North East FinTech Ecosystem Report 2019-2020

Published in December 2019, this report analyses the North East FinTech ecosystem & finds the region to have a strong established financial & technology sector with a growing number of early stage FinTech firms.

Based on insights gained from a combination of desk-based research, focus groups & interviews conducted over several months in the latter half of 2019, the report is the first formal analysis of the FinTech ecosystem in the North East of England.

Co-authored by Julian Wells (Director & FinTech Practice Lead, Whitecap Consulting) & James Thwaites (Associate Director for the North East, Whitecap Consulting), the report is published at a time where there is an increasing focus on the role that the regions outside of London & the South East of England can play in the future growth of the UK FinTech sector.

Read the report

Click / tap on the image below to read the report.

[Video] Over Thinker - Dan Prince Podcast Ep011: Paul Lancaster

Dan Prince is one of the UK’s best photographers & visual storytellers who has created his ‘Over Thinker Podcast‘ as a way to delve deeper into some of the stories behind the images he captures & people he meets through his work.

Although I haven’t had the pleasure of being photographed by Dan yet, I was delighted to be asked to take part in this podcast interview which is available on both Apple Podcasts & as a YouTube video too (below).

Let us know what you think by leaving a comment below, on YouTube or by Tweeting Dan & I @danprincephoto & @lordlancaster

Paul Lancaster (Plan Digital) wins ‘PROFILE’ category in North East Times ‘Impact Awards 2019’

The North East Times ‘Impact Awards’ highlight those people based in the North East who have made an exceptional impact across five key areas – financial, global, regional, profile & innovation.

Our Founder & Director, Paul Lancaster, won the ‘PROFILE’ category in the 2019 awards for the way he promotes the North East business community on a regional, national & international level at an awards ceremony at Wylam Brewery in Newcastle on 4th December 2019.

The following article appeared in the December issue of North East Times magazine:

‘PROFILE’ Impact Award Winner - Paul Lancaster (Founder & Director, Plan Digital UK)

While some baulk at the term ‘SuperConnector’, Paul Lancaster not only embraced the label when he first read about it in Malcolm Gladwell’s 2000 book, The Tipping Point, but it continues to inform his work to promote the North East and its business community.

Paul spent a career helping people start their own business, in roles for Shell LiveWIRE, Tech North, Generator and for corporates including Sage and PNE Group, before establishing his own business, Plan Digital, in 2016.

As a business owner, Paul continued to advise entrepreneurs but found that, despite there being a wealth of support and advice on starting a business, people were still struggling to find the information they required. Paul decided the North East needed an internationally significant event where a network of like- minded people could attend and be inspired and share knowledge around topics such as starting and growing a business, investment and skills retention.

Paul held his first Newcastle Startup Week in 2017. The five-day event offered a range of talks and workshops divided into five themes: inspiration, establishing a business, funding and finance, scaling, and whether to keep going or pivot.

Held annually, the event has gone from strength to strength, with 2019’s Newcastle Startup Week attracting almost 800 delegates and featuring major speakers including Steve Bartlett, founder and CEO of Social Chain. In addition, a series of fringe events took place, further boosting the knowledge sharing and support.

Paul worked with Newcastle University to analyse the impact of Newcastle Startup Week 2019. The resulting report shows 82 per cent of attendees ‘gained new knowledge or insight’, 61 per cent felt ‘more confident’, 40 per cent ‘found new collaborations or partners’ and 20 per cent found ‘new customers or markets’.

Newcastle Startup Week is also increasingly attracting people from outside of the region, with more than 60 per cent of this year’s attendees based from outside Newcastle.

“They use it as a way of finding out what’s going on in the North East” Paul says.

To continue the momentum of Newcastle Startup Week, Paul ran a one-day Scale-Up Summit in 2018 and has now added to this with his Founders’ Friday events. Held the last Friday of each month and sponsored by Sintons law firm, they provide attendees with a day of networking, workshops, panel discussions and economic insights.

