With the world opening up a little more each month, it feels as though 2022 is going to be a good year for business growth and job creation in North East England.
2021 saw a number of global brands expanding into the region, with Just Eat, Amazon, Xplor, and Thoughtworks to name a few – all attracted to the region for our people, property options and work/life balance.
As 2022 starts, we are excited to build on our past successes and attract more businesses to move on up. And, the year has already started with a bang – global cybersecurity company, Artic Wolf announced their European HQ would be in Newcastle and IT service provider, Version 1 have expanded into the city, with both companies looking to hire from the region’s pool of talented individuals. This is a great endorsement for the region and cements the North East as a destination of choice for digital and tech companies.
Looking closer at a few areas of digital and tech in particular…
Artic Wolf will join the growing cyber cluster within the North East, which is supported by cluster organisation, Dynamo North East, who deliver annual events such as CyberFest, as well as hosting meet-ups, proving collaboration opportunities, and supporting skills initiatives.
With the increasing need for secure networks, websites and data handling, investment in cyber firms continues to grow and the North East is well placed to support that growth. For example, our National Innovation Centre for Data (NICD) aims to transfer data skills and enable companies to exploit their data to its full potential. NICD has previously worked with Newcastle Building Society to gain deeper insights into its customers’ current and future needs using the data it holds, something which will no doubt appeal to other organisations.
The banking system has seen a major shift in recent years, with Fintech emerging as a key industry as customers increasingly look to digital solutions. Investment into British fintech businesses is on the rise, having jumped 217% to $11.6bn in 2021 (UK fintech investment surges after regulation refresh (cityam.com). Whilst London, inevitably, has had the most activity, the regions have also benefitted from access to finance and investment, and it will be interesting to see what new opportunities this year brings.
Fintech in the region has had the spotlight shone on it lately, with Atom Bank, based in Durham, recently announcing their 4 day working week, much to their employees’ delight, I’m sure. It’ll be interesting to see if others in their field consider doing the same, given the region is also home to the likes of Virgin Money, WorldPay, Tesco Bank, and Newcastle Strategic Solutions (The Technology arm of Newcastle Building Society).
Looking closer at the regional Fintech cluster; it has been quietly but considerably growing these past few years. This has been accelerated, particularly the payments market, by the pandemic. Companies such as Railsbank, Kani, Opaye (formerly Sage Pay, owned by Elavon) and flex-e-card (FEC) all call the North East home and are continuing to grow successfully, leading others to look further North for expansion opportunities.
Turning now to alternate realities, 2021 was a record year for immersive, with more than £150m of capital put into UK virtual reality (VR) (Metaverse hype spurs record £154m investment into UK VR firms (uktech.news) Thanks to more time being spent at home during the pandemic, further development of the technology and exploration of the ‘metaverse’, Immersive tech is being invested in more than previous years.
Indeed, Durham-based immersive tech company n-gage.io have very recently secured £150,000 of investment to develop their mobile technology platform.
Businesses looking to expand their operations and further develop their products can look no further than the North East to access our unique immersive community, specialist kit and support networks.
And 2022 is set to bring renewed investment and focus on immersive tech in the region through the Immex City programme. Led by Gateshead Council, in partnership with the Digital Catapult North East and Tees Valley, the programme will bring new virtual production capabilities to PROTO (the first digital production facility of its kind in Europe) enabling hands on research, training and skills development opportunities for the creative sector. In addition, the pilot programme (funded through the UK Community Renewal Fund) will bring expert support to businesses through fully funded immersive tech bootcamps as well as an immersive skills programme to upskill local people.
Sunderland has also been in the news as of late, aiming to be a trailblazer in the world of esports, with the national body planning to open a performance and education campus in the city. The British Esports Association (BEA) will provide access to training, equipment and investment as well as a base for the Great Britain esports team. The centre, along with esports courses provided by local colleges and the University of Sunderland will help the region to become a national esports hub. We will no doubt see a number of exciting programmes of activity come from this investment in 2022.
And so, whilst there remain challenges around skilled employees and access to market, there are also clear economic opportunities for companies to seize. The advances of technology, access to investment, centres of excellence and the pandemic having changed the world as we know it, present an interesting prospect.
For our part, the North East continues its grand ambition to be a globally recognised tech and digital hub, offering businesses the ability to succeed and thrive here.
I for one, look forward to what the future holds for this corner of the globe!