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ZeroLight – the business revolutionising global car sales

‘Global North East: Driving growth in North East trade and exports’ is a new report published by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership – in partnership with the Department for International Trade (DIT) and North East England Chamber of Commerce – that outlines how the region can build its competitiveness, drive higher productivity, and create more and better jobs by increasing international trade.

To demonstrate how an increase in exporting in the North East can help build the region’s economy, below is a case study about cloud-based visualisation specialists, ZeroLight, and the company’s expansion into the global automotive market thanks to its pioneering ‘configurator’ platform.


From Lamborghini to Mitsubishi, global carmakers are turning to the talent of North East tech experts to sell cars in the COVID era.

Newcastle-based ZeroLight’s latest project has seen it successfully partner up with online retail giants Amazon, to create a platform for car manufacturers to launch new vehicles to the mass market, with access to the business’ pioneering “configurator”.

The company’s platform recently enabled the new Mitsubishi Outlander to become the first model ever launched on the Amazon Live platform. Car buyers in the USA can scrutinise the vehicle and make modifications before it even goes on sale, and subsequent marketing received by users will all feature the personal modifications they made to the vehicle.

ZeroLight is exporting its services across the world, working with the likes of Audi and VW in Germany, Mitsubishi in Japan, US firms Amazon and Lucid and Italian luxury car maker Lamborghini.

ZeroLight Managing Director, Darren Jobling, said: “Nobody buying a new car ever actually sees their car until it arrives. There might be a model similar in the showroom or one that is the same colour, but then you select your seats, alloy wheels, interior lighting, spoilers and everything else that is a complete unknown until the car arrives.

“What ZeroLight does is allow the customer to see the car they are actually going to buy – not just the model and colour, the exact specifications they have selected, and then all of the marketing or aftersales material they receive will be their exact car too.

“Lamborghini offers more possible combinations of specification than there are grains of sand on a beach, but ZeroLight can deliver that, and because it is in the cloud, we can do it across multiple platforms, so that becomes sharable content.”

The company launched its world-leading 3D configurator in 2020, with all content rendered in the cloud and streamed directly to the user via their mobile phone, tablet, or computer like an interactive video, with no on-device rendering or plug-ins required.

Currently manufacturers or dealerships have versions of a configurator on websites, but the ZeroLight system takes that to new levels, offering “the world’s most advanced car-buying journey” – with the ability to not only design a car, but test out its functions online across digital platforms such as Amazon and Facebook, not just a static company site.

The Mitsubishi/Amazon project in the US follows a similar successful partnership between Zerolight and Facebook for Skoda, last year.

Darren added: “The COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on all of industry but hit carmakers and retailers particularly hard. Prior to COVID, buyers visited a dealership an average of seven times before making a purchase, during the pandemic that has come down to 1.5 visits, so the industry knew it had to do things differently and learn how to do it quickly.

“ZeroLight took that interactive experience we have been using in the games industry for years and applied it to the car buying experience. It makes buying a car more personal and more enjoyable and with Volvo predicting that 100% of sales will be done online by 2030, it helps align the industry with the rapid change we have seen in shopping habits over the past year.”

ZeroLight has grown its workforce throughout the pandemic, recruiting 55 new people to its 145-strong workforce in Newcastle over the last year.

It has received support from the Department for International Trade, attending trade missions to China and Japan, as well as accessing funding to exhibit at trade shows in Europe.

Victoria Gemmill, of the DIT Northern Powerhouse Regional Team, said: “ZeroLight is an amazing company with a client roster of well-established global brands, all of which clearly recognise the value of its digital configurator to keep up with emerging retail trends.

“To be recognised the world over for your unique offer is something to be proud of and long may ZeroLight’s success continue.”

Gareth Beese, Export Strategy Development Lead for the North East, said: “ZeroLight must be congratulated for not only growing its global exports, but also its talented workforce during a worldwide pandemic.

“The configurator is clearly a vital tool for carmakers and retailers, who, like all industries, are learning how to operate in the post-COVID world quickly and successfully.”


Read more about ‘Global North East: Driving growth in North East trade and exports’.

