Hundreds of small businesses across the region are set to benefit from a multimillion-pound investment in digital innovation by the North of Tyne Combined Authority.
The firms are set to be supported through digital training, diversification and growth, while creating and safeguarding scores of job, as they plot their next steps in the recovery from Covid-19.
A partnership with the National Innovation Centre for Data (NICD) at Newcastle University, based at Newcastle Helix, will see businesses tap into data science to devise their next moves.
And investment in the Digital Catapult North East will ensure at least 230 businesses are supported.
The investments are being made as part of the £10m North of Tyne Digital Growth and Innovation Programme, the combined authority’s biggest spending commitment since it was set up in November 2018.
The NTCA (North of Tyne Combined Authority) Digital Growth and Innovation Programme will be spent between 2020-23 on investing in small and medium sized businesses, training hundreds of people in digital skills alongside the private sector and through growing the digital sector with new business start-ups and business acceleration programmes.
The announcement comes just days after Newcastle beat cities including Los Angeles, Berlin, and Hong Kong in a list of the world’s top technology cities.
Newcastle was one of only four UK cities to make The Smart City Index, with Newcastle ranked 23rd in the world, ahead of larger places including San Francisco, Toronto, and Chicago.
It is hoped the global ranking – the first time Newcastle has made the list – will help attract investment and talent to North of Tyne’s growing digital economy.
The North of Tyne Combined Authority will invest £1.6m alongside investment from Newcastle University in the National Innovation Centre for Data.
Data Scientists will work alongside more than 230 North of Tyne SMEs to unlock training opportunities and opportunities for improvements in productivity.
This will be of particular benefit to sectors of the economy that are traditionally low paid and of low productivity, such as social care, tourism, and hospitality.
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It will also help attract highly skilled graduates and staff, making the North of Tyne a centre of excellence for digital talent, creativity and research expertise and contributing to the creation of a greener, more fair economy as we recover from Covid-19.
The £1.54m Digital Adoption North of Tyne project will be delivered by Digital Catapult NE and Tees Valley, with the combined authority providing £750,000.
A further £5m of funding has been made available with a call for ideas that can have a significant impact on the growth and success of the digital economy in the area for years to come.
North of Tyne Cabinet Member for Business Competitiveness and Leader of Newcastle City Council Cllr Nick Forbes said: “This is a digital investment that looks to the future.
“Our digital sector is already one of the fastest growing sectors anywhere in the UK.
“This is because the North of Tyne offers not just the right digital community and infrastructure but also the ideal place to live, work, and grow your business, in a wider ecosystem of economic support.
“These investments – in digital skills so people can access the jobs of the future and in one of our chief regional assets which is the National Innovation Centre for Data – will be absolutely crucial for small businesses to survive in the post-covid economy.
“They are about shaping the market, preparing ourselves for Brexit, and accelerating the huge potential of our digital economy, not least in opportunities for job creation in a North of Tyne that is more inclusive, more innovative, more productive, and greener than before.”
Sage chief operating officer Lee Perkins led praise for the investment, saying: “Sage, in consultation with other local businesses and industry leaders, put forward recommendations to the North of Tyne Combined Authority for a data-led plan for SME growth.
“These proposals are now being put into action in what is set to be a major boost for the region’s small businesses. There is much to be excited about the region’s tech economy.This comes at a critical time, as it has never been more important to embrace digital tools as the economy looks to respond to the challenges of Covid-19.”
Dr Jeremy Silver, CEO of Digital Catapult North East said: “Adopting advanced digital technologies will help businesses recover and thrive as we look to move beyond the current crisis, and early adoption gives companies a competitive edge.
“But advanced digital technologies are complex and require investment to get users up the learning curve.
“The North of Tyne Combined Authority has recognised it is imperative that we accelerate this process and we’re very pleased to support them in delivering this activity to help North East businesses.”
National Innovation Centre for Data director Steve Caughey said: “NICD has a national remit but, as demand for help with data across the UK is so high, does not have the capacity to help everyone. This NTCA investment will allow us to deliver a bespoke programme focussed on the North of Tyne, helping more regional companies to grow by enabling them to use their data to address their business questions.”