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First NEFRAN Rural Business Conference

Rural businesses and key rural representatives gathered for the first NEFRAN Rural Business Conference on the 24th June at Kirkley Hall Campus.

The event was designed to promote the work of the North East Farming and Rural Affairs Network (NEFRAN) and provide information to support the growth of rural businesses.

Around 150 delegates attended to take part in a full day that offered delegates the opportunity to meet business support and funding providers, attend workshops and listen to key note speakers highlighting key issues facing the rural economy, the north east devolution deal and what had been achieved through the Pilot Rural Growth Network Programme.

Key note speaker Lord Donald Curry of Kirkharle CBE, said rural businesses had a huge part to play in supporting the regional economy and in creating more and better jobs for all. Rural businesses needed to be well supported. He referred to the opportunities of the rural economy – the strength of its diversity and the potential growth that tourism, culture and heritage businesses could generate.

Antony Braithwaite, Chair of NEFRAN who chaired the conference said, ”It came over very strongly that a rural voice is needed to take part in the devolution and Brexit revolution that is about to occur. NEFRAN is ideally placed to undertake this role and influence the relevant decision makers.”

The conference reflected on the Pilot North East Rural Growth Network Programme and what had been achieved and learnt. This has been used to inform new support programmes going forward. Businesses were directed to sign up to the North East Growth Hub for information on grant funding, business support, what’s happening in the business community and up and coming events: www.northeastgrowthhub.co.uk

The Rural Growth Network Programme Team who currently manages the Rural Growth Network capital grant offered to be the first point of contact. For help and advice on rural business support contact one of the Rural Growth Network Implementation Officers based at Arch:-

Julie Bullen
01670 528476
[email protected]

Katy McIntosh
01670 528489
[email protected]

Or visit www.archnorthumberland.co.uk/arch-business/rural-growth-network-2-1

The conference was funded and supported by the North East Rural Growth Network with support from Arch and Kirkley Hall.

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EU Referendum Result

Andrew Hodgson, chair of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), said:

“The people of the North East clearly voted to leave the European Union (EU).

“While we acknowledge this decision by the electorate, the North East LEP is very aware of the many ways in which this region has benefited from being a member of the EU.

“This has included access to European trade and investment and European funding, which has helped to regenerate our towns and cities, support business growth and investment in science and support many of our rural stakeholders including farmers.

“We are now urgently seeking assurances from the Government that it will help us reduce the impact of leaving the single market in terms of funding, jobs and investment.

“The North East is the only UK region with a positive balance of trade. Working with our public and private sector partners our focus must be on maintaining this status quo and supporting those who will be most affected by the decision to leave.”

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Applications to the second round of the DNI’s Innovation Fund are now open

If you have an idea that demonstrates new thinking in digital journalism or that aims to encourage a more sustainable news ecosystem then the Digital News Initiative would like to hear from you!

The aim of the Digital News Initiative is to encourage a more sustainable news ecosystem and promote innovation in digital journalism; through ongoing collaboration and dialogue between the tech and news sectors.

The programme focuses on three key pillars:

• Product development: Google and news publishers will establish a ‘product working group’ to enable a close, ongoing dialogue exploring product developments to increase revenue, traffic and audience engagement.

• Supporting Innovation: Google will support and stimulate innovation in digital news journalism over the next three years by creating an innovation fund to support and stimulate innovation in digital news journalism over the next three years.

• Training & research: Google will invest in new training and development resources for journalists and newsrooms across Europe, and will fund research into the changing media landscape.

The ambition and intent of the Fund is bold: to help incentivise innovation and spark new thinking, which could come from anywhere in the news ecosystem, to give news organisations – of all sizes – the space to try some new things. Google has set aside up to €150 million for that purpose, which it will make available in the form of awards over the next three years.

