In March of this year myself and some of the SSC team embarked on a trip to Barcelona. The purpose of the trip was to gain an understanding of the start-up, academic and corporate ecosystem within Barcelona so that as a team we are equipped with the knowledge and contacts to enable us to create collaborative and commercial opportunities across geographies for our regional based SMEs.  

One question we are constantly asking ourselves, as a country and a region, is what expertise we can hang our hat on specifically within the digital sector. Lots of people want the region to be known as a world-renowned place for data, immersive or even digital innovation. In order to do this we first need to understand how we compare to elsewhere. What became apparent during our visit to Barcelona is that not everywhere needs to have a specific focus to be successful. Even though Barcelona is recognised for mobile technologies – e.g. hosting Mobile World Congress every year - there is no clear need for their support organisations such as ACCIO to put a clear definition on the region’s focus or strengths and for them that approach works very nicely.

One major opportunity for regional SMEs we discovered was with I2CAT, a not for profit research and innovation centre. This organisation had similar technology focusses to the Digital Catapult including IOT, 5G, AI, and LPWAN. The interesting part of it for us, was that it had already deployed a successful LPWAN testbed in Barcelona and was willing to share lessons learned with us and SMEs who will be working with LPWAN technology in the North East. It was also setting up an Incubator which provided seed capital for start-ups that have ideas which require high expertise to reduce time to market and offered in depth support to get their product ready.

Something that struck me whilst we visited was that many of the organisations we met - including global innovation hub Numa - have a similar approach to innovation as we do when we use the challenge-led approach: understanding a company’s challenges and scoping them for the tech community to pitch to. This demonstrated to me that North East based SMEs that have taken part in any of the ‘challenges’ we’ve run previously, are equipped to answer innovation challenges globally.

We also met other support organisations, several of which sat within the universities that have agreed to partner with us to share opportunities for collaboration. These organisations work with corporate companies based in Barcelona and are keen to understand the capabilities of the North East tech sector, in order to share opportunities and projects with them.

We understand that running a business is a full-time job and it can be difficult to carve out time to explore new markets. We’re committed to understanding global opportunities available to North East SMEs and can share our connections and knowledge of overseas ecosystems with the companies we support.