Encouraging collaboration is an essential driver for Paul – who played an instrumental role in bringing the business and incubator centre, TusPArk, to Newcastle.

He has made it his mission to promote links between the North East of England and the South East of Scotland in particular.

“People are always looking South [to build business links] but I’ve been going up to Scotland for many years and Edinburgh and Newcastle are cities that have a lot in common. There are a lot of opportunities for collaboration between the two areas.”

This northern outlook doesn’t stop at Scotland as Paul is also working to promote links with Newcastle and the Nordic countries and Canada too.

In addition, Plan Digital UK’s founder has attended and spoken at a variety of tech events around the world in 2019 including Turing Fest, Edinburgh, Techfestival Copenhagen, Edinburgh Startup Summit and Lisbon Web Summit.

It seems that wherever Paul goes, whether physically or via his digital reach – he is the architect of the hugely popular #ThisIsMINE – the region’s most prolific super connector is always flying the flag for the North East.

Read about all the other Impact Awards winners & shortlisted nominees here.

Report shows North East business creation, confidence & regional pride boosted by Newcastle Startup Week

A new ‘Impact Report’ commissioned by the Newcastle Startup Week team has highlighted that events such as theirs play a key role in growing the North East economy by facilitating business growth, boosting entrepreneurial wellbeing & increasing regional pride.

As part of Newcastle University’s ‘Arrow project’, academics from the Centre for Urban & Regional Development Studies (CURDS) were asked to carry out some online research & in-depth interviews with past delegates, speakers & sponsors from the Newcastle Startup Week festival in 2017 & 2018. The findings were then turned into an ‘Impact Report’ which was produced by Newcastle-based Sail Creative who specialise in ‘designing for commercial & real-world impact’ & can be downloaded from

Major Impact

The research found that the events have had a major impact on delegates personally with 80% of survey respondents saying they felt more motivated or inspired & 61% saying they felt more confident after attending.

From a regional perspective, 66% said they were more likely to think Newcastle/the North East was a good place to start a business & 75% were more likely to think Newcastle/the North East has a vibrant business community.

Paul Lancaster (Founder & Event Producer, Newcastle Startup Week) said: “Although we have many examples of how the event has helped people start or grow a business, I wanted to get a better understanding of what meaningful impact it has had on people, businesses, the city & region.I’m pleased to say the findings are extremely positive & although beneficial to businesses, the biggest impact of Newcastle Startup Week seems to be on the people themselves & their perception of the North East. If we can encourage more people to attend events like this from every part of our region, the positive impact on our local communities, villages, towns & cities could be enormous!”

Launched in 2017, Newcastle Startup Week is a five day & night festival for entrepreneurs & business leaders that takes place in multiple venues across Newcastle upon Tyne & Gateshead in May. The 2017 & 2018 events both attracted over 600 delegates each & the event on 13-17 May 2019 is on target to attract 700 from across the UK & around the world.

Despite its’ success, Lancaster says running Newcastle Startup Week hasn’t been without its’ challenges adding: “Running events of this scale on a shoestring budget is hard! From the very beginning, I didn’t want to make the event free to attend but at the same time knew we needed to keep the price as low as possible. Even so, the North East of England is still too heavily reliant on European funding which means that everyone has become addicted to ‘free’ & makes it difficult to persuade some people to pay anything for a ticket.”

“There are also some people & organisations who could be far more supportive than they are because of the role that they have, it’s been difficult to get the 5 North East universities to fully engage with the event & the number of students attending despite heavily discounted tickets is disappointingly low. Finally, I believe that geography is still a barrier with ‘Local Tribalism’ caused by football, politics & perceived poor transport infrastructure seemingly stopping many people from outside Newcastle & Gateshead from attending the event.”

What next?

After three years, the team would now like to ask the reader how they’d like to take things forward & welcome any conversations about how to build on what they’ve achieved so far.