There are three categories of funding available:

• Prototype projects: open to organisations – and to individuals, and to organisations comprised of one individual – that meet the eligibility criteria, and require up to €50,000 of funding over a short period of time to design and test a prototype. These projects should be very early stage, with ideas yet to be designed and assumptions yet to be tested. Google will fast-track such projects and will fund 100% of the total cost.

• Medium projects: open to organisations that meet the eligibility criteria and require up to €300,000 of funding. Google will accept funding requests up to 70% of the total cost of the project.

• Large projects: open to organisations that meet the eligibility criteria and require more than €300,000 of funding. Google will accept funding requests up to 70% of the total cost of the project.

Funding is capped at €1 million.

Applications will be allocated to funding tracks according to the amount of funding requested. The funding tracks are as follows:

a) up to (and including) €50,000: fast track for prototypes;
b) above €50,000 up to (and including) €300,000: medium track; and
c) above €300,000 up to (and including) €1 million: large track.

Eligible expenses include editorial costs (for example, on staff or freelance employees), asset creation cost (such as licenses), engineering costs (eg product development, project management, user experience design, database build and maintenance, and hosting) and marketing expenses. Note: marketing expenses will only be covered up to 20% of the total funding awarded.

The DNI Innovation Fund is open to organisations and individuals that aim to produce original journalism and to enlighten citizens with trustworthy journalistic content, whose projects focus on encouraging a more sustainable news ecosystem. Established publishers, online-only players, news start-ups, publisher consortia, national or international associations, companies and individuals are all eligible to apply. Collaborative applications with other industry players are also welcome.

The second application round opened 2 June 2016 and closes 11 July 2016.

Visit www.digitalnewsinitiative.com/fund/ to find out more.

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North East LEP seeks to appoint panel of fund managers

We’re very proud to announce that in the coming months, the North East Local Enterprise Partnership is seeking to appoint a new panel of fund managers to help invest £120m+ of capital in North East SMEs.

One of the largest LEP areas in the England – covering the Local Authorities of Northumberland, North Tyneside, Newcastle, South Tyneside, Gateshead, Sunderland and Durham – the panel of fund managers will work with us to invest in projects up to the value of £2m via debt, equity and mezzanine deals.

Supporting our vision to deliver more and better jobs across the North East, the new panel and capital fund will act as a successor to the Finance for Business North East Fund, which up to close, invested £140m in equity and loans into more than 800 local SMEs; creating more than 2,600 new jobs, safeguarding a further 3,000 and securing £180m in private sector investment.

The panel will be available to stakeholders across the North East, with the first contracts – expected to include £20m+ equity and development capital funds – beginning in early 2017.

If you’re interested in learning more about this opportunity, the Official Journal of the European Union will soon publish a notice inviting tenders for the procurement of fund management services for the North East LEP area fund. There is the potential for other projects to be announced too. Please direct all queries via the official channels in the first instance.

In recent months the North East LEP area has seen increases in population, employment rates and GVA. These positive economic indicators demonstrate the continued growth and stability of the North East economy. Here at the North East LEP, we’re committed to continuing that growth through innovation, skills, investment in infrastructure and access to finance.

Michelle Rainbow

Programme Manager, North East LEP

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A refreshed SEP to reflect changing times

Richard Baker, Head of Strategy and Policy at the North East LEP, gives an update on the refresh of our Strategic Economic Plan.

The North East Strategic Economic Plan – or SEP for short – is the region’s road map to economic success.

It is our medium-term economic plan for the North East LEP area.

It sets out clearly how the LEP and the North East Combined Authority support economic growth and details the advice we give to Government about the most important investments needed for our area.

The SEP focuses on the sectors and areas that make our regional economy tick: innovation, business support and access to finance, skills, employability and inclusion, economic assets and infrastructures and transport and digital connectivity.

Like all plans setting out a course of action to reach milestones further down the road, it needs updating to reflect changing times.

The original SEP was unveiled back in March 2014.

It was born out of the evidence base of the Adonis Review of 2012 – and the data which underpinned that report was from two years previous.

