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A once in a generation opportunity to modernise business support

Colin Bell, Business and Sector Growth Director at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, explains why evolution is key to simplifying the business support landscape to be meaningful for businesses  

It won’t surprise anyone when I say that the business support landscape is too confusing and overly transactional. There are many reasons for this but perhaps the biggest contributor is the way funding is administered and governed.

If we truly want the UK to be the best place in the world to start and grow a business, then we need to grasp the once in a generation opportunity represented by the current LEP reform. This will allow us to break with the status quo while building on what works, creating regional ecosystems that deliver economic and business transformation while strengthening our global competitiveness.

However, there is a real and present danger – if we don’t act now then we risk merely evolving what’s gone before, and even worse, creating a post code lottery of locally focused small scale schemes that will result in limited impact and increased fragmentation; and inefficiencies that will exacerbate rather than address the weaknesses of the current funding and fragmented landscape.

Addressing the frailties of the system is relatively simple. We need to develop a way of working that effectively connects the essential pillars of regional economic development, which are Governance, Strategy, Funding and Delivery infrastructure.

Where these don’t work hand in hand, it leads to many of the existing issues that we are experiencing, such as inefficiency, confusion, duplication and unhealthy competition between stakeholders.

Modernising the landscape requires:

  • Creating systems that connect the essential pillars (Governance, Strategy, Funding, Delivery infrastructure) without dictating a one size fits all approach.
  • Developing regional strategy and frameworks that are built around businesses operational and competitive horizons.   
  • The creation of a long term regional economic development ‘system’, backed by long term strategy and long-term funding.
  • A system that is focused on delivering impact and transformation rather than box ticking and transactional approaches.
  • The modernisation of the business support landscape by a) rethinking how we segment the business base to identify those with real underlying potential, and b) structuring support that directly tackles business pains and helps business to deliver the gains they’re striving for.
  • Building on the existing and proven ability of LEPs and Growth Hubs to align collective energy and resources towards clear and common goals and strategy.

The evolution of LEPs and Growth Hubs should be welcomed as a much-needed chance to modernise business support. 

I know I’m joined by many in the belief that this is an opportunity to develop a landscape that enables genuine business and economic transformation. Through meaningful change, we can deliver powerful and integrated customer journeys and focused resource and energy on the businesses, programmes, and initiatives that make a real difference to the business community.

Get this right and it could be a powerful and effective way to support the government’s agenda to level up our regional economies.

Colin Bell is Business and Sector Growth Director at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership.

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North East LEP joins public in safeguarding 120 local businesses through Crowdfunder campaign

Members of the public, together with the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), have helped safeguard 120 businesses and protect over 350 jobs during the coronavirus pandemic.

In May of this year, the North East LEP announced a partnership with Crowdfunder UK, which meant it would award up to £5,000 in match funding to crowdfund campaigns launched by small businesses in the North East LEP area.  The fund was set up in partnership with Crowdfunder UK to provide additional support to businesses, charities, social enterprises and sole traders unable to access government funding, and those forced to close or struggling to trade because of lockdown restrictions.

To date, the North East LEP has awarded £400,000 through the scheme, in addition to the £495,000 raised by almost 10,000 generous members of the public who have supported local businesses’ appeals through the Crowdfund North East LEP campaign.

Helen Golightly, Chief Executive of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), said: “Every business in every sector of industry has been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, but it’s some of our region’s smaller businesses and enterprises that have struggled the most – particularly those that haven’t been able to adapt as quickly as others, leaving them vulnerable to redundancies and closure.

“The generosity and support from members of the public through crowdfund campaigns has been a lifeline for many small businesses, and as part of our package of support for North East businesses during the coronavirus crisis we wanted to ensure more vital funding reached these organisations.

“Through Crowdfund North East LEP on Crowdfunder UK’s website, we’ve been able to support businesses in every part of our region, and across a range of sectors; including tourism, sports, hospitality, the arts, music, and charities.”

Recipients include vegan and vegetarian café, Shoe Tree Café, in Heaton, Newcastle. The match funding from the North East LEP helped the owners diversify the business so it could continue to trade safely during the pandemic.

Northumberland National Park Mountain Rescue Team used Crowdfund North East LEP to ensure the voluntary emergency service could remain on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, without cutting costs.

And Heatherslaw Light Railway Company, a narrow-gauge steam railway tourist attraction based in North Northumberland, used the funds raised through the crowdfund campaign to ensure the family business could reopen after lockdown.