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Osbit gets to grips with global export markets

‘Global North East: Driving growth in North East trade and exports’ is a new report published by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership – in partnership with the Department for International Trade (DIT) and North East England Chamber of Commerce – that outlines how the region can build its competitiveness, drive higher productivity, and create more and better jobs by increasing international trade.

To demonstrate how an increase in exporting in the North East can help build the region’s economy, below is a case study from offshore wind engineering company, Osbit, about its recent exporting success, which saw the company create an 800-tonne pile gripper system for the first large-scale wind farm in Taiwan.


In the post-COVID world, where everyone has a lockdown project, one North East company can lay claim to delivering the most impressive.

In 34 weeks, Osbit – which designs, develops and manufactures bespoke engineered systems – created an 800-tonne “pile gripper” system from scratch that is helping lay the foundations for a green power revolution in South East Asia.

The business, based at Riding Mill, Northumberland, is developing a global reputation for innovative engineering solutions, and is gaining plaudits for delivering such an ambitious project on deadline, during the global COVID-19 lockdown.

The pile gripper system is being used to install monopiles, the foundations that support offshore wind turbines, at an offshore wind farm in Taiwan, which is the first large-scale wind farm in the rapidly growing Taiwanese market.

Thanks to the 800-tonne gripper, the wind farm’s 80 monopile foundations are being successfully laid, each of which measure 100 metres in length and weigh in at almost 1,900 tonnes.

Osbit Joint Managing Director, Brendon Hayward, said: “To deliver this project spec, on budget and on time, was down to good planning and, without doubt, the skill and determination of our team who overcame a host of challenges, not least the restrictions the COVID pandemic placed on how they could safely operate.

“Most of the equipment Osbit makes is manufactured in the North East, but because of restricted travel and the cost of shipping materials to South East Asia, our project team instead set up in Singapore and over the course of 34 weeks delivered the pile gripper for installation on a vessel that is capable of handling the largest monopiles in the world.”

The Osbit pile gripper is used to maintain the vertical position of the monopile foundations as they are driven into the seabed.

The gripper is also environmentally considerate, incorporating a “Near Pile Noise Mitigation” system, minimising subsea noise and vibration during installation. The system dampens the energy emitted into the environment, further protecting marine life.

“Everything we do is about effective collaboration, so working with such a tight project team away from our headquarters presented its own challenges,” added Brendon, who co-created Osbit in 2010. “But everyone on the team performed incredibly, adhering to the strict safety guidelines we introduced to protect their wellbeing.

“Health and safety is paramount to us. We developed and implemented protocols to keep our employees safe and healthy and this was amplified for those working in Singapore. We also made sure that every member of the team had an open plane ticket, so they could quickly return home if circumstances changed or COVID protocols were altered.”

The gripper system was successfully completed and is being used by Sapura Energy to install monopiles in the Yunlin Offshore Wind Farm.

Osbit continues to make waves in global markets and the firm recently secured funding to expand its presence in the US, in the form of a business development consultancy contract. 

The Department for International Trade (DIT) is also working with Osbit on expanding its international work in offshore energy markets, utilising the company’s skill in equipment development and expertise in wind and energyinnovations.

Victoria Gemmill, of the DIT Northern Powerhouse Regional Team, said: “Osbit is a great case study of how to successfully operate in overseas markets. Undaunted by the restrictions placed upon this potential project by the most dangerous pandemic in living memory, the company developed sensible, safe procedures and protocols to overcome every obstacle placed in its path to deliver what is one of the most exciting and innovative offshore projects in the world.

“The gripper project is an incredible feat of engineering and skill and is literally laying the foundations for a cleaner, greener planet.”

Richard Baker, Strategy & Policy Director at North East LEP, said: “Osbit is a fantastic North East business, harnessing all of our traditional regional skill in engineering and adding that spark of creative inspiration to elevate it above others operating in its field.

“As the global economy shakes free of the shackles of COVID, I hope other businesses will be inspired by what Osbit achieved, against the odds, to deliver this important, pioneering project.”


Read more about ‘Global North East: Driving growth in North East trade and exports’.

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New government-backed business support programme aims to increase digital technology adoption in North East manufacturing sector

A new business support programme aimed at helping manufacturing SMEs in the North East increase digital technology adoption, innovation and skills has launched in the region.