The economic data in the current SEP is based on a period when we emerged from recession rather than where we are at now.

A series of new policy documents will impact our future economic planning and decision-making – a national innovation plan, new national infrastructure commission and an emerging devolution deal.

In the light of these shifting sands, the North East LEP board has agreed with the North East Combined Authority that now is the right time to look again at parts of the SEP, taking into account new evidence of the region’s economic position and evolving public policy environment.The SEP refresh is just that.

Not a rewrite, but a look again at how we reach our ambitious target of creating an extra 100,000 more and better jobs by 2024.

We are hard at work on this process.

We are examining with sharp focus our opportunities to be competitive nationally and internationally in the smart specialisation areas and growth sectors.

These are passenger vehicle manufacture, subsea, marine and related advanced manufacturing, life sciences and health and creative, digital software and technology based services.

We are looking to see high levels of productivity in these areas and to work out our position within the Northern Powerhouse to ensure we have the strong profile our region needs to seize maximum advantage from the opportunities it presents.

The views of stakeholders are crucial to our refresh work. They will contribute substantially to the evidence base, credibility and application of the SEP.

We’ll be seeking the views of business, the public and third sectors at a series of workshops running either side of the EU referendum during the summer.

There will also be an online survey for people to feed their views into the refresh process.

Details of how stakeholders can take part in the SEP refresh will coincide with the launch of our engagement activity in June and more information about how businesses can input will be available soon.

These views will be fed into the work to create an updated SEP which will be unveiled later this year.

Two other important pieces of work will support this refresh.

One is an economic analysis paper, which has been independently verified and looks at where we are now, compared to then back in 2014 and the next steps the region needs to take. We would encourage businesses to get in touch if they have more research or evidence to strengthen the economic analysis paper we have produced.

The second is a progress review of SEP delivery to date to show what has been done set against the SEP’s original plans.

The progress review looks right across leadership and governance structures, programme development, resource acquisition and investment.

Our aim with stakeholders is to provide the North East LEP area – from County Durham to the Northumberland – with an updated strategic economic plan which better reflects today while future proofing for tomorrow.

Richard Baker

Head of Strategy and Policy

North East Local Enterprise Partnership

[email protected]

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North East seeks bright lights at funding pitch test

A once-in-a-career opportunity to get in front of a roomful of wealthy London-based angel investors awaits North East businesses who pass a novel pitching test.

Organisers of new investment programme FinanceCamp North East have announced details of Pitch Black, staged at the end of their 21st June event to put new pitching skills straight into action.

Entrepreneurs taking part will be given just three minutes to win over a panel of three judges and the audience with their business pitch. Fail to make an impression within the allocated time and they will be plunged into darkness.

Anyone passing the Pitch Black standard will automatically qualify to attend a special meeting of heavy-weight angel investors in London who have been primed by UK Business Angels Association and are actively seeking North East companies in which to invest.

Simon Green, Executive Director of Venturefest North East which organises FinanceCamp, said: “Pitch Black is designed as an exhilarating way to immediately put into practice the pitching skills of delegates who will have spent time perfecting their techniques.

“The test will come at the end of an inspiring day that’s dedicated to giving businesses all of the tools and knowledge they need to get hold of money to grow.

“The impending darkness certainly adds an element of drama but by this point in proceedings our businesses will be more than capable of impressing the audience before lights out!”

Carole White, Chief Executive at TEDCO, which has partnered with Venturefest to develop Pitch Black, added: “What we are offering businesses is a unique opportunity to effectively leapfrog the usual route to investment by brokering introductions with key individuals who can finance their ambitions and support their plans.”

One pitch will be chosen as the strongest by a panel of three judges:
· Michael Blakey, serial angel investor, Founder of Avonmore Developments and UK Business Angel Association Angel of the Year 2015/16
· Andy Fishburn, Head of Investment at Virgin Start Up – a not-for-profit Virgin Company, established by Sir Richard Branson to provide funding, advice and mentoring to early stage entrepreneurs in the UK
· Bill Hartshorne, Business Advisor for TEDCO Business Support and a former business banker who has a particular focus on helping new business starts with growth ambition.

