Coming up: Newcastle Startup Week

The very first Newcastle Startup Week is only a few months away and it promises to provide the people of Tyneside and beyond with a rich and diverse programme of networking events, talks and workshops. We caught up with the man behind the event, Paul Lancaster, to find out more about his own experiences in the sector and the launch of this ambitious brainchild.

Having only been self-employed himself for around a year, Paul Lancaster of Plan Digital is launching an event unlike any seen before in Newcastle upon Tyne. Newcastle Startup Week is a five-day festival of enterprise held across multiple venues and boasting a top-drawer line-up of speakers and events. The build-up to making the event a reality has been long and began way back in 1998 when a youthful Paul took a job at Sage in Newcastle, providing tech support to SME customers. He told us:

“I liked working for Sage and I liked helping people in enterprise – that’s what I enjoy. However, even back then I could see that websites and the internet were going to be really massive so I started teaching myself basic website design in my spare time.”

Having upskilled, Paul secured himself a job as graduate web developer and web editor at British Airways. There he further fine-tuned his skills, focusing on content creation and management, copywriting and blogging. Unfortunately, just 11 months into Paul’s role at British Airways, 9/11 hit and major redundancies were made across the airline’s workforce. At this point Paul turned to another long-time passion:

“I’d always been really into music and I’d started DJing while I was at university. I began taking my music more seriously and had my first record signed to a local independent house and dance music label.”

A wild twelve months of travelling and performing followed but, although his music was critically acclaimed it wasn’t hugely successful commercially. So, Paul found work with Generator North East, a music development agency based in Newcastle where his role there involved offering help and advice to those starting out in the music industry, signposting young people to the support they needed. After a few years Paul made the move to Project North East (PNE), an enterprise support agency in the heart of Newcastle. During his seven years at PNE, Paul provided start-up and growth support to not-for-profit enterprises and the community sector, running a website called He says:

“That was where I really got into social media and marketing because I could see the power of it as a tool for sharing information and connecting people.”

Having accrued experience in the technology sector, the aviation industry, the music industry and now the enterprise support sector, Paul’s next professional move was to Shell LiveWIRE. The UK’s longest-running youth enterprise scheme, Shell LiveWIRE helps young entrepreneurs (aged 16-30) across the UK to plan and establish their own start-ups. It was while employed by this organisation, in 2012, that Paul first caught the start-up bug himself. He says:

“When you’re hanging out with young entrepreneurs you can’t help but want to do something yourself! I wanted to work for myself but I hadn’t hit on the big idea. But I’d been to all the events and conferences, I’d read all the books and met loads of entrepreneurs, and interviewed many great people so all that experience was giving me the best possible training to start my own business.”

Around this time Paul became involved with the Newcastle-based tech and digital community, including the fledgling Ignite100 tech accelerator programme. Individual developers from the North East were holding informal monthly meetups in various veues across the city to exchange ideas on web and app development and startups. Paul realised that there was a need for a regular home for these events and obtained access to the old PostOffice on Pink Lane which was owned by PNE. He recalls:

“It soon became a hub for entrepreneurs, developers and start-ups. Along with other projects and meet-ups being run locally, it helped grow what was already becoming a thriving cluster of tech and digital activity. In 2012, the team behind Ignite100 brought everything (hot-desking, co-working, meetups and their accelerator programme) under one roof with Campus North.”

At this point in his career, Paul returned to Sage as a Content Marketing & Social Media Specialist’ for their Sage One cloud accounting profuct which is aimed specifically at start-up businesses and then as Community Engagement & Partnerships Manager for Tech North (part of Tech City UK). However, in April 2016, Paul finally started his own business, Plan Digital – offering a range of business development, marketing, events and mentoring services. The repertoire of services Paul has delivered over the course of his career but now delivers independently. Speaking about becoming self-employed, Paul says:

“Last year was all about making that transition from employment to self-employment. Even though I’ve wanted to do it for a long time and feel like I’ve had the best preparation, to make that mental shift into self-employment can be very tricky.”

Now, Newcastle Startup Week is Paul’s priority. He sees the event as a huge opportunity to tell potential start-up owners about the support available locally, the people willing to help them and the events taking place all year round. He says:

“It’s going to be amazing. Everyone seems genuinely excited that there’s going to be a week-long event that will shine a spotlight not just on Newcastle but the whole of the North East of England. It is such a great place to start and grow a business.”

The line-up for the Monday – Friday event includes motivational speakers, academics from the field of enterprise, the MDs and CEOs of myriad companies, and even a best-selling author. The programme itself is also very varied, with Q&A clinics, workshops, lectures, exhibitions and networking events all thrown into the mix. Speaking about the people he’s enlisted to take part, Paul says:

“There are tech and digital speakers lined up because those areas are part of almost every business now. However, there are also speakers from many other sectors and all but one of the speakers are either from the North East, have relocated or has a very strong presence here. With this event we are reminding people you can build innovative, world-class businesses in this region. I’ve wanted to do something like Newcastle Startup Week for a few years but I’ve always had a day job. Now, this is my day job!”