It’s a bold statement to make, but what would have to happen to make this a reality? To answer the question its worth looking back to understand how ‘the other’ Silicon Valley came to be.
The majority of the world’s top technology companies didn’t just happen to find themselves in Silicon Valley by chance, and it didn’t happen overnight. It has taken decades to transform what was a wine growing region into the powerhouse of IT and innovation that it is today and its roots can be traced right back to education and the ambitions of one individual who played a significant role.
The person who is often referred to as the father of Silicon Valley is Frederick Terman. As the dean of engineering and provost at Stanford University during the 1940’s and 50’s, Terman encouraged graduates to start their own companies and he is credited with nurturing the likes of Hewlett-Packard, founded by Sanford graduates William Hewlett and David Packard, and many other high tech firms.
Stanford University and many of its graduates, aided by support from private corporations such as Bell Telephone Laboratories and Xerox PARC, made huge inroads into the research and development of solid state technology, which ultimately led to the invention of the transistor and of course semiconductors.
Thereafter followed an explosion of infrastructure and network of industries to support these new companies, then came the introduction of venture capital investment, and eventually the rise of software development companies.
So, how does the rise of Silicon Valley relate to the North East? Well over the past 30 years or so we’ve not seen the rapid technology growth of Silicon Valley, but we have witnessed a massive transformation of a region once steeped in coal mining, ship building, heavy engineering, flat caps and whippets. Today the region is renowned for excellence in automotive manufacture and service industries. However, what many don’t realise, maybe because our regional culture is fairly reserved, is the steady growth that has been going on in across the North East technology sector.
Not many will realise for example that Sage is third largest business software company in the world and the only FTSE100 technology company to be headquartered right here in the North East. The region could also boast, albeit we tend not to, a plethora of other household names that bring employment and wealth to the region such as Accenture, HP, Virgin Money, HMRC, British Telecom, and British Airways, many of whom are also supporters of the Dynamo initiative.
We also have five excellent universities, Newcastle, Northumbria, Sunderland, Durham and Teesside, as well as a vast number of good schools and colleges who are pumping out lots of high quality talent and skills for the region.
You’d be amazed to see how these universities have evolved over the past 10 years and they now rate against the best in the country, if not the world in some subjects. Newcastle university recently opened their new £59m Urban Sciences building which houses their school of computing and they were recently awarded £30m investment for the National Innovation Centre for Data … this is not only a coup Newcastle but a massive boost for the region.
It’s exciting to see the region emerging as a centre of excellence for digital innovation. I was delighted to see that the region ranked 2nd in the recent tech nation report for high growth digital businesses … albeit it would have been nice to be first!
The economic output of the region is also on the increase, the recent Barclays report showing the highest increase in earnings at 6.3% and the biggest rise in GDP per capita.
The city also reported the second largest fall in unemployment and in a recent PWC report Newcastle was highlighted as one of the fastest improving cities in the UK.
We should take confidence in the prediction by the Norther Powerhouse who predict that Newcastle’s economy will grow by 14.5% in the next decade …. But I have a feeling we can do much better!
So what might we do to turn the North East into the Silicon Valley(s) of the UK, well we can start by making sure our schools, universities and colleges are equipping students with the right skills. Before anyone thinks this is a cheap shot at education, far from it. Our business leaders have a responsibility to work with the education establishments to make sure IT skills and aligned with current and future business needs.
As a region we also need to cultivate and invest in research and innovation, whether this be public or private sector funded, we need to invest in infrastructure, and most of all we need to stimulate and instil a sense of ambition in those students today who will be our regional, national, and international business owners and leaders of the future.
As with the real Silicon Valley, this will take years or even decades, but the sooner we can start the sooner it will happen. In the meantime, we should start telling the rest of the world now just how good the North East is as a technology region already, what fantastic opportunities we have for tech businesses to start, grow, and move their business to the North East, what fantastic opportunities exist for IT professionals to develop a highly rewarding career.
Oh, and let’s not forget to mention what a great work life balance, great cost of living, great income distribution, great universities, great environment, and an excellent workforce the North East region has to offer.