A second pitch will be selected by the audience as The People’s Choice. In addition to attending the London pitch, both winners will secure first class travel to Virgin Headquarters in London to meet key members of staff from Virgin Group who will spend time reviewing their plans and sharing knowledge on how to make them fly.

FinanceCamp is all about making it easier and speedier for businesses of all sizes to get access to the money they need to grow and the initiative is now open for applications.

Expert advisers will work with each participant to explain all of the finance routes open to them, weigh up what fits their plans best and prepare their proposition to make it as attractive as possible to investors. Once they are fully prepared, businesses will then be introduced to a range of potential funders at an exciting event on 21st June 2016 at Ramside Hall, Durham.

FinanceCamp has been developed by the team behind the region’s annual innovation conference Venturefest North East, with backing from the North East LEP, North East Finance, the North East BIC and Innovate UK.

This initiative is part of a wider programme being developed with around 50 partner organisations to support innovation in the North East. Led by the Venturefest North East team, the programme is supported by Innovate UK and the North East LEP and North East BIC, with part-funding from the European Regional Development Fund.

For more information and to apply for FinanceCamp North East visit financecamp.co.uk

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JEREMIE programme extended for North East SMEs

The Finance for Business North East (FBNE) fund – also known as the JEREMIE programme – has secured a £17m top up to enable it to continue investing in the region’s fastest growing businesses through to the end of this year.

The programme, established by North East Finance in 2010, anticipates investing the new money in well over 100 of the region’s most ambitious SMEs during the next nine months.

Sources of funding include a £4.5m contribution from the North East LEP and returns from earlier funds in the region; this has been matched by the European Investment Bank, with a further loan of £8.5m, on top of the £60m + committed to the programme so far.  Of this additional funding, £9m will be invested exclusively within the seven local authority districts covered by the North East LEP, and the remainder will be available to companies across the North East including the Tees Valley region.

Since its launch, FBNE has provided vital investment to 850 North East companies – safeguarding or creating more than 6,000 jobs and securing a further £185m of investment into the region from business angels and venture investors across the UK and globally.

Andrew Hodgson, North East LEP Chair, said: “The JEREMIE programme offers an opportunity for the region’s entrepreneurs to access vital finance to start up or grow their businesses.  This closely aligns with the goal in our strategic economic plan to create business growth and we are delighted to support this extension.”

Andrew Mitchell, chief executive of North East Finance – which oversees the current fund – commented: “We are delighted that the North East LEP and other funders recognise the achievements of the fund and the valuable support this finance plays in supporting the growth of local companies, underpinning the wellbeing of the regional economy.  This additional finance will allow local fund managers to continue to invest in SMEs around the region.

“The further loan from the EIB has demonstrated their confidence in local delivery and this top up will allow the North East LEP time to establish a new ring-fenced fund of £120m to invest in the area’s SMEs through to 2021 – as agreed with the Chancellor  last year.”

Stephen Lightly, chief executive of North East Access to Finance, which looks after legacy returns from earlier funds active in the region said: ”I am delighted that legacy monies have been able to make a significant contribution to the extension of the North East JEREMIE fund.  It is great news that there will be continuity of investment finance vital for local SMEs and the fact that we can recycle money from earlier programmes shows that these funds really do create long term benefits for the North East.”

Pictured: Andrew Mitchell of North East Finance with Michelle Rainbow of the North East LEP

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FinanceCamp North East pitches as the future of investment for regional businesses

FinanceCamp North East is being pitched as the smart new way for regional businesses to secure the right kind of investment to fit their plans for growth.

Details have now been released for this new programme of support which will culminate in a major event on 21 June 2016 at Ramside Hall, Durham, where businesses with bright ideas will meet lenders who want to lend and investors who want to invest.

