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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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Energy Minister visits projects putting North East at the forefront of Net Zero drive

As the North East is poised to become the UK’s first low carbon heat cluster, the government’s Minister for Business, Energy and Corporate Responsibility, Lord Callanan, is touring the region to see some of the projects which are leading the way in the nation’s drive to achieve Net Zero carbon emissions.

The visit follows the launch of three nationally significant activities in the region:

  • The first, a report highlighting the potential of mine energy for the UK published on behalf of the BEIS Energy Hub Network – which uses natural geothermal-heated water that has gathered in the underground networks of former deep coal mines – in helping the UK to achieve its Net Zero target by 2050.
  • The second is Gateshead Council’s Zero Carbon Heat Strategy, outlining its ambition to make all Council buildings and homes net zero by 2030, though major investment in heat networks, as well as supporting clean hydrogen and heat pumps.
  • And the third, is the launch of a ‘High Potential Opportunity’ to promote the North East and Tees Valley as an inward investment location for the UK in heat networks.

Andrew Clark, Energy Lead at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (North East LEP), said: “The North East has an existing skills base, supply chain and infrastructure, plus a nationally-significant project pipeline, which means we are ideally positioned to make a huge contribution to the UK’s drive to achieve Net Zero.

“During today’s visit, we were able to showcase some of the globally-important energy projects which are taking place in our region, and demonstrate how the North East is on its way to becoming the UK’s first cluster for low carbon heat innovation, supply chain and delivery.”

Lord Callanan was able to meet beneficiaries of the Government’s Heat Networks Investment Project (HNIP); two mine water heat networks in the region are among those to have been awarded funding by Triple Point Heat Networks Investment Management in partnership with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

The Minister visited Seaham Garden Village district heat network in County Durham, which will supply low-carbon geothermal heat from former coal mines to a new development to the south of Seaham. It is hoped that the scheme will be a commercially viable sustainable energy demonstrator project that can be duplicated across the UK coalfields, which contain 25% of the UK population.

Energy Minister, and Heat Networks Industry Council Ministerial Champion, Lord Callanan of Low Fell said: “Heating our homes and workspaces without causing carbon emissions is going to be key to tackling climate change and heat networks are proving an effective solution as well as opening up huge potential for investors at home and abroad.“

These low-carbon technologies are allowing us to build back greener from the pandemic, and as the Heat Networks Industry Council’s Ministerial Champion, I’m excited to see the opportunities they are providing in the North-East. “As a native of this region, I’m well aware of how coal dug from under our feet powered the industrial revolution 200 years ago and it’s fitting that that legacy and heat taken from former mines is now helping drive forward a new Green Industrial Revolution.”

Councillor Mark Wilkes, Durham County Council’s Cabinet member for neighbourhoods and climate change, said: “We’re delighted to be part of the drive towards achieving Net Zero carbon emissions.

“The proposed district heating system at Seaham Garden Village will use ultra-low carbon energy from the former mine workings.  

“The use of this technology could be replicated in other parts of County Durham, the North East region and elsewhere across the UK’s former coalfield sites.” 

Also on the agenda was a visit to the Gateshead District Energy Scheme, which has been awarded funding to double its heat network, using geothermal energy from a network of old mine workings 150 metres below Gateshead to supply heat to homes and businesses. 

John McElroy, cabinet member for the environment and transport at Gateshead Council, said: “Our work on heat networks and harnessing geothermal heat shows our ambition to tackle climate change and reach our zero carbon goal by 2030.

“We already have a significant track record of investment in heat networks, so this is proven technology – now we need to move across to sustainable sources of energy and roll out zero carbon heating to a much wider audience across the borough.”

Ken Hunnisett, Project Director at Triple Point Heat Networks Investment Management said: “These two projects represent the first two mine energy schemes to be awarded HNIP funding and signify genuine levelling up in the North East in preparation for net zero. With mine energy ideally suited to district heating, the ability of our coalfields to provide clean, affordable and perpetually renewing heat should be a source of great national pride.” 