To download the Impact Report, please visit

About Newcastle Startup Week (NSW)

  • NSW is a 5-day & night festival that inspires & helps people to start or grow their business in the North East of England.
  • NSW first took place in May 2017 & was repeated again in May 2018 (with a 1-day Newcastle Scaleup Summit in November 2017). Both events had over 600 delegates from across the UK, Europe & USA & the 2019 event is on target to reach 700.
  • The third NSW will take place in multiple venues across Newcastle & Gateshead on 13-17 May 2019.
  • With 70+ speakers across the week, notable speakers this year include Steven Bartlett (CEO & Co-Founder, Social Chain), Brad Burton (the UK’s no.1 motivational business speaker), Joanna Feeley (Founder & Managing Director, Trend Bible), Ed Molyneux (Founder & CEO, FreeAgent), Sam Conniff Allende (Author, Be More Pirate) & Michael Owen (Designer & Founder, Always Wear Red).
  • Although the event name refers to ‘Newcastle’, Newcastle Startup Week aims to celebrate & promote the whole of the North East as the best place to start & grow a business in the UK, features speakers from across the region & the 2019 event takes place in multiple venues across Newcastle & Gateshead.

About Plan Digital

Established in 2016 by Paul Lancaster, Plan Digital are award-winning Inbound Marketing, Business Development & Events experts focused on accelerating the growth of businesses in the North East of England. They’re also the founders & organisers of the annual 5-day Newcastle Startup Week festival in May, the 1-day Newcastle Scaleup Summit that first took place in November 2017, the monthly Founders’ Friday events & creators of the ongoing #ThisIsMINE (Made In North East) social media campaign.

Getting started with Zoho Books

Indian tech giant Zoho Corporation has been sponsoring our monthly Founders’ Friday events since November 2018.

They’ve been doing this as a way to help raise awareness of their excellent, low-cost cloud accounting software Zoho Books in the UK which has been specifically created for micro, small & medium enterprise businesses.

Varun Singh (Head of Marketing, Zoho Books) took part in a live Q&A at our Founders’ Friday event in November & you can watch the Facebook Live video here.

This month, he came back to Newcastle to visit some Zoho clients & to record a short demo video / webinar with Paul Lancaster (Founder & Director, Plan Digital) plus an interview for his ‘SuperConnector Show’ podcast.

Watch the video below if you’d like to know more about why Zoho Books is such a great choice for small & micro businesses:

Listen to the podcast below if you’d like to know more about Zoho Corporation, why they decided to support business startup activities in Newcastle upon Tyne, England & the importance of taking your time when forging new partnerships & exploring new international markets. (This podcast is available on Spreaker, iTunes or Spotify).

Try Zoho Books for free

If you like the look of Zoho Books, you can sign up for a no obligation, free 14 day trial here after which it’s just £6, £12 or £18 + VAT per month if you decide to keep it (see below).

Creative Fuse: Project Report 2019

Drawing on the combined expertise of all five universities in the North East of England, Creative Fuse North East set out firstly to map the Creative, Digital & IT (CDIT) sector in the North East and then to catalyse new ways of working between businesses, freelancers & academics.

The core of the project has been to explore the concept of ‘Fusion’ - the combination of ideas & skills from creative, design & technology disciplines - to provide businesses with a potent mix that can support growth in terms of staff, products & sustainability.

Click / tap on the image below to download the final report.

#MicroBizMatters Day 2019

Established in 2015, the 5th annual #MicroBizMatters Day event was broadcast live from the the majestic Guildhall building in Hull on Friday 11th January 2019.

Taking the form of a live, continuous Google Hangout On Air which was broadcast live through YouTube between 7am-3pm, it also featured workshops, panel discussions & live performances featuring over 100 micro business owners & champions from around the UK (see schedule & video below).