Support is still available for small businesses in the North East LEP area through Crowdfund North East LEP until the end of December 2020. More information about the scheme, including how to apply, is available here.

Rob Love, CEO, Crowdfunder said: “Businesses have already faced an extremely challenging time during the first lockdown. We have also seen incredible resilience: small businesses have adapted and pivoted their offerings in order to keep trading. By crowdfunding and gaining match-funding from the LEP they can maintain cash flow and stay connected to their customer base which is vital if they are to bounce back quickly once this is all over. The North East LEP match funding helps to take the pressure off small businesses and enables many to protect their staff and livelihoods. We are ready and able to work with any LEP or Local Authority that is able to do the same.”

Crowdfund North East LEP is just one of the ways the North East Local Enterprise Partnership has been supporting businesses during the coronavirus pandemic.

The North East LEP is the founding member of the North East COVID-19 Economic Response Group, which was established at the start of the pandemic to ensure the North East has strong economic leadership that acts quickly and collaboratively to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19.

The group is made up of the North East LEP, CBI, North of Tyne and North East Combined Authorities, with the support of industry. The group recently submitted its ambitious North East Recovery and Renewal Deal to government, which asks for £2.8 billion investment to unlock half for the 100,000 more jobs required to support North East recovery quickly. Find out more about the North East COVID-19 Economic Response Group.


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Colin Bell, Business Growth Director, explains how the North East Growth Hub is working to reduce the impact of Coronavirus on our regional businesses

Right now is a time of anxiety for many people and business owners due to the impact of Coronavirus, also known as COVID-19.

Here at the North East Growth Hub we are geared up to provide as much support as we can – and working hard to do more.

Right now, our focus is on updating the North East Growth Hub Coronavirus toolkit so you have access to the very latest information, as well as providing direct one to one support to businesses to help them navigate the measures Government are putting in place.

This includes details of the latest financial support and how to prevent the spread of COVID-19, through to managing remote working and knowing your employees’ rights.

We are also working closely with our partners in local and national Government, academia and the private and third sectors to mobilise a combined response which puts your needs at the heart of all activity and ensures one voice and message is heard by Government.

This collaborative approach includes our Local Authorities and the North East Combined Authority, as well as membership organisations such as the CBI, FSB, Dynamo, Developing Consensus, Make, Entrepreneurs’ Forum and more.

How you can play your part

At this uncertain time, everyone has a role to play. Please help us develop our response by letting us know what you need.

Right now, we need to understand exactly what is impacting your business so we can share this with the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) to help them inform the measures put in place and improve the support offered.

You can do this by completing this short survey here.

In it together

The North East is known for its collaborative spirit and resilience. Please be assured the North East LEP will continue to lead from the front and share valuable information so you can do what you can to keep your business moving forward and protect employees.

Please do use the North East Growth Hub toolkit, fill in the survey and if needed, make a one to one virtual appointment with one of our Connectors. We are here to help.

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Multimillion-pound business support programme set to launch

North East businesses will benefit from the launch of a new multimillion-pound programme aimed at those who wish to diversify, broaden their customer base and unlock new market opportunities.

Supply Chain North East will see four key partners joining forces to work with over 800 businesses between 2018-2021 supporting businesses to identify opportunities in new and existing markets. An integral part of the North East Growth Hub, Supply Chain North East will be delivered across the region by RTC North, Generator, North East Automotive Alliance (NEAA) and North East Process Industry Cluster (NEPIC).

Colin Bell, Business Growth Director at the North East LEP and leading the North East Growth Hub, said:

“Supply Chain North East has been created to enable more collaboration across multiple sectors. For example, often we see smaller businesses wanting to work within manufacturing or automotive but don’t know how to penetrate the market.

“Through this programme and the partners’ vast networks, we can give valuable advice delivered both at events and via one to one support to help them on that journey.

“A key benefit that businesses will gain is that they will build more diverse revenue streams, reducing reliance on a few customers and markets, which is particularly important with Brexit on the horizon.

“With new supply chain prospects in the North East, such as the £500 million Nexus Fleet Replacement Programme and opportunities further afield, this initiative has been designed to ensure our region’s businesses are well placed to grow their customer base, strengthen supply chain management and diversify their products and services.

“Supply Chain North East also focuses on helping businesses make the most of new technology to drive higher profits, productivity and innovation in new products and services.”