Richard Bond, Innovation and Engagement Director at the Coal Authority, said: “Using heat from former coal mines is an innovative way to decarbonise heating supplies, attract investment, create employment and lower energy bills. The Coal Authority is actively working with a number of partner organisations across the country, including the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, to help unlock the potential of mine water heat to make UK homes greener, warmer and more efficient.”

Also in Gateshead, Lord Callanan joined Anne-Marie Trevelyan, MP, Minister for Energy, Clean Growth and Climate Change who was officially opening Hydrogen House, the UK’s first house to demonstrate the use of hydrogen-fuelled appliances in a real-world setting, at Northern Gas Networks’ Low Thornley site. 

Andrew Clark added: “These projects are not just regionally significant; they’re leading the way for the entire nation and no doubt contributed to Government’s recent decision to select Heat networks in the North East and Tees Valley as part of the Department for International Trade’s High Potential Opportunities Programme (HPO). We now have a completed investment proposition to promote to foreign investors and drive investment into the region.

“We’ll continue to work with government, the energy sector in the North East, and our partners in Tees Valley, to push forward the work taking place in our region which will help the UK cut its carbon emissions and help tackle the issue of climate change.” 

On the High Potential Opportunities Programme, Minister for Investment, Gerry Grimstone said: “Our HPO programme is designed to showcase the best opportunities across the UK to international investors and attract investment that will help the UK build back better.

“Attracting investment into the UK’s clean growth industries like heat networks is critical, and with so many projects in the pipeline and such a fantastic ecosystem, the industry should take note of this huge opportunity. This programme along with the Global Investment Summit we are hosting in October will be a chance to show why the UK is a great place to invest in a greener future.”

Find out about the North East LEP’s work to support the North East energy sector here.

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Energy Innovation Challenge: Jumping Rivers

Esther Gillespie, Director of data science consultancy Jumping Rivers, explains how taking part in the Energy Innovation Challenge has opened up opportunities and funding for the business.

“I would totally recommend getting in contact with the North East Energy Catalyst, and certainly the Innovation Challenge has really been an exciting development for our company,” says Esther.

Find out about the Energy Innovation Challenge programme here.

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In conversation: Funding and investment accelerates new drug development

Iksuda Therapeutics develops a new generation of drugs which target difficult-to-treat cancers. In 2020, the business received £24,524 from the North East LEP’s COVID-19 Patent Protection Scheme to fund patent filing and renewal costs in multiple countries.

Chief Executive Officer, Dave Simpson, talks about the company’s growth, and how investment has helped accelerate the development of new treatments for patients.

The support from the North East LEP and the COVID-19 Patent Protection Scheme came at a critical phase for us. We operate in a very IP-heavy business so we were very grateful to receive the funding to help us secure our IP during what was a crucial time for our growth.

Around the same time that we had this support from the North East LEP, we were building a strong relationship with investors overseas, particularly in Korea. This work opened up multiple opportunities globally and we’ve recently completed a $47 million funding round led by Korean-based Mirae Asset Capital and Celltrion Inc.

The last few months has seen the business transform as this investment has helped us move closer towards clinical trial and helping patients when they need it most. The pandemic brought a unique set of challenges to the business but with global support from our shareholders the the outcome has been fantastic.

A global business with a North East base

Due to the pandemic, all our engagement and due diligence with our eventual  investors in Korea was undertaken via video call. It’s proof that this can be done remotely, wherever you’re based and that there is appetite for investment in the North East from significant, overseas players.

The company was originally formed by IP Group Plc and Bath University but our UK headquarters and research team are based in the North East, while our pre-clinical/clinical team work out of our Boston US office.

The North East is a good fit for us. The resources we need are readily available here and the region is ambitious. It wants to invest in and support early stage companies – as Iksuda was at the time we moved here – and encourage them to grow here.