Watch the Google Hangout on YouTube

Roll of Honour

Headline Stats

There were an estimated 1500 Tweets containing the #MicroBizMatters hashtag, estimated reach was 173,134 unique Twitter accounts & estimated Impressions (no. of times the Tweets were seen) is 1M+ (1,035,503).

Searching for the ‘Right Direction’?

If you’re searching for the right direction in life or in business, listen to this song & read the lyrics below carefully too:

‘Right Direction’ by Sway, DJ Turkish, Youngman & @lordlancaster

Whenever you’re trying to move too quick on the way to the top
Its only “Right” that you’re gonna get lost
Tryna “keep” up so you don’t get “left” behind
Without a penny so you don’t give a toss
Heads or tails you’re taking too many gambles
You’re on a “roundabout” and going too hard
“Then” you’re on the “road” taking too many shortcuts
Tryna “stay” in the race and now you’re going too fast
That’s not the sound that you hear *Speeding Alert*
Its more like *police siren* what’ve we found over here?
When the feds ask me I’m I moving any gear I’m like yeah
I’m, good with the six right here
I’m tryna buy “300 yards” so whenever me and ideas “cross” paths
I action it, I Bronson it, on some gangster Giggs, Mark Ronson [email protected]^
Ah, everybody knows that I’m in my own “Lane”
Speaking of everybody nose
I can share a Coke I ain’t watching no names
‘Cause I’ve always been the one that hopes everybody blows
Whether I “Turn left” or “right”
Speaking of everybody nose
I can share a Coke I ain’t watching no names
‘Cause I’ve always been the one that hopes everybody blows
Whether I “Turn left” or “right”
“Turn” day or night, I ain’t running to be “2nd”
I’m here to “stay” gotta keep “ahead” with every lyric I “write”
Let’s go


Clear roads no more traffic on the way
Here goes, here goes
I’ve been moving in the right direction (So clear)
Keep on moving in the right direction

“Enjoy the journey as much as the destination, There are no shortcuts, its gonna be hard” – Brad Burton

2nd Verse
Vroom, money money got you revving up your engine
But what do we have “left” when we spend it?
And “after” the debts pile up you‘ll see everybody and their Mummy running for the “Exit”
That’s “when” you start getting desperate
Some reach “the end of the road” wanna “end” it

When applying for jobs, people at the top take too long to respond
Ah, I know my flow is madness and it’s got the people screaming out Sway’s back
Every year you say that
And even when the road got Rocky I was upstairs ASAP
“Right” wake up the game ‘cause they take naps
Got a brother feeling like Sean, take that
Look “sharp” I Combs through my issues
So you can see where my waves at
Everybody knows that I’m in my own “Lane”
Speaking of everybody nose
I can share a Coke I ain’t watching no names
‘Cause I’ve always been the one that hopes everybody blows
Whether I “Turn left” or “right”
I’m tryna exceed my estimations
And googles the only time I’m hanging out ‘till she says
“You have reached your destination”


3rd Verse
Do re mi, I’ma “Keep write”-in until I turn “80”
Even though I’ve got a couple songs about speed *Speeding Alert*
Sorry, I still encourage road safety
I ain’t gonna retire, until my tyres have had it only then will I be tired and vanish Timmy Mallet
For now I wanna get played by Phil & Alice, wave bye to haters awww they feel embarrassed

Demand for flexible office space set to dramatically increase, research reveals

The demand for flexible workspace is set to accelerate as over two thirds of global corporates plan to increase their use of flexible co-working and collaborative space over the next three years, according to new research from Knight Frank.

Knight Frank’s (Y)OUR SPACE report surveyed senior executives at 120 global companies which collectively employ over 3.5 million people and occupy an estimated 233 million sq. ft. of office space.

The research reveals they plan to significantly reduce their number of traditional leased offices and operate increasingly from flexible, serviced and co-working spaces, which create a more collaborative environment and offer the freedom to expand and contract quickly, according to market conditions.

Flexible workspace is defined as workspace that is furnished and ready to use – complete with everything needed to facilitate work straightaway including WiFi, a receptionist, meeting rooms, technology and equipment.

