NORTH-EAST TECHNOLOGY PARK, or NETPark, has tens of high value, ambitious and innovative companies on site, specialising in medical technology, IT, software and electronics.

There are just three main sectors, according to the NETPark-based Gareth Taylor, CEO of Evince Technology: “IT, biotech and the rest”.

Evince manufacturers diamond computer chips, which, Mr Taylor predicts, will be more popular than silicon in a decade or two. Due to its fringe technology, the company has previously struggled to find the right case study and make meaningful inroads, but now is working with the European Space Agency.

“The rest I like to call non-conformist,” Mr Taylor says.

Like any businesses at the cutting-edge, it’s hard to gauge public opinion or blockages in the market due to a range of external factors, meaning scaling can be risky and problematic.

But NETPark, an internationally recognised science and technology hub, was built specifically with those companies in mind. Due to its range of facilities and room to grow on-site, as well as land for purpose-built facilities, the Sedgefield science park has gained significant influence in the North-East's technology sector.

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Mr Taylor’s comment is telling; he knows fellow tenants and what they are working on.

Run by Business Durham, the economic development arm of Durham County Council, NETPark embodies its parent organisation in its encouragement and support for business success in the region, and therefore the region’s success. So much so, that it has its own accelerator program.

Paul Mawson, CEO of US-based health tech company Kunasan, said it “kind of reminds me of the tech culture in Silicon Valley”.

The worth of this alternative Silicon Valley has not been undervalued, with it receiving significant investment from the Local Growth Fund via the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (North East LEP).

Grants have allowed for new buildings, a new road, and has opened up 26 acres of development land to build bespoke premises for companies looking to scale up and manufacture on site.

Acknowledging this, Mr Taylor, whose company is based in the original building, says: “NETPark has given us the opportunity to grow in a flexible and sustainable way.

“We have grown already and are in talks to move again while also looking at a purpose-built facility on the site. Durham has really made sure it is a tech park, not just somewhere with software companies.”

Janet Todd, NETPark manager, says: “NETPark has grown since its inception in 2004, from one building with half a dozen employees to where we are today, a world-class collaborative community with 35 science, engineering and technology businesses delivering over 550 high value jobs here in County Durham.”

With both the North East Satellite Applications Centre of Excellence and The High Value Manufacturing (HVM) Catapult on site, it is the only site to have two Catapults, reinforcing how NETPark is better placed than most to facilitate desired growth.

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Similarly, the Centre for Process Innovation (CPI), also based on the site, brings together public and private organisations with investors to drive innovation, enterprise, and economic prosperity.

“NETPark has an excellent working relationship with our strategic partners CPI and Durham University, creating a collaborative environment providing huge benefits for businesses that locate here. CPI provides companies with access to facilities that enable them to develop, prove, prototype and scale up the next generation of products and processes,” Ms Todd adds.

Although “it’s not quite Colorado”, Mr Mawson praises grant support, via NETPark, from different organisations and local business innovation centres, as well as support from surrounding universities.

The business park does well to avoid a competitive attitude, with startups, scaleups and corporates each appreciating the community and the site’s role in the ecosystem, complimented then by collaborating organisations.

"There are high value hardware companies here which make for a great community,” Mr Taylor says.

“We're not in competition with each other either, we’re collaborative and want to attract people to the North-East to work, then show them that there are all of these other opportunities to move around and build up skill in the region."

Ms Todd hopes NETPark companies will develop technologies and innovations with global impact and is eager to attract more to the site with an “ambitious” patch of development land “to do just that”.

Chief executive of SpaceTech company aXenic, Steve Clements, finds that while NETPark has a good reputation in the technology industry, sometimes it is surprising that aXenic is based in the North-East.

Paying tribute to the North-East's strong industrial background, he says: “At first, it’s surprising that we’re based here. But it shouldn’t be. We have a job to do in raising our reputation and investment in the North, and for people to recognise that we're in a good position to develop more. There is lots of history here.”

Mr Mawson, who was encouraged by the UK Government’s Global Entrepreneur Programme to relocate back to County Durham, agreed, while complimenting Hardwick Hall’s “great” lake – an “ideal place” to take lunchtime walks and inspiration.

He says: “To have constructive dialogue with engineers in the NETPark café, albeit it most of the time though they are quizzing me on my technology, keeps me grounded. It kind of reminds me of the tech culture in Silicon Valley.”