Celebrating Newcastle, the 'Silicon City'

IN MARCH, the UK editor of The Next Web - a popular technology blog with global reach and appeal – wrote the following: “Mention the UK technology start-up scene to anyone outside the country and they’ll probably think of London’s vibrant scene around the Old Street roundabout, or maybe clusters in places like Cambridge, or at a push the North East of England around Newcastle.”

IN MARCH, the UK editor of The Next Web - a popular technology blog with global reach and appeal – wrote the following: "Mention the UK technology start-up scene to anyone outside the country and they'll probably think of London's vibrant scene around the Old Street roundabout, or maybe clusters in places like Cambridge, or at a push the North East of England around Newcastle."

The comment resonated deeply with me. It was the first time I'd seen an influential tech commentator suggest what many of us had suspected – that something extraordinary was occurring in Newcastle, and the region as a whole.

What is happening now feels profoundly different to events of the past. We're experiencing a perfect storm of ideas, commitment, passion and importantly, realisation.

We have brilliant people who are discovering and collaborating with one another. Above all, there is a sense of self-sufficiency. Digital start-ups are collectively becoming their own support network.

The same is true of Newcastle. After decades of decline, the city finally feels capable of standing on its own two feet, independent and proud, and ready to show the world how rich we are in both culture and spirit.

What has brought around this change? The presence of Codeworks – the regional agency created to nurture digital innovation, led by Herb Kim – has been vital in establishing a framework for events and collaboration. The Difference Engine – a 13-week accelerator programme that evolved innovative concepts into investment-ready propositions – has seen several new companies launch and re-energise the region's entrepreneurial endeavours.

Twitter has played a fundamental role in connecting people and resources, creating a back-channel for sharing ideas and advice. Above all, the natural passion, generosity and warmth inherent in those that live here has brought like-minded individuals together.

Cast-iron examples of the rise in the start-up scene are plentiful. Screenreach successfully completed The Difference Engine and has since received investment of $1.2m (£738,000). Mobicart secured $500,000 (£307,500) in seed funding and recently saw ex-Google director Stephen Lusty invest £100,000 and join as chairman.

Entrepreneur Kieron Donoghue and his team at ShareMyPlaylists.com are set to ride Spotify's wave into the United States when the service launches. Tristan Watson's LoveYourLarder takes the farmer's market online, WeddingTales aims to change how your wedding guests share their memories of the big day and CustomerSure helps businesses deliver on their promises of customer service and improvement.

Fluid Pixel and Darling Dash are leading the way in innovative mobile applications, while Jeremiah Alexander looks to reinvent education for the 21st Century through Ideonic and every1speaks. Then there's Bobby Paterson and the team at happie.st, the many projects of the incredible Jonny Philp and Ross Linnett's vision for a web accessible to dyslexic and visually impaired users, with Recite.

The list goes on. Some will succeed, others will fail, but that's always been the case – what's changed is that we're no longer looking to one start-up to be the poster boy of the region's endeavours. There is an inexhaustible supply of activity and opportunity.

While this entrepreneurial spirit stretches across the region, it tends to be the city where we come together to exchange ideas and toast our successes. So let us celebrate Newcastle – the Silicon City – and the efforts of the region as a whole. Change is afoot, opportunity is everywhere, and we're ready to take it on.

:: Paul Smith is the author of Twitchhiker and creative director at mobile development agency Never Odd or Even

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer