Pitch@Palace in Sunderland (18th January 2017)

Thanks to the good guys at Sunderland Software City, ‘Pitch@Palace On Tour’ will have its first event of the year at their Sunderland Software Centre headquarters on the 18th January 2017.


Pitch@Palace gives founders the chance to get their tech business or idea in front of a global audience of influencers who can catapult it to the next level.

Established by The Duke of York, in less than three years Pitch@Palace has helped over 247 businesses grow, with some now enjoying huge global success.

Each Pitch@Palace has a different theme, and the theme for Pitch@Palace 7.0 is ‘Human Tech’, which will explore the potential impact of technology in our everyday lives – focusing on three key areas:

  • Tech supporting our everyday needs – our health, our education, our environment
  • Tech making our lives more efficient – connecting up our homes via the Internet of things, improving our communications, wearable tech solutions, and robotics
  • Tech augmenting our experience of the world – through virtual reality and artificial intelligence

The Process:


If you have a start-up that falls under the theme of ‘Human Tech’, then apply online at www.pitchatpalace.com/apply before 2nd January 2017.

Pitch@Palace On Tour Sunderland

Up to 20 applicants will be selected to deliver a three-minute pitch about their business to an audience of judges and guests (including businesses, investors, mentors and media) at the event at the Sunderland Software Centre on the 18 January 2017.

During the event, the judges and audience will vote for up to three finalists to automatically attend the Pitch@Palace Boot Camp. The remaining entrepreneurs are then entered into a pool for further Boot Camp selection. Pitch@Palace On Tour Sunderland is an excellent opportunity for businesses from the North East to develop useful business links and interact with the Pitch@Palace team.

Pitch@Palace 7.0

All businesses selected for Pitch@Palace Boot Camp are invited to Pitch@Palace 7.0, held at St James’s Palace on Tuesday 25 April 2017. Judges will select 12-15 businesses to pitch at the event and the winner of the People’s Choice Award (a vote open to the public, who can view each Entrepreneur’s pitch video and vote for their favourite) is also announced.

If you think you’ve got a business or idea that could change the world visit www.pitchatpalace.com/apply and apply. If you have any questions please contact billy.webber@sunderlandsoftwarecity.com or call 0191 562 3345.

CyberSecurity in the North East of England (#CyberSecurityNE)

Way back in January this year I was asked by my Tech City UK colleagues to organise a cybersecurity roundtable in the North of England to discuss the proposed ‘Investigatory Powers Bill‘ which would be hosted by Baroness Joanna Shields OBE (ex-Bebo, Google and Facebook and now UK Minister for Internet Safety and Security).

Paul Lancaster (Plan Digital), Joanna Shields (UK Minister for Internet Safety & Security) & Doug Jones (Tech North)
Paul Lancaster (Plan Digital), Joanna Shields (UK Minister for Internet Safety & Security), Doug Jones (Tech North)

At first it was assumed that this would take place in Manchester but when my Tech North colleagues and I looked into it, Newcastle came out ahead in terms of assets and expertise which we felt deserved more airtime with and recognition by central government.

This included The Centre for Cybercrime and Computer Security (CCCS) at Newcastle University which ‘carries out versatile cyber security research and provides education to make the Internet safer for families, businesses and organisations’ and is one of just two Academic Centres of Excellence in Cyber Security Research in the North of England (the other is at Lancaster University).

Newcastle University’s fantastic ‘Cloud Innovation Centre‘ at The Core, Newcastle Science Central was the venue for an excellent and thoughtful discussion with a range of academic and private sector experts on the issues surrounding the new Bill from a data collection and storage point of view and it filled me with great confidence to have such a high calibre of ‘good guys’ working in this field in the North East of England.

During my time at Tech North (part of Tech City UK), I spent a lot of my time trying to identify and then highlight unique selling points (or sub-sector specialisms) in each of the seven Northern cities of Newcastle, Sunderland, Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and Hull that were based on genuine expertise and not just aspiration.

Apart from the academic expertise, when you take into account all the business services companies where data security is so important like Sage, Atom Bank, Student Loans and Barclays that are either headquartered or have data resilience teams based in the North East, it’s clear to me that CyberSecurity is a sub-sector of tech that the North East can really pin its hat on.

