Newcastle and the North East must do more to publicise its digital successes.

That is the consensus among some of the tech sector’s leading lights in the region.

Herb Kim, founder of the Thinking Digital Conference – which was first held in Newcastle in 2007 and attracted 650 people this May – says access to high profile media organisations is key.

“From a London perspective, when they think about the North they first think of Manchester – and Manchester benefits from having a bigger media presence,” he told a BusinessCloud roundtable held to discuss the health of the North East tech cluster.

“If you go back to 2009, some organisations were openly mocking the concept that London could ever be relevant as a tech capital in the world.

“‘All the losers stay in London, and all the winners move to places like San Francisco’ – that is literally what they wrote.

“What London did was sell itself as a global media capital, transmitting that story in a very credible way to the rest of the world and within the UK about the big players and success stories.

“Once the media start to tip that there might be a story, [that makes a difference].”

Stuart Lynn , CTO of Sage, the software firm founded in the 1980s which has boosted the region’s tech offering, told BusinessCloud in a separate interview: “It was good [for the North East] to spot opportunity in software engineering.

“It’s one of the country’s best-kept secrets though.

“We’re very modest and don’t shout from the rooftops about how good we are.”

Stuart Lynn, Sage CTO

Sage CTO Stuart Lynn

Paul Lancaster, a former specialist in inbound marketing, content and social media for Sage One – Sage’s cloud-based accounting and payroll software for start-ups, small and micro businesses – formed Plan Digital this year to “accelerate digital entrepreneurship in the North East”.

“Because you’ve got such a London-centric media anyway and Manchester is seemingly steaming ahead, that’s stealing some of the focus away from the northern regions,” he told the roundtable.

“I think the North East isn’t generally very good at shouting about itself outside of the region – but we’re very good at celebrating our successes within the region.

“Even when I was at Sage, you’d speak to a journalist and talk about how well Sage was doing and they would say ‘that doesn’t make sense – London is where tech is. How can you have a successful tech company in Newcastle?’”

Paul Lancaster, founder of Plan Digital

Paul Lancaster, founder of Plan Digital

Kim added: “Silicon Valley has a very successful echo chamber – they can make it a global story pretty much overnight, whether it be through traditional media or social channels.

“To some extent that is something that the North East lacks – how do you start to stitch together the organisations that are here and the media that is here to find a way to get the story out?”

Kim is perhaps more widely known for his stint as the interim head of Tech North, which promotes the digital community across the seven tech clusters in North of England, before the organisation appointed Richard Gregory as permanent director.

Herb Kim, who serves as a board director at Tech City UK

Herb Kim, who serves as a board director at Tech City UK

Speaking before Gregory’s appointment, he said: “Tech North should play a big role in helping that story along.

“I don’t think tech has nearly enough centrality with regard to the message and the strategy of the Northern Powerhouse overall.

“Tech in the wider North is not some mystery, not some aspirational thing that one day will happen.

“It’s not as if we’re asking for a gazillion pounds to make this thing happen – we just need to talk about what is already happening and get help to find the people and the talent that we need to realise the Northern Powerhouse.” 

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