For many of us, the idea of a world without the internet is hard to imagine. We work, socialise, shop, learn and explore online, sometimes even doing all of those things on our morning commute through our phone. Life in the midst of a pandemic, including government measures to keep us physically apart, has shone an even brighter light on the power of digital connection – from keeping us working to the family Zoom quiz.
In 2000, the world was very different. There were only 17 million websites in existence across the world (there are 1.7 billion today) and only one in four people had regular access to the internet. It was this landscape that North East Workspace (NEWS), part of the business support organisation PNE, launched its high-speed internet service to tenants. It was the first commercial high-speed internet in the North East.
‘Big Netty’ provided two megabytes of internet connection to businesses renting office space to NEWS’ Pink Lane and Westgate Road buildings, rapidly creating a cluster of over 100 digital and media businesses, employing over 300 people. From animation to e-commerce to graphic design, exciting start-ups seeking to innovate and exploit the dot-com boom hitting the UK were drawn to the small site, gaining it the nickname ‘Silicon Alley’.
The intense growth and innovation of the businesses that were part of the Silicon Alley movement, led to North East Workspace being voted one of the world’s top ten “science-based incubators” by the Science Alliance and Centre for Strategy and Evaluation Services (CSES); putting Newcastle on the international map. This success was not least down the fact that when the project started, there was a business failure rate of 35% in the region, which fell to 5% for those in the cluster. North East Workspace also won the One2One Regional Business Support Award in 2000 thanks to its innovative internet offer.