Made Smarter Adoption North East connects manufacturing businesses to digital tools that can transform the way they work. The programme, which is backed by government, aims to drive growth in UK manufacturing by improving the development and adoption of emerging technologies across the sector.

Colin Bell, Business Growth Director at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “The coronavirus pandemic saw an unprecedented pace of digital adoption across many areas of industry, which ultimately helped many businesses survive.

“Made Smarter Adoption North East is about supporting businesses in our manufacturing sector to embrace new technologies that help them become more efficient, more productive and more competitive. It connects companies with expert talent that can remove the barriers to digital adoption and ultimately make businesses more successful.

“The adoption of new digital solutions within manufacturing is completely transforming the sector and if businesses don’t adapt they risk being left behind. Made Smarter Adoption North East is the opportunity for manufacturing businesses in our region to access the help and support they need to embrace industry 4.0 and help lead economic growth in the North East.”

Made Smarter Adoption North East provides SMEs with fully-funded advice from specialist technology experts on the adoption of new digital technologies, innovations and skills. The three-stage process includes an initial one-to-one digital health check, helping businesses identify where improvements can be made. More intensive workshops look at the solutions available and how the technology works in practice. The final stage sees businesses work with an industrial digital technologies (IDT) specialist to move towards the implementation phase. Participating businesses will also be given support in identifying possible grant funding to help with the purchase of new technology and equipment.

Additional funding is provided through the programme for student and graduate placements so businesses can create digital interns to help integrate the new technology into the business. Employees are also invited to take part in digital upskilling and leadership development through Made Smarter Adoption North East’s leadership training programme, which is delivered by North East universities.

The wider Made Smarter programme was created following an industry-led review of how UK manufacturing industries can prosper through digital tools and innovation. This independent review was commissioned by UK Government and led by Professor Juergen Maier CBE, Co-Chair of Made Smarter UK.

Juergen Maier CBE said: “Made Smarter will be helping local manufacturing businesses to create new opportunities and innovate in the process.

“It’s a hugely exciting time and I believe this is truly a once in a generational opportunity to boost productivity and create the high value, highly paid jobs of the future.”

Made Smarter Adoption North East is open to all manufacturing SMEs in the North East LEP and Tees Valley Combined Authority areas.

Businesses in the North East LEP area (Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle upon Tyne, Northumberland, North Tyneside, South Tyneside and Sunderland) can sign up to take part in Made Smarter Adoption North East by visiting www.northeastgrowthhub.co.uk.

Businesses in the Tees Valley Combined Authority area (Darlington, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Stockton-on-Tees, Redcar and Cleveland) can sign up to take part in Made Smarter Adoption North East by visiting www.teesvalleybusiness.com/MadeSmarter.

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North East LEP publishes new regional trade and export report

The North East Local Enterprise Partnership, in partnership with the Department for International Trade (DIT) and North East England Chamber of Commerce, has published a new report outlining how the region can build its competitiveness, drive higher productivity, and create more and better jobs by increasing international trade.

‘Global North East: Driving growth in North East trade and exports’ sets out the region’s ambition to increase the percentage of North East businesses that export goods and services from 6% to 9.5% by 2030.

It also sets a target to increase the percentage of gross value added (GVA) from the export of good and services from 33% to 35% by 2030.

The new report, which is funded by DIT and published in collaboration with the North East England Chamber of Commerce, has been developed to align with government’s planned Trade and Export strategy, and the upcoming Northern Powerhouse Trade and Export strategy.

Lucy Winskell, Chair of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “The commitment to drive trade set out in the Strategic Economic Plan would create a stronger North East economy and deliver more and better jobs through export-led growth. We therefore want to support more businesses to seek out new opportunities in global markets.

“This report focuses on the areas of the world where we have the most opportunity and the actions we need to take to grow our economy.

“It shows that the impact of the global coronavirus pandemic and the UK’s exit from the European Union has had a severe impact on the region’s economy, so now is a good time to look to the future and make sure we support business to move forward with confidence.

“Whilst we are seeing positive signs of the economy beginning its recovery, we must take a long-term view on how we continue to strengthen the North East’s position and deliver on the targets set out in the North East Strategic Economic Plan.”