Since the roundtable, I’ve continued to keep an eye out for examples where the North East is coming together to share knowledge and insight on this growing sector and apart from IT/software membership organisation Dynamo North East running some excellent events as part of their ‘Cyber Resilience‘ workstream, I was very pleased to see North Tyneside-based Forfusion running their ‘Cyber-Attacks: Why they happen and how to stop them‘ event back at The Cloud Innovation Centre last week.

This was an excellent (albeit slightly worrying) event that saw around 50 people gather to hear some fascinating presentations by some of Cisco’s leading security experts and see first-hand just how easy it is for someone to gain unauthorised access to your software or IT systems from phishing emails (see Storify article).

When you hear what a big business this has become through the ‘industrialization of hacking’ (see the slides below) it’s rather worrying that despite all the expertise in the city, Newcastle tops the national table for CyberSecurity problems, that over 93% of businesses in Newcastle with over 200 employees and surrounding areas have reported losses or breaches of data, and that these hacks usually stem from poor or outdated network security!

When you then take into account that ‘the average cost of significant security breaches for small organisations ranges from £75,000-£311,000 and for larger organisations it can be between £1.46M-£3.14M’ – it makes you even more grateful that there is expertise on hand to help you protect yourself against Cyber-Attacks!

If you’re not sure where to start, I suggest:

  • Reading Forfusion’s blog here
  • Scanning through the presentation slides here
  • and then downloading Forfusion’s free ‘CyberSecurity Threat Report at www.forfusion.com/security if you want more detailed advice and support

Finally, a really simple and effective way to protect yourself against unauthorised logins to your software and access to your sensitive data is by using the rather brilliant ‘Varikey‘ reader invented by Newcastle-based tech entrepreneur Bob Golightly (see demo video below):

Co-working comes to Newcastle

I’ve been championing the idea of co-working in Newcastle since April 2011 when a tour of the ‘Silicon Roundabout’ area of London reinforced my belief that ‘clustering’ (close georgraphical proximity to other businesses and entrepreneurs) was an important ingredient in the success of a startup (see ‘Start-Ups: Know Your Place’).

This trip, which included visits to TechHub, Hoxton Mix and an exclusive interview with Moshi Monsters/Mind Candy CEO Michael Acton Smith (below) is what made me start hosting weekly events for developers, designers and start-up founders at PNE Group’s PostOffice building on Pink Lane.

My original idea, which I first mentioned at SuperMondays in April 2011, was to have regular co-working days and evening events at the PostOffice but for various reasons (mainly a lack of time and resources) they didn’t begin until 3rd August 2012 (see http://plandigitaluk.com/2012/07/12/postoffice-venue-launches-weekly-co-working-days-in-newcastle/). Instead, I decided to focus on turning the PostOffice into a hub / focal point for grassroots developer and designer user groups, starting with our first event with PHPNE on 21st June 2011. Watching these events grow in size and number to over 50 people some weeks has been one of the most fulfilling things I’ve done in my professional career, although most of the credit needs to go to the leader / organiser Anthony Sterling as I’m merely providing the space for them to call home.

The success of PHPNE has attracted other user groups to the PostOffice, like Design Interest (which celebrated its 1yr anniversary at the venue this month), Ruby North East, Javascript North East, Python North East and one off events by UX North East, the Final Cut Pro user group and the first ever public pitches by the teams on the ignite100 tech accelerator programme. In fact, one of the great things about the ignite100 programme is that not only are they discovering and investing in exciting new start-ups but they’ve also opened up their super-cool office, ‘The Loft’ @ Adamson House on Westgate Road for co-working with desks available to rent at an affordable price (email paul@ignite100.com to find out more). To see what other events are coming up at the PostOffice, you should Follow us on Twitter @PostOfficeNE1 and ‘Like’ our Facebook Page www.facebook.com/PostOfficeNE1.

Unless you’ve been to one of the events it’s hard to describe but having a regular place that the local dev / tech community can call home, offering an informal and relaxed environment, in a handy location right next to some good pubs, is part of the reason why local people now regularly talk about what a great ‘community’ there is up here in Newcastle and the North East. There are many other factors which add to this which I outlined in my recent overview of the North East tech start-up scene but it shouldn’t be sniffed at as it’s a very real and magical thing.

We’re now doing monthly co-working events at the PostOffice on the first Friday of the month (at the time of writing our next one is on 2nd November and tickets can be bought for £10 at http://postofficenov.eventbrite.com) which again are reinforcing my belief that modern day business is all about working and collaborating in a more social (real-life) environment.