We’re located at the Biosphere in Newcastle which is a laboratory and office space, created as a bespoke facility for Iksuda. It’s been a huge benefit to us as a business but also to the region as a whole, which is fast becoming home to a strong health and life sciences cluster.

We currently employ 12 full time staff in Newcastle and the recent investment means that we plan to increase that to 20 in the next few months, and we will be growing our numbers in the USA as well.

Accelerating new treatments for patients

Now, we’re fully focused on entering clinic. It’s not too far away as we anticipate gaining Investigational New Drug (IND) approval at the end of this year for our lead pre-clinical candidate, IKS03, which is a new generation antibody drug conjugate (ADC) which targets B-cell tumours. We then plan to start patient doses in the first quarter of 2022.

Our ambition is to be taking two new drugs each year into clinic.

This latest stage of funding, investment and growth means that we can accelerate our work and help more patients, which is our ultimate aim.

Find out more about Iksuda Therapeutics.

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UK Life Sciences Vision

Colin Bell, Business Growth Director at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, reacts to the publication of the Government’s UK Life Sciences Vision.

“Government’s bold and ambitious UK Life Sciences Vision aims to address some of the of our most urgent health challenges – including cancer, dementia and cardiovascular disease. Working with industry, it aims to position the UK as a leader in scientific excellence.

“Here in the North East, we plan to support the delivery of the UK Life Sciences Vision by delivering on the targets set out in the region’s Health, Life Sciences and Medicines Manufacturing Strategy, which aims to double the number of jobs in the North East’s health and life sciences sector, and double the number of businesses active in the region’s health and life sciences community.

“We want to build on our sector strengths by expanding the development of advanced therapies and drug delivery systems; grow the pharmaceutical manufacturing supply chain, and deliver more diagnostics development and scale-up opportunities.

“We want the North East to continue to be a place where health and life sciences businesses can start, grow and scale.

“The North East’s health and life sciences community played a central role in the UK’s COVID-19 response. Newcastle-based QuantuMDx invested over £11 million to accelerate development, scale-up and manufacture of its rapid point-of-care testing system – Q-POC. Atelerix, which is based at The Biosphere on Newcastle Helix, developed a ground-breaking solution for cell preservation by using existing technology to extend the shelf life of COVID-19 test kits. And the CPI, based at NETPark in County Durham, was part of the national taskforce to develop, scale-up, manufacture and supply effective COVID-19 vaccines.

“In alignment with the UK Life Sciences Vision, we want to channel the achievements of North East health and life sciences businesses to grow the sector, create more and better jobs in the North East, and help position the UK a global leader in health and life sciences.”

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North East LEP response to Nissan’s announcement of new Sunderland gigafactory

As Nissan announced its plans to create a new electric model and battery plant in Sunderland, creating more than 6,000 jobs, Helen Golightly OBE, Chief Executive of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “Nissan’s ongoing commitment to invest in the North East is testament to the skills, talent and expertise in our region’s advanced manufacturing sector. Today’s announcement also recognises the leading role our region has to play in new sustainable forms of energy, like electrification.

“The UK’s commitment to reach net zero by 2050 has accelerated the need for R&D and investment in electric vehicles, and Nissan’s announcement will put our region at the forefront of new developments in this sector.

“Nissan’s plans for its Sunderland plant will not only create thousands of direct jobs, but it will also deliver thousands more in the supply chain, ensuring the economic benefits reach right across our region.”

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North East health and life sciences sector leads the way in global COVID response

The North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) has praised the region’s health and life sciences sector for its vital work in the global effort against Covid-19.

The health and life sciences community is home to 150 businesses across the region. Its strengths include an advanced manufacturing cluster, contributing significantly to the global pharmaceutical industry, and a thriving biotech cluster.

Many companies working in the North East health and life sciences sector have channelled their world-leading expertise into finding solutions to the Covid-19 crisis.

One such business is Newcastle-based QuantuMDx, which has invested over £11 million to accelerate development, scale-up and manufacture of Q-POC – its rapid point-of-care testing system – in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Q-POC is a portable, PCR device offering rapid, sample-to-answer, molecular diagnostic testing at the point of care, with results in approximately 30 minutes. The Q-POC system comprises a sample collection kit, single-use test cassette and analyser.

