Seizing the opportunity: the North East faces up to Brexit

Jon Corbett, January 25, 2017 4 min read

This article was originally posted on the Tech North website.

Jon Corbett is Managing Director of JAC Media.

“Never let a good crisis go to waste.” That was the message driven home last night as the North East’s digital community came together in Newcastle to discuss its future in the wake of Brexit.

Over 60 businesses from the sector descended on Campus North to take in the first of a series of topical networking dates, aptly named the Thinking Digital Sessions, as part of the Digital Futures programme – powered by creative digital support agency, Generator.

The event – which had software giants Sage and strategic digital agency Orange Bus in attendance – saw a keynote speech delivered by Tony Blair’s former policy advisor -cum-social entrepreneur, William Perrin, who provided a defiant message and expert networking platform for the region’s burgeoning economy.

Making the best of a huge change

Mr Perrin, who is also the Director of the international digital consultancy firm Talk About Local, said: “It’s natural to have trepidation about any big change, but if we don’t look for opportunities we won’t find them. I was a Remain campaigner, but I’m determined to make the best of this huge national change in direction.

“It’s more important than ever now to come together, share information and stories and speak with one voice both to government and other countries. It’s a very complex and exciting time for the nation – only the best informed and best represented will prosper.

“Never let a good crisis go to waste. The North East tech sector needs to make its voice clear and loud in London, where they will have to take a lot of opportunities in a hurry. It’s important that businesses expand their vision and outlook beyond Europe and actively look for opportunities in the USA, Latin America, Singapore, Australia, China.”

Which way now?

The Thinking Digital Session, co hosted by CEO of Thinking Digital (and chair of Tech North’s advisory board), Herb Kim, came just hours after the Government was informed it had lost out on its Brexit vote appeal. Businesses at the event used the opportunity to ask the honest question, where do we go from here in times of such uncertainty?

Mr Perrin, however, was eager to reinforce the fact that the Supreme Court ruling will not delay Brexit and the region may face a turbulent future if it doesn’t prepare and be wise to inevitable change.

He added: “There’s a huge amount going on in the region but it lacks clear leadership and a story to tell to people. The region needs a coherent voice. That needn’t be an elected politician or official, it could be a business leader an entrepreneur or organisations such as Digital Union banging its drum even more on behalf with its members.

William Perrin

William Perrin discusses life after Brexit in the North East.

“As the North East moves away from substantial EU funding post-Brexit, many opportunities will open up for entrepreneurs as the shape of the market changes.

“Those opportunities will be shaped by the market and private investors rather than formed in Brussels or London. It’ll be a tough change for those who are used to playing a bureaucracy game with state funders. Having skills will be vital, which I know this region has in abundance.”

Boldly looking outward

Meanwhile, Jim Mawdsley, CEO of Generator, said it’s vital that the region looks outwardly and be bold while faced with the reality of Brexit.

He said: “There has certainly been a lot of people in London recently wondering what the idiots in the village up North are up to now, and if we can demonstrate that we are strong and united in our approach we can move forward as a sector.

“We need to be strong and have a joint collegiate approach to what we need to support and press those with the resource to help build the sector.

“At Generator, we have always brought business leaders to the North East to talk to our client base and this latest initiative continues this ethos. I think it’s important with so much uncertainty still around what Brexit means to us as a sector to look at what will be changing.

At times like this you have to refocus

“We have already looked at our operation at Generator and how we might continue to support the sector without European funding and we are excited by the challenge. We are assuming there will be no succession funding, we don’t know this but consider it the right approach. In times like this you have to refocus, and events like this certainly help with our thinking and hopefully the same will apply to all the different parts of the sector at the event in Campus North.

“The event has been successful in terms of not only attendance – the event was ‘sold out’ very quickly – but it has also brought people from different walks into the room to share their opinion, contribute and put issues like this on the table. I think everyone will have got something from it and that is extremely positive.”

The Thinking Digital Sessions Powered by Generator are set to take place throughout the year and are free to attend for Digital Union Members and Generator Business Support clients.

For more information about Generator, visit generator.org.uk.

Top photo (L-R): Herb Kim, Jim Mawdsley and William Perrin.

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