Is Local Tribalism holding the North East back?

In May we ran another successful 5-day Newcastle Startup Week festival for over 600 people for the 2nd year in a row. This year, I was delighted to see we attracted more people from outside the region including Scotland, Cumbria, Greater Manchester, West Midlands, Wales, London and the South Coast plus a handful from Germany, Switzerland and the USA. This shows that our ongoing social media marketing and PR is working and helping to spread the word about what a great place the North East is to start and grow a business.

However, when I dig a bit deeper into where people are coming from within our region, the breakdown is disappointing. Of the 610 delegates, 373 were from Newcastle upon Tyne but only 28 were from Gateshead (33 came from Manchester). Worse still, only 11 came from North Shields, 9 from South Shields and just 6 from Sunderland (the same number that travelled all the way from London)! Go further North and South of the region and the number falls to just 5 from Durham and 1 each from Darlington and Cramlington, with the same number from other towns and villages in rural parts of the region.

Clearly we need to do more to get the message out that despite the name, Newcastle Startup Week is all about celebrating local success stories from across the North East and encouraging more people in our region to be more entrepreneurial and bring their business ideas to life. The reason we call it ‘Newcastle’ Startup Week and not ‘North East’ Startup Week is because all our daytime and night time events have so far taken place within Newcastle city centre to make everything within easy walking distance. And from an inward investment point of view, when we’re trying to attract businesses and people from outside the region, Newcastle is the brand everyone has heard of. (If you say ‘North East’ to some people, they think you mean North East London, North East Scotland or the North East of their own country).

Even so, I’m concerned that deep-rooted local tribalism (linked to football teams and rivalries borne during the heavy industry era) may be preventing some people in the North East from making the most of opportunities on their doorstep just a 20-30min drive or short Metro ride away. Meanwhile, people from other parts of the UK (and other countries) are willing to spend hours travelling to Newcastle to get the knowledge, contacts and sometimes funding they need to start their business back home. As someone at Newcastle University recently said to me, “Where are all the Geordie and Mackem entrepreneurs?”

If you live outside Newcastle and dream of starting your own business, I hope to see you at Newcastle Startup Week next year and if it makes it more palatable, I’m pleased to say we will be running some of our events on the Gateshead side of the river too. Likewise, if you know someone thinking of starting a business, please encourage them to attend so they don’t miss out on next year’s event. Find out more at

5 thoughts on “Is Local Tribalism holding the North East back?

  1. I agree and actually think the term parochialism describes it even more accurately. It’s frustrating because while cities and councils squabble over decreasing pots of money other areas are thinking like brands, focusing on their core strengths and seeking investment.

    I’ve lived in the region known as “London and the South East” and it just isn’t an issue there (although I appreciate it’s slightly different because London is a national and regional capital). However for me the idea that the region’s biggest city should be the frontman for a region works. As you say Paul, the term North East is generic and could easily mean different things to different people.

    Like it or not, as far as an external audience is concerned, the more defined, identifiable and geographically specific brand of a region’s major city is what external audiences can most easily understand. A headline act is what grabs people’s attention and brings in an audience. Having said that good support acts are equally important, they contribute to the performance and get to share the limelight while still retaining their identity.

    For me the faster we unite behind the London and the South East model where Newcastle is the lead NE brand the better. Keep it as Newcastle Startup Week, keep attracting a wide and diverse audience - if parochial people don’t want to come you don’t need them!

  2. Always like some interesting statistical analysis! I agree this is part of the issue, but I suspect a lot of it is also that the young entrepreneurial/startup demographic that the week targets are more likely to gravitate towards the the larger cities. I think there is a local version of the brain drain to London, whereby the most able/ambitious young people tend to move from smaller towns/cities in the area towards Newcastle/Gateshead, where there are perceived to be more opportunities. Already got our 2019 tickets too btw!

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