A LEADING figure in the UK defence industry was guest speaker at regional tech network Dynamo’s annual dinner.

Dr Simon Harwood, UK Capability & Innovation Director at global defence and security firm Leonardo, was the guest speaker at Dynamo’s tenth anniversary dinner.

Dr Harwood previously held senior roles at the Ministry of Defence and the Royal Navy, and also worked at the British Embassy in Washington DC for several years.

Dynamo Chief Executive Dr David Dunn welcomed guests to the Wylam Brewery celebratory dinner before network co-founder and outgoing Chair Charlie Hoult spoke about how Dynamo has developed since 2013, and how it has helped promote and grow the region’s tech sector.

David also thanked the dinner’s co-sponsors, Mincoffs Solicitors and Invest Newcastle.

Addressing more than 120 guests, Dr Harwood spoke about Leonardo’s new high-technology and engineering facility that will be built on Newcastle Helix, and will employ more than 200 people. Originally from Stanley, County Durham, Dr Harwood is already working with local communities to build skills and identify opportunities for collaborations.

Leonardo’s new Newcastle office will provide the company access to talent from across the north east and build closer links with small and medium sized businesses across the region, many of which are already part of Leonardo’s nationwide supply chain.

Best known for its onshore production of UK military helicopters and the cutting-edge electronics on-board Royal Air Force aircraft, Leonardo is one of the biggest suppliers to the UK Ministry of Defence.

The new site in Newcastle will focus on research, development and prototyping of Leonardo’s next generation sensing, security and vertical lift products. This builds on the data-driven approach to design and manufacturing that went live at the company’s electronics sites across the UK in June 2022, using secure public cloud environments to put big data at the fingertips of engineers in order to accelerate product development.

Dr Harwood also spoke about technology use in the current Ukrainian conflict, the challenges around military innovation, the realities of disruptive technology – and Leonardo’s response to both.

After his well-received speech Jen Hartley, Director at Invest Newcastle, who supported Leonardo with their move to Newcastle, chaired a Q&A with Dr Harwood.

When asked why Leonardo had chosen Newcastle to open its new facility, Dr Harwood responded that access to talent was a key priority.

Dr Harwood added: “There’s also a strong link between Leonardo and university research, and the Helix site is centrally situated, which also helps us attract and retain talent. Our Newcastle site will be a test bed site that allows cross fertilisation of industries – we know Newcastle is strong in data, life sciences, tech and video games, which all offer transferable skills that can help us create innovative solutions.

“That could be us learning from others, or those companies learning or working with us.”

Dr Harwood also spoke of the growing security, defence and space sector here in the region: “We met other companies and partners as part of a cluster group last week and there’s a huge benefit of having a critical mass of companies and organisations to help attract talent from elsewhere and build a skills base in the region.

“It also gives us a joint voice to lobby for greater Government attention for the regional sector and more defence and security spend in the north east.”

Companies and organisations represented at the dinner included Nebula Labs, Mediaworks, Newcastle College, Newcastle Building Society, Gateshead College, Opencast, Sage, and Thoughtworks.

* For more information on Dynamo, or on its forthcoming TechNExt conference in June, log on to www.dynamonortheast.co.uk or www.technext.co.uk

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