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The North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) is calling on the regional business community to help it solve some of the biggest Coronavirus-related problems.

Through Challenge North East, a new open innovation programme, the LEP is offering support to SMEs as it seeks to address critical issues facing the North East marketplace while it adapts to a COVID-19 world.

SMEs will be given up to £5k grant funding between January and March 2021 to develop solutions to specific challenges, with the possibility of being in the running to win a grant of up to £40k to scale the most impactful solution in each area.

The first call in the programme is entitled: ‘Together again: Delivering safe and engaging in-person events’. This seeks answers to how people might be able to gather safely again indoors and outdoors, while achieving an engaging experience for those watching at home.

Those interested in helping solve this challenge are invited to attend a virtual launch event on 9 December to hear from organisations who are supporting Challenge North East, including The Baltic, Beamish Museum, The Sage Gateshead and Newcastle United Foundation, and learn about how you can apply to the fund with your solution.

Solutions could revolve around the creative direction of events, digital opportunities, COVID-19-related measures, how people move round venues, public confidence and more.

The second Challenge North East call is known as ‘Adapting In-Home Services’. COVID-19 has significantly disrupted the delivery of services in peoples’ homes, impacting safety, confidence and trust and increasing the need for new approaches. There is also a growing need to ensure in-home service standards remain high. This challenge will launch with a virtual event on 10 December, which will discuss the scope of the challenge and outline how you can apply to the fund with your solution.

Ideas for new ways of working and support for those who deliver and rely on in-home services will be well eligible for funding and development support. This challenge has been shaped by leading regional organisations from Housing Associations, Utilities, Community Support and Social Care, among others.

Alan Welby, director of innovation at the North East LEP, said: “Two of the best things about the North East are its entrepreneurial nature and collaborative spirit. Through Challenge North East, we want to harness both these things to resolve some of the issues that life with COVID-19 has presented.

“We’re confident that these two open innovation challenges will yield some excellent results and can’t wait to see what our regional businesses come back with.”

Challenge North East is being delivered by the Innovation SuperNetwork, Digital Catapult North East Tees Valley and Sunderland Software City.

To sign up for one or both of the launch event, and for more information, please visit: www.challengenortheast.co.uk.

Challenge North East has received funding from the government’s Local Growth Fund. The Local Growth Fund is supporting capital investments to promote innovation, economic and skills infrastructure and sustainable transport as part of the North East Growth Deal.

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Lucy Winskell