What’s so great about North East tech?

Written by Sarat Pediredla, CEO of the Newcastle-headquartered technology consultancy hedgehog lab

Sarat Pediredla has been announced as the North East’s local champion of 2017. Amusing though it is to those who know him, Sarat was once set to become a brain surgeon. Then he found computers – and discovered his true passion. hedgehog lab, the technology consultancy he co-founded with Mark Forster, now employs over 120 people in Newcastle, London, Boston, Austin, Denmark and India.

AS an international company with sites in the US, Denmark and India, you might expect us to be headquartered in London.

But we won’t be moving any time soon. We are proud to call the North East our home – and are delighted each time one of our global clients hops on a plane to join us at the Mothership, otherwise known as the Newcastle office.

That happens quite a lot, believe it or not, and these customers always leave with a glowing impression of the region – just one of the many strategic advantages being based in the North East brings.

Others include the sheer diversity of the tech scene here.

We have some true home-grown giants, like Sage, the business software provider, which caters for over 6m customers worldwide.

Then there’s the multinationals, like Accenture, which grew its Newcastle Delivery Centre into a true tech success story under the management of Bob Paton, now hedgehog lab’s non-executive director.

Yet it’s not all about the big names. Much of the exciting stuff is coming from start-ups, who, nurtured by the likes of Tech North’s Northern Stars programme and the Newcastle-based Campus North, are putting the area on the map for spirited innovation aimed at solving real world problems.

Now we’ve grown a bit – shifting into the sought after Scale-Up bracket – we see our role as something similar, but backed by the most cutting-edge of tools.

In January, in fact, we launched our own Immersive Technologies division to concentrate on Virtual, Augmented and Mixed Reality, and are already seeing major interest.

Elsewhere in the region are companies specialising in drones, AI, big data, IoT… Which all suggests it’s something of a forward-thinking place.

Of course, innovation is ingrained in the culture, with its proud industrial history. And Geordies aren’t afraid of a hard day’s work.

But there’s more to it than that – our tech ecosystem (and I’m not the first to say it) is unusually well-integrated; while we might like more attention from the rest of the world, we know among ourselves what each of us is doing and where we can go for support. Don’t get me wrong – it’s fiercely competitive, but you’ll also find some great collaboration.

And there many industry bodies – from Dynamo North East to Digital Union, with its #ThisIsMINE hashtag – flying the flag for our sector, connecting people within it and making every effort to put us on the national stage.

Of course, it’s difficult and one thing that saddens us is that many young people are still leaving to pursue tech careers in the capital. Hence, the skills issue persists.

But we are hopeful of change, aided by everything from increased provision of coding clubs in schools to vocation-based education to the lure of accelerator programmes.

We are also planning to open our own VR Academy to equip North East people with the skills needed to enter the most dynamic end of the industry.

As our Director of Immersive Technologies Shaun Allan puts it: “This is the new shipbuilding.”

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