In addition to the PostOffice, I’m very pleased to see that Newcastle Business Village have recently opened a fantastic, full-time co-working space at Clavering House, behind Central Station where you can work in a great environment for just £15 per day (see video below). As the North East’s biggest advocate of co-working, Jayne Graham (Space On Tap / Colleagues On Tap) deserves a lot of credit for the input and advice she has given the team behind Clavering House, helping them to create the type of place that I plan to start working from occasionally and where I would urge you to give it a try yourself next time you’re in Newcastle.

Why entrepreneurs will get us out of the recession

Way back on 27th November 2009, I attended the PNE Group annual lecture with Charles Bean, Deputy Governor of The Bank of England titled ‘Is the great recession over?’ and here’s a summary of what I write about it at the time.

Firstly, he started by giving a bit of background about the causes of the recession. Much of it you will already know from watching the news or reading the paper but it was interesting to hear it from someone in the ‘eye of the storm’ as it were.

These include;

1. Previous record of great stability leading to complacency and relaxed attitude to investment risk.

2. Low interest rates. The US Federal Reserve kept interest rate low meaning it was much easier to access funds and cheaper to borrow.

3. Savings and investments from around the world, particularly Asia / China encouraged investors to put into riskier investments.

4. Failings in international financial markets such as securitisation, sub-prime mortgages, credit default swaps which in principle looked like would work and make the world economy more robust. However, loans sold through securitisation were still held within the banking system as a way to get around legislation. Fine in principle if just one bank doing this but they were all at it and so merely offloading the bad debts to each other.

5. Some of these new ‘products’ were very complex and so difficult to value – the natural reaction of investors is therefore to shun them, making them harder to move out of the banking system.

6. Distorted incentives leading to the selling of sub-prime mortgages to people with no means of paying them back.

7. City trader bonuses paid on short term results which inevitably lead to people taking more risks.

8. Belief that the public sector / Government would step in and rescue the banks (which they did)!

But why was there such a drastic impact on the World economy? All the above factors coincided with a fall in GDP (Gross Domestic Product) across the globe by 5% in 2007, followed by extreme caution. in September/October 2008 which led to the global recession.

Basically, he thinks that the current economic downturn is not yet over. The deficit for 2010 will be between 10-12% GDP and we are therefore going to see a negative impact on the Public Sector (cuts in spending / possible job losses / pay freezes).

‘Quantitative Easing’ (putting more money into our economy to boost spending by buying assets from private sector institutions or UK government bonds aka ‘gilts’) seems to be having a positive effect. (See http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/monet…e-pamphlet.pdf).

There are signs that the UK and World economy seem to be improving. Charles mentioned that the UK Office for National Statistics had recently showed contraction in the UK economy of 0-3% but said that other indicators and data suggested that it was much healthier which makes it much harder to know for certain. Economy seems to be bumping along the bottom. Either way, the likelihood for 2010 is that the recovery will be slower and more drawn out for this major recession than a ‘normal’ one.

The depreciation of Sterling should encourage more UK exports (which is a good thing is that’s your line of business), but will lead to an increase in export costs.

Overall, there are good signs for the UK economy as a whole, and the Bank of England’s November ‘Inflation Report’ said that we should expect a growth rate in the economy of 2% in 2010, and 4% in 2011. At the time of the lecture in November, press commentary on the report had implied that it was overly optimistic, however Charles Bean said that 4% growth rate is still below pre-downturn economy.

He rounded up by saying that there was still a long way to go, and that we should expect a long and protracted recovery from the deepest recession since the warm although we were in a better position than some would have us believe.

Finally, he closed by saying that “Entrepreneurs are the best people to spot gaps in the market, help the economy and get us out of the recession, NOT politicians”!

So, take heart everyone, our future success lies with you! alt

Sadly, Charles Bean didn’t have time to answer any of my questions but I hope that the above info is interesting / of use to some of you. A couple of questions that he did answer from the audience are below;

Question 1: Regarding the collapse of Lehmans Bros., did we not have a similar problem 10yrs ago with the collapse of Barings Bank? Have we not learned anything from that?