The company’s first commercial assay for Q-POC will detect SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19, and Flu A & B, providing a powerful rapid PCR diagnostics and surveillance tool for clinicians and public health officials.

QuantuMDx welcomed Prime Minister Boris Johnson for a tour of its purpose-built HQ in February.

Jonathan O’Halloran, Chief Executive, QuantuMDx, (pictured) said: “It is incredible to see the progress that has been made so far in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, including the many achievements of companies here in the North East of England.

“By scaling up we were able to successfully accelerate the development of our Q-POC system for SARS-CoV-2 testing. The Q-POC will be one of the fastest, most accurate and powerful PCR diagnostic devices on the market and we look forward to being able to offer this rapid, point of care diagnostic solution to help front line health workers across the world.”

Life sciences businesses based in The Biosphere on Newcastle Helix adapted and innovated using existing research and development expertise to support the fight against COVID-19. Atelerix, who have developed a ground breaking solution for cell preservation, used existing technology to extend the shelf life of COVID-19 test kits. Independent research organisation ExplantLab have been investigating the influence of HLA genotype on the severity of COVID‐19 infection, looking at whether certain genes may protect individuals from developing serious complications. Cancer diagnosis company MDNA Life Sciences made Covid-19 testing available to commercial businesses; and Alcyomics are investigating the immune response to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, critical for the evaluation of vaccines and clinical management of patients.

The Biosphere is becoming a popular hot spot for innovative life science organisations, with the latest addition being an Innovation Lab, part of the NHS Integrated Covid Hub North East. The specialist lab team at The Biosphere is dedicated to speeding up the validation and implementation of new methods for cutting-edge Covid testing and builds on Newcastle Hospitals’ international reputation for life science research and innovation.

John Tyson, Head of the Innovation Lab, said: “There has been an incredible amount of collaborative effort and learning throughout the pandemic from industry, academia, the NHS and the community. 

“At our Innovation Lab we are working closely with industry and academia to accelerate the development of new COVID diagnostics, which can have an immediate impact and also provide a stronger resilience against future infectious diseases threats.

“As we look to move out of this acute phase, we have a real opportunity to build a lasting legacy across sectors and life sciences in the region.”

Also at the forefront of the COVID-19 response is CPI, an independent, deep-tech innovation centre and a founding member of UK’s High Value Manufacturing Catapult . CPI acts as a catalyst bringing together academia, businesses, government and investors to translate bright ideas and research into the marketplace and supports innovations in healthtech and cleantech.

Arun Harish, Strategy Director at CPI, said: “CPI is one of the leading mRNA innovation and manufacturing experts in the UK, currently working as part of the Government’s Vaccine Task Force to lead a rapid response vaccine unit to develop and manufacture new candidates to fight COVID -19 virus variants of concern.

“CPI’s National Formulation Centre at NETPark in Sedgefield is at the forefront of innovation in nanotherapeutic drug delivery systems such as the Lipid Nanoparticles (LNP) that are used to encapsulate the mRNA vaccines. When new variants of concern of COVID-19 are identified by VUEAG (the expert panel of Scientists in the UK), mRNA vaccines variants can be developed in a matter of weeks, ready for clinical trial confirmation of efficacy and subsequently commercial manufacture of millions of doses if needed.”

 CPI has also contributed to UK’s diagnostics efforts through innovation and manufacture of critical reagents and active contribution to the Rapid Antigen Test consortium.

 The LEP recently published its North East Health, Life Sciences and Medicines Manufacturing Strategy, designed to double the number of North East jobs in the health, life sciences and pharmaceuticals industry to 24,000 by 2030.

Health and life sciences is identified as an area of opportunity for the region in the LEP’s North East Strategic Economic Plan, which is the roadmap for creating 100,000 more and better jobs by 2024.