Approximately 4,500 businesses in the North East region (North East LEP and Tees Valley Combined Authority areas) currently export goods and services. In 2018, the North East exported £13 billion in goods and a further £7 billion in services. More than 168,000 jobs in the region are reliant on exporting.

The North East LEP’s report highlights businesses engaged in exporting tend to pay their employees 7% more than the national median wage. They are also 21% more productive compared to the UK average.

Richard Baker, Strategy and Policy Director at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “The government has set out its intention to develop a trade and export strategy later this year and it will be crucial to the long term economic fortunes of the North East that it supports businesses in the region to grow their exporting.

“Businesses in the North East LEP area that currently export goods and services typically generate over £15bn of revenue from exporting each year. We want to see that figure increase, and we want to see more of the region’s businesses actively engaged in exporting, and our region reaching out across the world. 

“We worked with more than 50 exporters, trade groups and research institutions to develop this evidence about where opportunity lies, and the set of proposals to strengthen support in the region. It provides a clear direction of travel and starting point to create a stronger export culture and more coordinated set of support services in the North East.

“By increasing levels of international trade we will be supporting government’s levelling up agenda, and in turn creating more opportunities for businesses based in our region, and those looking to invest here.”

Julie Underwood​, Executive Director of International Trade at the North East England Chamber of Commerce, said: “The Chamber is delighted to be involved in this important piece of work, which reinforces the vital role  exporting plays in our region and how we all need to work together to maximise the opportunities which are available for our businesses overseas.

“To successfully increase exports, we know that a clear strategy is needed which details which sectors and countries offer the most potential and a long term plan to implement this.

“The regional report provides an important step consolidating our collective response and input into how we can drive regional growth through international trade.”

Victoria Gemmill, DIT Northern Powerhouse Regional Team and Head of North East Region, said: “The strategy is a valuable piece of work aligning with our ambition at the Department of International Trade to drive economic growth through trade and investment opportunities and demonstrates the significance of export growth in levelling up.

“Through targeting sector and market specific opportunities as well as building export capabilities of local businesses, we can collectively enable the full advantage of trade opportunities to be utilised to deliver sustainable growth for the region.”

‘Global North East: Driving growth in North East trade and exports’ sets out five strategic priorities for the region, which include developing the export potential of the North East’s growing sector strengths in advanced manufacturing, offshore energy and subsea, healthcare and pharmaceuticals, digital, and knowledge intensive services; whilst focusing on a small number of opportunity markets.

It also sets out the ambition to create an ecosystem in the North East that brings together existing exporting support, providing a joined up and accessible approach for businesses.

‘Global North East: Driving growth in North East trade and exports’ is available to view here.

The Executive Summary is available to view here.

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In conversation with Ammar Mirza CBE, Business Growth Board chair, about the North East LEP’s annual review and the work of the Business Growth team

It’s been an emotional and dramatic time for North East businesses, and there’s more change to come. As crucial pandemic funding and support from the government winds down, the North East LEP’s Business Growth team is prepared to help businesses and employees to adjust, rebound, and seize their opportunities to be entrepreneurial and brave.

We talked to the LEP’s Business Growth Board chair, Ammar Mirza CBE, about the future.

If the last year and a half has taught us anything, it’s the value of being able to adapt.

The early months of the pandemic were an emotional time. Talking to people faced with this storm, who were scared that they’d lost it all.

The team helped them plan a route ahead. We worked with people who had fallen through the cracks in support, and our partners all mucked in to support one another.

The time and effort they put in was nothing short of humbling. That’s why we do what we do, and why board members volunteer their time. Because we can see the difference we can all make together.

In 2020/21, we worked intensively with around 1,500 businesses of different sizes. Thanks to collaboration with the Business Growth Board and the Business Support Provider Network, we were able to support people starting a business, operating under COVID-19 restrictions, and even acting on new opportunities. We secured £4.4m to help North East businesses weather COVID-19. 

We’re starting to see more optimism in the business community. But there’s still some caution and hesitancy. And every shift affects people differently.

Some sectors have never grown as quickly as they have over the last two quarters. But others simply haven’t been able to. That includes leisure and hospitality, and businesses that rely on large-scale events.