Answer 1: Barings was a result of the actions of a single ‘Rogue Trader’, rather than failings throughout the banking system. However, the collapse of Lehmans had a much greater effect on the economy as the banks were all buying and selling toxic assets from each other and therefore the failing of one impacted all the rest.

Question 2: Are all banks the same, or are some better than others? Should consumers be choosing their banks more strategically rather than merely on the customer service they provide, how nice their branches look inside or short term incentives to bring in their business?

Answer 2: Charles Bean obviously didn’t want to seem to favour one bank over another so simply said that all banks have different ways to fund their activities and more expertise in certain markets than others. He recommended shopping around and going to the bank that gives you the best service as they should all be trying their hardest to win your custom and earn back your trust. He also reminder people that there is currently a de factor 100% guarantee for depositers, and advised spreading money around rather than putting all your eggs in one basket.

For more info from the Bank of England visit: www.bankofengland.co.uk

PostOffice venue launches weekly co-working days in Newcastle

After talking about bringing co-working days to Newcastle since April 2011, I’m pleased to announce that we are finally going to start doing them at our PostOffice venue in Newcastle every Friday, starting with a FREE launch event on 3rd August (9am-5pm).

The PostOffice also has a new Facebook Page at www.facebook.com/PostOfficeNE1 to go with the pre-existing Twitter profile @PostOfficeNE1. Please help spread the word by sharing the press release / information below as widely as possible and attending yourself if you can by booking your FREE ticket at: http://postofficelaunch.eventbrite.com

PostOffice @ 5 Pink Lane, Newcastle upon Tyne


‘PostOffice’ venue launches weekly co-working days in Newcastle

PostOffice, the venue for weekly, after work events for North East based developers, designers and tech start-ups, is to start hosting daytime co-working events every Friday starting on 3rd August.

Inspired by his visits to co-working spaces like TechHub and Google Campus in London, Newcastle-based entrepreneur and digital marketing expert Paul Lancaster (aka @lordlancaster) has spent the past 12 months trying to build a community of similar, like-minded people in the North East by opening the doors of the venue to local developer and user groups every Tuesday evening.

Situated on Pink Lane (directly opposite Newcastle Central Station), the former old post office is owned by local enterprise agency PNE Group (aka Project North East) who have been supporting small businesses since 1980 and have helped that part of the city become known as a Tech Quarter once dubbed ‘Silicon Alley’ by offering low-cost workspace and high speed internet since the 90’s.

The PostOffice now plays host to weekly, after work events by PHP North East, Ruby North East, Javascript North East and Design Interest which are ran by volunteers (including Lancaster) for the sole purpose of promoting collaboration, ideas and skill sharing in the North East.

Lancaster said ‘Around 100 people in total now come to the PostOffice events with a great deal of crossover between the different user groups which has led to some interesting collaborations and ideas for new projects including a design-themed conference planned for August’.

‘Apart from giving people the chance to learn something new in a relaxed, informal setting, the events are as much about spending time with your friends and peers with the conversations that take place afterwards in the nearby Town Wall and Forth pubs being an important aspect of the community feel which is apparent in the North East tech scene right now’.

Co-working is a concept that has been around for a while now, particularly in the US and London but Lancaster feels that it’s only recently that technology has made it truly possible for people to do it and still feel like they are being just as productive, if not more so than being sat in a traditional office.

He said, ‘the nature of my work (website management/digital marketing) means that I can literally work from anywhere with a Wi-Fi or 3G signal and in fact do a lot of my work on the move through my smartphone. You see people working in coffee shops but they’re not really suitable and there’s a limit to how long you can realistically stay there without upsetting the staff and fellow customers.’

‘Co-working is the modern way to work and brings an added benefit to participants by providing the space for serendipitous conversations and networking opportunities which a traditional office worker or home worker would usually miss out on.’

The format is simple. Co-workers bring their laptop / tablet, phone and business cards, and we provide the space, inspiring people and free coffee from our neighbours @PinkLaneCoffee. The launch event is free to attend but tickets must be booked at http://postofficelaunch.eventbrite.com

If people would like to know more about the co-working days or evening events that are taking place at the PostOffice, they should Follow them on Twitter @PostOfficeNE1 or ‘Like’ them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/PostOfficeNE1

[PRESS RELEASE] PostOffice venue launches weekly co-working days in Newcastle
The Journal (25th Aug 2011) – Co-working offers the best of both worlds