Patrick Matheson (Partner at Knight Frank Newcastle), said that some North East landlords are ahead of the curve having already started converting their offices into flexible and collaborative spaces.

He comments: “The Greydient @ 71 Grey Street, The Pearl on Northumberland Street and NEON at Quorum are good examples of landlords developing collaborative space within their offices to meet this changing occupier trend.”

“The likes of WeWork and other co-working operators haven’t committed to Newcastle as a location to open co-working operations yet, but the thriving tech/digital scene we have here gives us the right platform and I’m sure if one of these did come to town they would do well.”

Today, despite the proliferation of co-working and serviced office operators, the majority of global corporates occupy offices on a traditional lease model. Two thirds of companies surveyed reported that co-working, serviced and flexible office space comprise 5% or less of their current office space.

However, the research reveals that the proportion of flexible space within companies’ portfolios is set to increase dramatically.

69% of global corporates plan to increase their use of co-working spaces, and 80% expect to grow the amount of collaborative space they use over the next three years.

Furthermore, almost half (44%) said that flexible space will constitute up to a fifth of all office space in the next three years. An additional 16% estimated that as much as half of their workspace globally would be flexible space within the same time period.

The drivers

What are your reasons for opting for flexible/collaborative workspaces?

  • 75% said they believe it would increase personal productivity - linked to wellbeing and happiness
  • 55% said it gives increased flexibility
  • 11% state it would increase the sense of community amongst workers
  • 11% said greater speed to becoming operational

The North East

Paul Lancaster (Founder of Plan Digital and Newcastle Startup Week) says it is a demand for vibrant, buzzy, collaborative, high-spec workspaces that is driving forward this trend in the North East.

“Managed workspaces are not new. Places like PNE’s North East Workspace, North East BIC, TEDCO and Regus have been around since the 80s or 90s” says Paul. “They’re great places but they’re traditional, serviced offices where companies usually work in their own spaces, behind closed doors. They are often out of town and difficult to reach without a car.”

“What we’re seeing is people wanting to be part of a vibe. They want to be amongst other like-minded people and innovators, bouncing ideas off each other in high-quality, boutique-style-décor, collaborative spaces. They see the Google and Facebook offices of Silicon Valley and they want a slice of that. And they want to be in city centres, within walking distance of entertainment and shopping,” says Paul.

The war for talent

Paul continues: “The global war for talent is definitely a thing. That ever-increasing competition for winning the best employees for your business is strongly behind why companies are moving towards higher quality, contemporary, flexible and collaborative workspaces.”

“Top class people are no longer willing to relocate for a job – it’s now a case of taking the job to the talent, which is where short-lease flexible, co-working offices come in. If that person is in high-demand for their skills then they don’t settle for mediocre, bland, traditional, working-in-silos, offices on the edge of town. Absolutely not.”

The flexible scene

The North East’s journey onboard this global trend was highlighted in what is known as ‘The Auxin Report’ back in 2016. This research, commissioned by Newcastle and Gateshead Councils, looked at the region’s digital sector and explored what the councils could best do to help the development of the digital sector with a particular focus on workspace provision.

One of the upshots of the report was the revealing of the tech community’s desire for modern, shared workspaces with a community vibe and short-term, affordable leases that allow them to expand and contract as needed.

Campus North was, of course, the first proper co-working space in Newcastle and fulfilled that brief for around five years until closing its’ doors earlier this year.

Paul Lancaster, who was originally a sponsor and supporter of Campus North whilst at Sage and then Tech North (now Tech Nation) before becoming a tenant when he started his own Plan Digital business in 2016, said:

“Campus North was Newcastle’s first generation of co-working space and people loved it for its community feel, city centre location, flexibility and affordable price. It was the perfect home for freelancers and early stage tech and digital startups. But although it will be sorely missed, it wasn’t right for everyone with some people demanding the community vibe but with an even higher quality environment and also more follow on space that they could grow into as their business grew.”