Professional services aren’t back in the office at the same scale, and that’s changed the dynamic in our city and town centres. With no commute, we’ve seen significant increases in productivity. But – with the gap between home and office blurring – we need to be mindful of people’s wellbeing.

Money remains the biggest enabler, and the biggest barrier. Many people still remain on furlough. And as the financial support provided during the lockdowns begins to wind up, we’ll see a lot more businesses struggle.

We’ll continue to work with good companies, so that they have a base to build from. But we’re seeing a seismic shift in what’s done, who does what, and how it’s done. Some businesses in the North East and beyond may not survive, in their current form.

But that’s not where our support ends. We’re working to ensure there are initiatives and opportunities in place to help people re-skill and up-skill. But – in parallel with that – we want to help individuals boost their aspiration, and their ambition.

Our aim is to galvanise the entrepreneurial spirit of the North East. We want to help more people start businesses, and grow them. For example, we’re now part of the MIT Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Programme, which saw the launch for a project aimed at increasing and retaining entrepreneurial talent in the region. That will continue in 2021/22.

This is a time of change, but that also means there are so many opportunities out there. We can use this shift to bring in a new breed of entrepreneur, and we’ll do everything possible to help them achieve their dreams.

Ammar Mirza CBE is an award-winning entrepreneur and business founder, and Chair of the North East LEP’s Business Growth Board.

The North East LEP Annual Review 2020/21 is available to read here.

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University’s mark of excellence to provide more support for startups, students and businesses across the North East

Northumbria University’s re-accreditation with the prestigious Small Business Charter Award means more startups, students and businesses across the North East can now benefit from expert support, advice and guidance to grow their business.

Having first secured the accreditation in 2015, Northumbria University remains the only university in the North East to hold the Small Business Charter mark of excellence, which will remain in place for a further five years.

It will allow the university to access additional funding and support for a range of training programmes, including the government-backed Help to Grow: Management initiative, aimed at helping 30,000 SMEs across the UK respond more effectively to the pandemic. 

Lucy Winskell OBE, Chair of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership and Pro Vice-Chancellor for Employability and Partnerships at Northumbria University, said: “Having become the first university in the North East to achieve Small Business Charter accreditation, we are immensely proud to have regained the Award for a further five years.  Gaining the maximum score in our reassessment and securing exemplar status for our Business Clinic and Incubator Hub are also stand-out achievements that reflect the quality of support Northumbria provides to the North East business community. It highlights the significant contribution we are making to the regional economy and employment, as we build back stronger from Covid-19.

“The Small Business Charter is also a badge of excellence which opens additional funding opportunities to support our transformational knowledge exchange and leadership training programmes aimed at helping our businesses grow and thrive.”

In addition to its Small Business Charter Award status, Northumbria University has also secured exemplar status for its student-led consultancy service The Business Clinic and for its on-campus Incubator hub set up to support entrepreneurial graduates and start-ups.

The Business Clinic at Northumbria’s Newcastle Business School was established as an innovative educational programme for final-year business students. Since its inception in 2013, the value of the students’ free consultancy advice and reports – given to more than 500 clients – has been estimated to exceed £2.7m. The programme both enhances the learning experience and employability of our students and delivers considerable benefits for clients.

Opened in December 2019, Innovation Northumbria: Incubator hub is a pre-accelerator for aspiring entrepreneurs. Located next to the University’s main campus, the state-of the-art facility provides high quality support for students and graduate entrepreneurs looking to establish new and innovative businesses and enterprises. 

For more information about the business support on offer from Northumbria University, visit: www.northumbria.ac.uk/business.

Universities have a vital role to play in helping the North East economy recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

The work being delivered by North East universities is supporting new and existing businesses to innovate and grow, and shaping and supporting a more sustainable and inclusive economy.

Durham UniversityNewcastle UniversityNorthumbria UniversityUniversity of Sunderland and Teesside University are all members of the North East COVID-19 Economic Response Group, which was established by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic to provide business resilience and ensure a collective response to the economic impact of COVID-19 on the North East economy.

