businesses to build relationships outside of the North East?

We’ve already attracted speakers and delegates from Scotland for our Newcastle Startup Week and Newcastle Scaleup Summit events. I think there’s a huge opportunity for North East of England businesses to connect to those in Scotland and we have been making regular trips there to encourage more exchanges and collaboration. A great example of this is Edinburgh-based FreeAgent (voted the UK’s no.1 accounting software for small businesses), which has come onboard as our new Headline Sponsor this year. This year’s festival will also have more speakers from Scotland, the Nordics, Canada, Asia and China, especially on day four (Scaleup Summit), so the opportunities for national and international growth are there if people want them.

Finally, what do you think the impact of Newcastle Startup Week has been on the regional business community so far?

We’re currently working with The Centre for Urban and Regional Development Studies (CURDS) at Newcastle University on an Impact Study of Newcastle Startup Week which will be published in May. Although we have many examples of how the event has helped people start or grow a business or project, I wanted to get a better understanding of what meaningful impact it has had on people, businesses, the city and region (if any). I’m pleased to say we’ve already gathered some extremely positive feedback and comments from participants and although beneficial to their business, the biggest impacts seem to be on the people themselves and their perception of our region with 81 per cent feeling more motivated or inspired and 72 per cent more likely to say Newcastle/the North East has a vibrant business community. If we can encourage more people to attend this year from every part of our region, the positive impact on our local communities, villages, towns and cities could be enormous.

Newcastle Startup Week