Technology firms in the region are being given the chance to explore expansion opportunities in the North East of the US, following links forged with an ex-pat Geordie who is a director at Microsoft.
Born and brought up in Newcastle, Steve Ramsay is now director of the Microsoft Technology Centre in Boston, Massachusetts, one of 33 run by the global giant to give clients access to innovative technologies and expertise.
Through return visits home, Mr Ramsay has seen exciting advancements in the region’s technology sector – and as a result forged links with the UKTI, British consulate and Newcastle Gateshead Initiative, in a move to encourage local businesses to look into new markets for expansion and investment in Boston, US.
Now UKTI is leading a market visit to the US city, from December 3 to 5, which will give companies from a range of sectors to meet relevant industry-insiders on opportunities for trade and research collaboration.
Visiting ICT and tech firms will get the chance to meet Mr Ramsay, a member of the British American Business Council of New England (BABCNE), and a raft of other business leaders based in the US, through plans also involving Kirsten Chamber, Head of UKTI at the British Consulate Boston and other BABCNE board members.
Mr Ramsay, who gained US citizenship in 2006 and has been with Microsoft for three years, believes Boston makes an ideal match for our own homegrown talents – and work with incubator programme Campus North is already taking place.
He said: “We’re excited about driving something like this with UKTI, BABCNE and the business that exist here. There are huge opportunities for UK businesses – this is a ‘can do’ environment here in Boston and that’s my kind of environment.
“The office I’m in now is in Cambridge, with Boston across the water and the River Charles runs right through the middle, a little like the River Tyne between Newcastle and Gateshead, and we have Harvard and MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) on our doorstep.
“I visit my parents four or five times a year and what I was seeing was real development in the North East, I was starting to see more Bentleys and Aston Martins, and there was a great buzz.
“I could see comparisons between the North East of England and the North East of the US, and I could see synergies between the businesses. If we get 20 companies over here the idea is to develop a network – they can expand here, get investment here, but more importantly the infrastructure is already here for them.
“My vision is for them to get an on-the-ground view and see the opportunities for themselves. What I really wanted to do was help Campus North, to form a partnership and maybe have a similar organisation here.
“I have connected Paul Smith from Campus North and Ignite with MIT and arranged for the Microsoft Technology Centre to act as a drop spot for anyone coming here. We can offer room space and act as a local community link.
“A lot of planning has gone into this and there’s a chance to build up a repeatable blueprint - next we could go to Leeds, Manchester or Scotland and take that blueprint to drive more awareness.”
Paul Smith, co-founder of Newcastle-based accelerator programme Ignite, said work is already under way after connecting with Mr Ramsay.
He said: “It’s relatively easy to work there in terms of time zones – it’s difficult with the west coast because of the big time difference – and the market is much better suited for European markets.
“It’s a relatively supportive market too. So I think for us it’s advantageous and we’re working with our teams to look into opportunities.
“In practical terms, I’m not sure that we will have a fully-built Accelerator but what we can have is a concierge service for teams, and we can also work with early stage tech firms – those are the first steps.”
The closing date for firms wanting to sign up for the Boston visit is Friday.