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North East Local Enterprise Partnership reaction to ONS regional labour market statistics

The North East Local Enterprise Partnership’s (North East LEP) Strategy and Policy Director, Richard Baker, has commented on today’s regional labour market statistics, released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

“As we mark the anniversary of the first lockdown, today’s data release is a timely reminder of the changes which COVID-19 has meant for our labour market. It provides the latest official data which includes regional employment information for the three months up to and including January 2021 and also annual comparisons.

“In the most recent months, the headline data has been stable. The employment rate in the North East region, which includes the North East and Tees Valley LEP areas, remains the lowest in England at 71.3 per cent, 0.1 percentage points higher than in the last quarter but 0.4 percentage points down on a year ago.

“The region has the second highest unemployment rate (6.2 per cent of the economically active) and the highest proportion of working age people who are economically inactive (23.8 per cent). Almost 30,000 workers in the region have been made redundant during the past year.

“However, some of the recent impact of COVID-19 has been masked by an increase in the use of furlough in the region. Over 114,000 North East employments were furloughed at the end of January, more than double the total of three months earlier. Most furloughed workers continue to be classified as employed in the official statistics.

“The impact on different groups in our population has been different. Younger people have experienced particular challenges both in employment and training and there have also been different patterns in the impact for men and women in the past year. The number of unemployed women has increased by 14 per cent, while male unemployment is lower (by about 8 per cent). Almost 52 per cent of furloughed workers in the North East at the end of January were female.

“The progress we are seeing towards the lifting of lockdown restrictions offers hope for the thousands of businesses unable to trade. Support for these businesses remaining under restrictions needs to continue.

“The North East LEP will continue to work with government as we look to drive forward our economy and address some of the key challenges which COVID-19 has created in our region.”

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Investing in infrastructure key for North East’s economic recovery

By Darren Laybourn, Director and Regional Strategic Lead at Turner & Townsend, and North East LEP Business Growth Board member.

Manchester’s skyline is often used to illustrate how well the economy is performing in the North West. The sight of tower cranes and new buildings appearing across the city suggests a high level of confidence from inward investors, and a vibrant, growing business community.

The construction industry can be a good indicator of a region’s economic health, which is why there has been so much focus on infrastructure and building back better from the coronavirus pandemic.

During the first national lockdown, the construction sector was one of the few areas of industry able to fully continue working. Government further bolstered the sector by investing millions of pounds in supporting infrastructure projects across the UK, including here in the North East, through the Getting Building Fund.

A booming construction sector gives confidence to the business community, particularly startups and SMEs. It encourages businesses to continue to invest in staff, which is vital in helping retain skills and talent in the region.

The UK’s exit from the EU has brought about new labour regulations that if not managed correctly, may result in a shortage of skills in some areas of the country. At a time when we’re looking to recover quickly from the coronavirus pandemic, it’s important we don’t develop a regional cold spot in terms of skills and labour.

The construction industry in the UK accounts for 10% of total UK employment – approximately three million jobs.* It also supports a wider ecosystem including delivery partners, supply chains – even coffee shops that serve workers on their lunch breaks. And it doesn’t stop there. The construction industry is the catalyst for creating new jobs in the longer term too, be that through new office spaces, business parks, enterprise zones, etc.

Cities like Manchester, and Leeds have gained the confidence of investors and the business community. That’s reflected in the amount of investment in new infrastructure projects across both destinations. If we’re going to compete with that we must maintain a good base of capital projects in the region and build back from the coronavirus pandemic.

There are already some fantastic examples of regeneration in North East England. Newcastle Helix has helped grow the region’s health and life science sector by creating an environment where academia and business can collaborate and drive forward innovations in data science, urban science and life science.

In Newcastle upon Tyne, work is beginning at pace on the transformation of East Pilgrim Street. The £100m project will introduce new offices, bars, restaurants, car parks, and housing in the city centre. The first phase of the project will see the creation of a new landmark, 14-storey, Grade A office building.

Across the river in Gateshead, the £290m NewcastleGateshead Quays regeneration scheme is expected to create around 2,000 new jobs in the North East and provide a £60m annual boost to the local economy.

Projects of this scale and ambition have increased confidence in the North East, resulting in more inward investment and more job creation, which maintains and, in some cases, grows those important skills.