Alan Whittaker, Programme Manager of Supply Chain, added:

“We’re delighted to be delivering a programme that can make a real difference to local businesses in the North East by tapping into national and international opportunities.“All partners involved in delivering this programme offer businesses access to a vast amount of expertise and wealth of experience. It’s the strength of this partnership that will ensure Supply Chain North East helps businesses to thrive and succeed.”

If you are business that meets the following criteria;

Based in the North East LEP area (Sunderland, Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle, North Tyneside, South Tyneside, Northumberland) and are in the following sectors:

  • Advanced manufacturing
  • Subsea, offshore and energy technologies
  • Automotive and transport
  • Health and life sciences
  • Digital, tech and creative
  • Process, chemical and pharmaceutical

Then join us for the launch event on Thursday, 24th January at the Crowne Plaza, Newcastle. To register visit here >>

Visit www.supplychainnortheast.co.uk for more information or call 0191 516 4400.

If you have any further questions about this article, please do not hesitate to contact us directly.


Notes to editor:

RTC services are designed to help clients innovate, compete and grow. Specialising in the commercialisation of new products and services, we work with individuals, businesses and the public sector to help create more innovative and vibrant economies.

Founded in 1989, the company has vast experience of helping organisations with all stages of the innovation and IP commercialisation process and uses this expertise to support partners at a UK regional, national and European level.

RTC is a lead UK partner in the worlds’ largest business support network – Enterprise Europe Network – and has established relationships with partners in Asia as well as North and South America.


Supply Chain North East project is supported by the England European Regional Development Fund as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020.

About the North East LEP

The North East LEP is a public, private and education sector partnership that covers Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle, Northumberland, North Tyneside, South Tyneside and Sunderland local authority areas.

The £270.4m Local Growth Fund, secured as part of the North East Growth Deal, supports the North East LEP’s delivery of the Strategic Economic Plan, which aims to create 100,000 more and better jobs by 2024.

Local Growth Fund

Local Enterprise Partnerships are playing a vital role in driving forward economic growth across the country, helping to build a country that works for everyone.

That’s why by 2021 Government will have invested over £12bn through the Local Growth Fund, allowing LEPs to use their local knowledge to get all areas of the country firing on all cylinders.

Analysis has shown that every £1 of Local Growth Fund invested could generate £4.81 in benefits.


Generator is the leading sector specialist development agency in the North of England.

The flexible and agile approach to supporting both businesses and creatives in the digital and music industries has kept it ahead of the curve when supplying business and talent development for over 25 years.

Starting out as an organisation seeking to navigate pathways for musicians, songwriters and bands to the national music industry and help strike meaningful careers in their chosen direction Generator has evolved into one of the only sector specialist business support agencies for the creative digital tech and music sectors in the UK.


The North East Automotive Alliance (NEAA) is an industry-led cluster group, established to support the economic sustainable growth and competitiveness of the sector in the North East of England.
Launched in March 2015, with over 330 cluster participants, the NEAA is the largest automotive cluster in the UK and one of the fastest growing clusters across Europe. The NEAA provides a single unified voice to key stakeholder groups and promotes the true value created by the North East Automotive sector.


NEPIC works with chemical-processing and supply chain companies to help them become successful and sustainable organisations in a business environment that enables them to grow. Through its established network, NEPIC provides business growth support to companies small and large via networking, events, mentoring, best practice, promotion and signposting.



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Nexus seeks suppliers for Metro Futures project

Nexus is currently seeking to procure three contracts worth around £500m as part of the Nexus Fleet Replacement Programme on the Tyne and Wear Metro.

They are holding an event on Monday 8 October at the Stadium of Light in Sunderland. This event will give businesses the opportunity to meet bidders, listen to briefings from the Nexus team and potentially have an opportunity to pitch to the potential suppliers. The different contract opportunities, which are in construction, manufacture and maintenance, are described in detail below.

1. Manufacture and supply of a fleet of 42 new trains with opportunities for suppliers in the following areas:

  • Design, supply and assembly of systems, sub-systems, components and system software / firmware
  • Vehicle body design, manufacture, fabrication and assembly
  • Testing and commissioning services for vehicle systems
  • Transportation of new and existing fleet


2. Maintenance of the outgoing and the new fleet with opportunities for suppliers in the following areas:

  • Supply of systems, subsystems, components and consumables associated with the maintenance of existing and new fleet
  • Supply of plant, equipment and tools to serve fleet maintenance requirements
  • Disposal of current fleet


3. Construction of a new maintenance facility for the new fleet, with opportunities for suppliers in the following areas:

  • Demolition of an existing depot building
  • Decommissioning and removal of railway assets
  • Design, construction, testing and commissioning of new railway assets
  • Design and construction of a new depot building
  • Provision of plant and equipment to serve fleet maintenance activities
  • Provision of building maintenance services
  • The move brings huge opportunities for businesses to be part of a new supply chain working with the bidders

Register for the Nexus event here.