In 2019, Health and Life Sciences in the North East region had a turnover of £1.7bn, up from £1.5bn in 2018.

Between 2010 and 2019, overall employment in the sector increased by 1,400, which represents an equivalent increase of 22% compared to 9% nationally.

Lucy Winskell OBE, Chair of the North East LEP, said: “The world-leading science and innovation developed here in the North East in the ongoing battle against Covid-19 highlights the global importance of our health and life sciences sector.

“The North East has made an incredible contribution to the Covid-19 response through our manufacturing and innovation strengths, our public health and care services, and in the development of testing.

“This has showcased on a global scale our diverse life sciences, health innovation and medicines manufacturing capabilities. We are committed to building on the fantastic work already being done in this area through the implementation of our ambitious North East Health, Life Sciences and Medicines Manufacturing Strategy.”

Read more about the North East Health, Life Sciences and Medicines Manufacturing Strategy.

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North East businesses helping young people at risk of long-term unemployment into work

Employers in the North East are helping young people at risk of long term unemployment take their first steps into the workplace.

Businesses including Sunderland-based automotive manufacturer Unipres have signed up to the Kickstart Scheme, which provides funding to employers to create six month job placements for people aged between 16 and 24 who are receiving Universal Credit.

Unipres currently employs 35 Kickstart trainees and has plans to recruit five more in the next few weeks.

Rob Dodds, Apprentice Coordinator at Unipres, explained: “The reason we got involved is that it’s an ideal opportunity to give young people a chance to gain valuable experience in the workplace.

“They’re indispensable to the business as well – it’s another form of recruitment for us and these are the future stars. It’s a win-win situation for the business and for the trainees.”

The Kickstart Scheme offers funding to cover the relevant National Minimum Wage for 25 hours a week, plus the associated employer National Insurance contributions and employer minimum automatic enrolment contributions. Funding is also available to support young people to develop new skills and to help them move into sustained employment after they have completed their Kickstart-funded job.

20-year-old Ehsan Izadi, who is working as part of the Quality Assurance team at Unipres, said: “I was working in a pizza shop but when COVID came around, the shop was closed. I was looking for a job and saw the opportunity with Unipres. It was easy to apply through the job centre and it was a big opportunity for me.

“I like learning and improving my CV – if you have six months experience at Unipres it’s really important for your CV.”

Another North East business taking part in the Kickstart scheme is Northumbrian Water. Kay Penney, Human Resources Director at Northumbrian Water, said: “When the Kickstart Scheme was announced by the Government, we jumped at the opportunity to support young people to increase their employment prospects.

“So many of our workforce have come to us as young people, taking their first steps in the world of work, or returning to employment after enforced breaks, and they have become valuable employees playing important roles in our business.

“The jobs market is a very competitive place at the moment, whatever experience you have, but we know many young people are really finding it hard to get a break. We hope that the experience, learning and qualification they get from coming to us through the Kickstart Scheme will give them a valuable step up.”

Michelle Rainbow, Skills Director at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, added: “Through Kickstart, businesses can help young people gain skills and experience that will help them to avoid long-term unemployment.

“And of course, support like this is especially important now, as so many young people have seen their plans affected by the pandemic. The fact that the North East business community has the opportunity to step up and help young people avoid unemployment is fantastic.”

Joanne Jobling, Service Leader for DWP in Northumberland, Tyne & Wear said:

“Kickstart has already made a remarkable difference to the lives of many young people – with the support of businesses, we want to maximise the impact of Kickstart in the North East, changing more lives for the better and supporting our economy now and in the future. We are working closely with the North East LEP and other key partners to encourage as many young people as possible to contact their local jobcentre to apply for the fantastic opportunities that are being created.”

Businesses in the North East can apply to join the Kickstart Scheme through the North East Growth Hub. Businesses can also register to join an online event by the IoD North East on 30 June, explaining more about Kickstart. Register for a free place here.

Kickstart vacancies in the North East will be advertised via northeastopportunities.co.uk.