Enterprises of all sizes, structures and sectors are now being urged to apply for the programme to explore different ways to finance their ambitions – whether that’s through a start-up loan, a multi-million pound equity deal or anything in between.

FinanceCamp has been shaped by input and ideas from a wide cross section of businesses, government bodies, research and educational institutions, business representation groups and support organisations who have an interest in accelerating innovation in the region.

It’s been developed by the team behind the region’s annual innovation conference Venturefest North East, with backing from the North East LEP, North East Finance, the North East BIC and Innovate UK.

Simon Green, Executive Director at Venturefest North East, said: “Venturefest’s investor introductions have helped secure hundreds of thousands of pounds in finance for businesses across the North East over the past few years and FinanceCamp builds on this success story.

“Businesses told us that they needed more opportunities to explore their finance options throughout the year and we have responded with this exciting new programme designed to save time and simplify the investment process.”

Hans Möller, Innovation Director at the North East LEP, said: “We know SMEs have struggled to secure finance in recent years and as such wholeheartedly support initiatives like FinanceCamp North East and our own North East Investment Fund, which provide businesses with the capital they need to grow and create new jobs.

“The Venturefest North East team has done a fantastic job getting this new scheme off the ground.”

Support provided to businesses taking part in FinanceCamp will be tailored to their needs, stage of growth and structure.

Expert advisers will work with each participant to explain all of the finance routes open to them, weigh up what fits their plans best and prepare their proposition to make it as attractive as possible to investors. Once they are fully prepared, businesses will then be introduced to a range of potential funders.

This initiative is part of a wider programme being developed with around 50 partner organisations to support innovation in the North East. Led by the Venturefest North East team, the programme is supported by Innovate UK and the North East LEP and North East BIC, with part-funding from the European Regional Development Fund.

For more information and to apply for FinanceCamp North East visit financecamp.co.uk

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The road to devolution

All journeys have to begin at a starting point and the North East could be about to take the first step on the road to devolution.

It’s a well worn phrase over the past few months, but it’s no exaggeration to say that devolution offers us a once in a generation chance to help shape an improved economic future for the North East of England.

There’s a real economic momentum being built up around the Strategic Economic Plan, supporting business growth and job creation.

Devolution presents us with a chance to really capitalise on this momentum.

The LEP has consistently expressed its support for devolution for the North East and I reiterate that support as chair.

I recognise however that not everybody is happy with what is being offered by Government.

I fully respect that. At the end of the day, they are elected members of a local authority and they have made what they believe is the best judgement for local people.

On a personal level, I also think there is much more we can do, and respect people looking at the devolution deal and thinking ‘is that good enough?’

But the deal was never going to be perfect from day one. It is more about how we can get to where we want to be.

We have a stark choice now to decide either not to participate in devolution or go with it and work alongside Government to get the best possible deal we can for the North East.

The areas that were involved in the devolution process early tell us that we have got to do this in phases.

Manchester has been on this devolution path a little longer and they are starting to reap the benefits.

We have got to establish how we can make devolution work for us and use that as the platform to achieve bigger and better things.

Continuing negotiations and discussions with Government, as the combined authority is doing, together with a very strong business voice to help further improve the delivery of the Strategic Economic Plan for the region, has to be the way forward.

The business members of the North East LEP board are fully supportive of how our fellow board members as combined authority leaders are trying to deliver on that.

Ultimately, devolution only really matters when it makes sense to people and not just to business organisations, politicians or indeed, the LEP.

And as with all journeys, you have to begin somewhere to travel to the point you want to get to. The devolution deal is just that – a deal and it can be improved.

We have to respect the fact there are differing opinions and compromises will have to be made.

But we have the opportunity to take our own path to a better and more prosperous economic future.

The devolution deal will allow us to better take the really big decisions that will help us deliver on more of the ambitions set out in the Strategic Economic Plan which is crucial to the sustainable growth of our economy.

Andrew Hodgson, North East LEP Chair.