“The fact that 71 Grey Street is almost at full capacity from the outset shows the demand is there for high quality, flexible and collaborative workspace for fast-growing and ambitious startups and established SMEs, and highlights just how vibrant the tech and digital sector is in Newcastle these days.”

The future

Hanro is one of the first North East property developers to take the baton and run with this changing occupier trend.

Hanro has invested £2m in transforming 21,000 sq. ft. of offices at the prestigious, central Newcastle address of 71 Grey Street and has incorporated communal, networking spaces.

Erin Peart (Head of Property, Hanro) said: “What we really want to do is create a buzz in the building with scaleup businesses who can be complementary to one another.”

“On the second floor of the building the firm is offering shorter term leases in smaller spaces, alongside longer leases on other parts of the building, offering a great mix of options for occupiers.”

She said: “Rather than try to swim against the tide, this is a building where we are happy to accept that the more flexible we are with leases, the more demand we will have from occupiers.”

To sum up - demand for flexibility is the single biggest threat - and opportunity - to owners of office space. The recent boom in co-working is indicative of a structural change within commercial real estate whereby companies desire space that is flexible, highly serviced and aligned within the realities of doing business in an age of disruption.

Whilst it’s tech, digital and gaming companies that are at the forefront of this vogue, professional services firms are now making-up ground and, as the Knight Frank research shows, global corporates have cottoned-on to its benefits too.

  • 69% of global corporates plan to increase co-working & flexible workspace over next three years
  • 44% believe flexible workspace will comprise up to a fifth of all corporate workspace
  • 75% aiming to boost employee happiness and productivity through business space

A version of this article first appeared in the December 2018 issue of Northern Insight magazine and you can read a scanned version here.

Indian tech giant comes to Newcastle

Zoho, a privately owned Indian tech company with over 40 million users globally including Amazon, Facebook, Netflix, HP, KPMG and Renault has come onboard as headline sponsors of our monthly Founders’ Friday events which take place at the Tuspark Eagle Lab co-working space in Newcastle.

With dozens of cloud-based products for new and growing businesses, the Zoho team first contacted us in July after reading about our annual Newcastle Startup Week festival in May and all our other work to help people start and grow businesses in the North East of England and across the UK.

Following a Skype call, several emails and a visit to Newcastle for our Founders’ Friday event in September, Zoho offered to sponsor the events for the next 6 months with a particular focus on helping local businesses understand how to use their Zoho Books accounting software to manage their finances better.

Sridhar Iyengar (Head of Operations for Zoho, Europe) said: “Having experienced the entrepreneurial journey ourselves, we truly understand the needs of an entrepreneur. We grew organically over the last 22 years and today 40 million users use our platforms globally! Our efforts in building products have solely been to reduce the technology barrier for any company to grow their business. We are impressed with the founders community in Newcastle and excited to associate our brand with the Founders’ Friday events.”

Paul Lancaster (Founder & Director, Plan Digital) said: “I was surprised and delighted when the Zoho team got in touch as they are a huge company with a fantastic range of cloud products covering everything you need to run a business including accounting, CRM, sales, marketing, HR, IT and team collaboration tools. This is great validation for our Newcastle Startup Week, Newcastle Scaleup Summit and Founders’ Friday events as a way of not only engaging with the local business community but attracting the attention of global giants like Zoho who then want to invest time, money and resources into our region.”

Zoho’s sponsorship begins this month when Varun Singh (Head of Marketing, Zoho Books) will be speaking at our free Founders’ Friday event taking place at the Tuspark Eagle Lab co-working space on Friday 30th November (you can read about it & watch a video on our event blog at

(Anyone interested in learning more about Zoho Books and other Zoho products, how to partner with Zoho or potentially work with/for the company in the future is encouraged to attend).

Sign up for a free trial of Zoho Books - cloud accounting software for small business