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Could the North East be the UK's future tech hub?

North East's DigitalCity celebrates 10 years
The North East's DigitalCity is celebrating 10 years of work in the region
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As the digital age continues to develop apace, the changes taking place in British business are drastic.

Companies and entrepreneurs must now have a basic digital skillset at the very least in order to prosper in the new climate, and in regions like the North East which have traditionally relied on industry, adapting can be a challenge.

That's why the DigitalCity project was born in the region, as its founders sought to better educate and connect its new generation of workers. On the group's tenth anniversary, we asked DigitalCity chief David Jefferies what his organisation had achieved and what its ambitions are for the North East as a whole.

TechRadar Pro: Why was DigitalCity set up?

David Jeffries: Teesside University has a strong curriculum in the provision of digital technology oriented courses from software developers through to animators and Digital Media. The University recognised, however, that too many students were coming to Teesside learning their skills and then, once they had graduated, leaving for career opportunities elsewhere.

Looking at this issue Teesside University got together with Middlesbrough Council to look at how to create the right environment to keep these talented graduates in the Tees Valley area.

DigitalCity was created to nurture and support these graduates helping turn them into talented entrepreneurs with the business know-how to translate their ideas into reality.

An incubator unit was setup to give inexpensive space for new businesses to develop their ideas. A DigitalCity fellowship programme, delivered by the Teesside University side of the project (Digital City Innovation) was created to give start-ups a grant to fund their living costs while also making available to them technology hardware and software, business mentors, access to networks and practical courses on running a business.

DigitalCity Business was established with its own building to house startups. This encompasses connectivity, office space, mentoring, workshops and also help to facilitate introductions to other professionals that could help them achieve their business goals and make the businesses a success.

TRP: What has been its impact on jobs and businesses?

DJ: It's had a very significant impact. DigitalCity fellowships alone put more than £20m directly into the regional economy, but its knock-on effect is significantly larger. Tees Valley Economic Forum has put a £174m figure on the digital economy in the region – and acknowledged DigitalCity as being the driver behind that figure.

DigitalCity has directly created 537 jobs, 264 companies and supported a further 515 businesses.

TRP: What kind of people do you help and how?

DJ: As DigitalCity has evolved it's helped a larger number of people. There are the startups and fellowships as mentioned previously.

DigitalCity also runs a social enterprise programme that helps charities, community groups and local organisations get online, learn digital skills and make the most of digital – everything from schools activity to helping job-seekers, Digital City is empowering and enabling new Digital Citizens.

The North East has historically been an engineering and manufacturing region and we're out there encouraging industry to learn how digital can help their businesses to open up new markets and to work more effectively with the end game of increased productivity, employment and ultimately greater success for the businesses.

TRP: Why do we need to educate young people about the benefits of digital skills?

DJ: Because experts predict our need for a digital workforce and resource is only going to get bigger and that there will be a large digital skills shortage in the coming years.

With Teesside University, a leading digital university, and DigitalCity working together there is a massive opportunity to plug the skills gap, create jobs, train apprentices and to make sure the North East stays well ahead of the digital game. We're already a good number of steps ahead of other areas of the country and we're going to stay ahead.

Desire Athow
Desire Athow

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website builders and web hosting when DHTML and frames were in vogue and started narrating about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium.