The UK’s thriving digital economy is about much more than Shoreditch, Cambridge and Manchester as like-minded organisations ‘cluster’ together in towns and cities across the country. Every day this week we are training the spotlight on a lesser-known area.

Newcastle steals the spotlight when it comes to the North East tech sector, but there is a success story 11 miles down the road.

David Dunn is chief executive of cluster development organisation Sunderland Software City, which provides advice and support to aspiring and established businesses in the North East, maximising the potential for the sector in the region. 

He believes the secret to a successful cluster is identifying areas of expertise and niche markets that can be developed.

He says: “The approach in the North East is that digital is not just a sector in its own right. It can underpin all of the other sectors.

“We have spent a lot of time understanding how data can be collected to drive productivity and new revenue streams.

“We have spent a lot of time in the past 18 months educating the broader sectors.”

Sunderland Software City

Dunn says that the North East is “making great strides” in areas such as big data and data visualisation.

“You have to educate the marketplace about the potential of using their data so they can see it makes sense and go looking to buy the service that helps them understand this data,” he adds.

A joint partnership between the private, public, and education sectors, Sunderland Software City has already supported more than 400 businesses and aims to create over 2,000 jobs by 2020. 

Another important part of the process is creating a skilled workforce to meet the demands of the market.

Dunn says: “It’s about educating people of any age that there’s a sector in close proximity to them and that there are careers available to them.”

Digital salaries grew 26 per cent in Sunderland between 2012 and 2015, the highest rate after Leeds (29 per cent) and Newcastle and Durham (27 per cent).