The focus of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership on investment and infrastructure is at the heart of the region’s Strategic Economic Plan. Moving forward, we need to continue the successful delivery of funding programmes in the North East – including the Local Growth Fund. We also need to develop a regional project pipeline and support SMEs in the North East to bid for local work.

Earlier this year the North East COVID-19 Economic Response Group – which comprises the North East LEP, CBI, North of Tyne and North East Combined Authorities, the region’s universities, with the support of industry – submitted its North East Recovery and Renewal Deal to government, asking for a £2.8bn investment to support the North East’s economic recovery from COVID-19.

Building infrastructure to lead transformation and encourage future investment is a key theme in the deal. It is this that will help the region bounce back from the coronavirus pandemic and support future growth and investment in the North East.

Darren Laybourn is Director and Regional Strategic Lead at Turner & Townsend, and a Business Growth Board member at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership

*(source: https://www.designingbuildings.co.uk/wiki/UK_construction_industry)

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Universities support North East’s economic recovery: START UP at Newcastle University

Universities have a vital role to play in helping the North East economy recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

The work being delivered by North East universities is supporting new and existing businesses to innovate and grow, and shaping and supporting a more sustainable and inclusive economy.

Durham University, Newcastle University, Northumbria University, University of Sunderland and Teesside University are all members of the North East COVID-19 Economic Response Group, which was established by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic to provide business resilience and ensure a collective response to the economic impact of COVID-19 on the North East economy.

Below is a case study about Newcastle University’s START UP offer, with a focus on the impact student and graduate businesses it supports are having within the region, and how they are responding to the COVID-19 crisis.

Newcastle University is ranked Top 5 in the UK for graduate entrepreneurship based on start-up turnover and investment raised. Based on average investment per start-up, the University is ranked Top 10 in the UK for scalable graduate start-ups and has generated the most investable graduate start-ups in the North East.

START UP is an equity-free support system for Newcastle University students and graduates up to three years and includes START UP Founderships, a pre-accelerator programme to ready the individual and their businesses for market entry, investment and success.

There are currently 203 START UP-supported businesses trading with a combined annual turnover of close to £60 million. Between them, they’ve raised over £19 million in external investment, won national and global awards and created 695 full-time equivalent jobs.

*All rankings and statistics from HE-BCI Survey 2018-19.

Over 70% of these businesses have remained in the North East, many of which recruit within the region, such as One Utility Bill, Nebula Labs and My Healthcare Recruit. Many the businesses are securing impressive investment figures.

In September 2020, Equiwatt raised over £300,000 to roll-out its innovative, energy-efficient app and create four new jobs in Newcastle. A month prior, Tea Ventures Ltd (NovelTea) welcomed 1,000 investors onboard as part of a crowdfund campaign that raised £577,000 to advance its plans to break into the US market, and in December, gained a further £1.4M investment for expansion and job creation.

Many of the START UP founders are persevering or finding ways to pivot despite challenges posed by the COVID-19 crisis. Some have received grant support through Newcastle University’s partnership with Santander Universities UK to help them survive and thrive in 2020, and others are applying to a newly launched fund of £40,000.

“Last year with Santander Universities, we launched a Covid-19 Fund to help our START UP community adapt in response to the global crisis, supporting some businesses to scale in order to meet new demand. This new Fund is about stimulating and supporting the next wave of entrepreneurs and changemakers who will have a critical role to play in our economic and social recovery” said Claire Adamson, START UP Manager, Newcastle University. “It is also about making visible and celebrating the individuals joining the growing community of Newcastle University students and graduates who have created their own graduate jobs as well as employment opportunities for others”, she added.

Santander Universities has been in partnership with Newcastle University since 2009 and has provided close to £1.7M to the University, with £189k appointed to enterprise activities.

Matt Hutnell, Director, Santander Universities, says: “Santander is committed to supporting higher education as well as local communities across the UK. We’re proud of our partnership with Newcastle University and we’re delighted to support their new Start Up Fund which will enable many more budding entrepreneurs to thrive, particularly during this challenging time.”

To find out more about START UP, visit www.ncl.ac.uk.

Click here to read more about how universities in the region are playing a central role in supporting the region to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

Click here to read more about the North East COVID-19 Economic Response Group.