If you checked in at our Day 4 scaleup summit, you may have attended the welcome talk from Matt Bratton, Senior Investment Manager at Invest Newcastle. We had a chat with Matt to learn more about the organisation and growth opportunities within the region.
1. Hi Matt. Can you tell us a little more about your organisation?
Invest Newcastle is a team that aims to attract and secure new investment and jobs for the city. Our aim is to promote nationally and internationally, why Newcastle is a place where businesses can prosper and grow. Our city has so much to offer and I never struggle for reasons why a business should call Newcastle home.
We focus on sectors that are strategically and economically important for the city: life science, corporate services, creative, tech, and digital. As well as attracting inward investment (bringing in new businesses from outside the region), we also work with indigenous businesses, supporting them with their expansion plans. We’re a single point of contact for companies who either want to move to our city or are thinking about expanding. Our networks are our biggest asset and we work as part of a wider ‘virtual team’ consisting of specialist businesses and regional partners that can assist with niche areas of growth.
Since we began in 2013, we have supported more than 130 new businesses to relocate or expand, creating and safeguarding more than 7,500 jobs. We are very proud of our region and passionate about creating new jobs, retaining talent and supporting innovation. Start-up week is a great example of how our region supports innovation, giving start-ups the opportunity to hear from the experts that can help them to bring their business ideas to market.
2. Can you give an example of how you have worked with companies to help them grow in Newcastle? What can we learn from it?
A recent example of a scale-up we have worked with is Gamevy, an award-winning lottery and bingo games provider. They already had offices in London, Bilbao and Berlin and were looking for a new location for a development studio. We invited them to attend the Great Exhibition of the North’s gaming festival. This 2-week event provided a platform for us to showcase the level of talent and expertise within the region. We used this opportunity to the digital and tech sector, introducing them to networks, recruiters and property solutions. They were so impressed by the people they met, they were confident that they could build a vibrant, successful and entrepreneurial games studio in Newcastle – they are now based in Hoults Yard. They plan to create up to 30 jobs in the city over the next two years, recruiting talented and highly skilled designers and developers from right here in our region.
We also worked with a London based digital agency mkodo back in 2015, they were looking to open a second office in the UK. We beat off stiff competition from 15 other cities, including Manchester and Sheffield. We’ve been working with them ever since, supporting with their growth plans. They’ve gone from 15 to 35 employees, with plans to create an additional 30 jobs.
For me, whether you are working with a start-up or a scale-up, it’s about leveraging sector networks and support. The collaborative nature of our networks here undeniably creates added value for businesses. Our role is about connecting them with key people, organisations, events, funders, incubators and accelerators. It’s about collective ambition, and we can all learn from the opportunities that effective partnership working can bring. The more we work with businesses the more we learn about what their drivers (and barriers) are when scaling.
3. What makes Newcastle so great? What assets does it have to support business creation and business growth?
The people. Our business community has such a positive attitude to collaboration and that undoubtedly supports growth and innovation. There are many reasons why Newcastle is great. The talent, the quality of life, our world-leading universities, our digital connectivity and infrastructure, the list goes on.
We have an impressive the collection of start-up and scale-up initiatives that support local businesses. For example, the North East Fund has invested £17 million in more than 100 companies in its first year, supporting businesses at all stages of their evolution and Finance Camp North East ran by the Innovation SuperNetwork, connects businesses to finance.
As a region we are collectively focusing on the sectors that are strategically important. For life sciences, The Biosphere is running a Business Accelerator Programme for science entrepreneurs and they also have nine local firms based there who have been selected to take part in an Ageing Innovators programme – really supporting the growth of this sector.
Not to forget all the great events that are part of the North East Digital Festival that will celebrate our tech expertise and start-up eco-system. From Start-up week, Start-up SARAFI, Tech Nation Talks and Thinking Digital, these events are vital in bringing people, talent and the sector together. We’ve also been part of the ‘One Sector. One Statement’ publication, where a collective of organisations have come together to represent the North East’s creative, digital and tech sectors, delivering a united front to promote the region.
4. Our Scaleup Summit on Day 4 at Newcastle Start-up Week took place at ‘Newcastle Helix’. Can you tell us more about this site and how it is an example of how the region is driving innovation?
Newcastle Helix brings together industry leaders, businesses and top researchers to create a new innovation community. This multi-disciplinary approach is critical in kickstarting collaborations that can result in new products and services being brought to market.
It is already home to more than 35 companies, 10 buildings including National Innovation Centres Ageing and Data, the Urban Sciences Building and The Biosphere, a bespoke lab facility tailored to the commercialisation of life sciences. The entire 24 acres are dedicated to helping people live better for longer, and I can’t wait to see what’s next!
5. What do you think are the biggest opportunities for business growth?
I am very excited by the opportunities that the North of Tyne Combined Authority will bring. With devolved powers and ambitious plans to create a more inclusive economy, this can only be positive for business growth. Our focus is on ageing, data and energy – all hot topics –offer the biggest opportunity for growth.
The key themes of the city around data and ageing also offers substantial opportunities to local businesses creating products and services within these economies.
6. What are the biggest challenges to business growth?
Uncertainty around skills. This is however a UK-wide challenge. For example, we are one of many cities that have a rapidly growing tech sector, and this is creating a skills gap. It’s not just traditional tech companies, more and more businesses (legal, accounting, logistics for example) are looking to create their own internal tech teams to innovate and improve processes – increasing the demand for skills and tech talent even further.
As a region, it is important to look at ways to upskill, whether that’s through academies or through technical schools such as the North East Futures UTC that has been established to change the education, skills and employment model for the digital and health science sectors. We are producing top graduates and as a region we have the highest density of STEM students, with 50,000 – so we do have the talent, the challenge is retaining that talent. At Invest Newcastle it is about connecting industry with talent and our role is to bring continue bring more businesses into the region, so they don’t have to leave for a job. The positive thing is that 99% (don’t quote us!) of Geordies who do leave, look for opportunities to come back! And when they do, they bring their expertise and experience back to the region, and sometimes ideas for new businesses!