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In conversation with Andrew Hodgson: Brexit and the uncertainty of its impact.

Brexit and the uncertainty of its impact remains the dominant issue for regional business, with talks between the UK government and EU leaders about to enter their most crucial phase.

Brexit will bring disruption, but any disruption creates opportunities for new winners as well as risks to established businesses.

The North East LEP is determined to help companies capture the new opportunities as well as protect themselves from the inevitable changes they will face.

It is launching a comprehensive package of support to help businesses be as prepared as best they can for Brexit through access to expertise, resources and initiatives.

Worryingly, we know many companies are not readying themselves for Britain leaving the EU.

This represents a risk not just to their viability but to the North East economy as a whole.

The North East LEP is taking action now to help firms prepare, working with partners expert in guiding companies through the process of change.

Later this month we are launching ‘Supply Chain North East’. Its aims are simple – to help build more resilience into regional supply chains and the regional economy as a whole.

Businesses will be linked to sector experts able to help them better prepare for life outside the European Union.

The North East LEP has appointed two Growth Hub Connectors to go into firms, get under their skin and assess their Brexit readiness.

Ken Arnold and Karl McCracken both have experience of running companies and will use their professional knowledge to connect firms to the sector experts best placed to help.

RTC North, the North East Automotive Alliance, NEPIC and Generator are delivering the programme, offering a wealth of industry experience and a proven track record of transforming business growth and productivity.

This could be by diversifying income through different revenue opportunities domestically and internationally or by generating greater productivity through digitisation.

Resilience is key, and ‘Supply Chain North East’ has the knowledge and expertise to get companies ready and able to make the most of the change Brexit will bring.

Quite often supply chain companies are reliant on few customers for the vast majority of their work which doesn’t make good business sense.

Our team will be working with firms to examine their core competencies and look at ways to build greater resilience into their business – which could be as simple as continuing to do what they are doing but with new customers.

Sectors such as rail, the nuclear industry and offshore wind present new and exciting opportunities for businesses looking to diversify into different markets.Complementing ‘Supply Chain North East’ will be a new Brexit Preparation Fund being finalised now with NBSL, via their North East Business Support Fund, which will support companies to buy in professional expertise to look at exposure to risk and build greater resilience.

We are also unveiling a Brexit Tool Kit through the North East Growth Hub – the region’s online business support platform – bringing together in one place all the available business advice and support to prepare firms for leaving the EU.

The North East Growth Hub www.northeastgrowthhub.co.uk will be the access point for all the LEP’s latest package of Brexit support.














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Single Market access essential to protect North East economy after Brexit

The UK must ensure that it retains access to the Single Market, has an open trading regime and maintains a stable regulatory framework with the European Union to minimise the impact of Brexit on the North East economy. This is the key conclusion of ‘Leaving the European Union’, a report by a powerful regional economic group says today.

The North East Brexit Group was formed to provide a collective voice for the region in order to contribute to the ongoing national dialogue around the UK leaving the European Union. It includes networks representing businesses, education, trade unions, local authorities and voluntary organisations.

The group has compiled evidence from a wide range of government, academic and business sources to develop a clearer understanding of issues, challenges and opportunities which businesses and other economic partners believe need to be addressed to support the regional economy as the UK’s exit draws closer.

The ‘Leaving the European Union’ report looks at economic forecasts as well as specific issues of concern, and opportunities identified, for each of the key North East business sectors.

The common finding throughout the range of economic studies collated is that lower levels of economic activity are forecast in the region over different timescales as a result of the decision to leave the EU.

Drawing together the findings, a series of recommendations are made in the report to Government about measures to protect the North East economy, as it concludes negotiations and develops new national policy. They are:

  • Continued access to the European Single Market
  • An open trade and investment environment with frictionless and tariff free flow of goods across the EU/UK border to create a level playing field for competition and ensure the stability of established supply chains
  • Continued access to skilled individuals from the EU to tackle projected North East future skills shortages due to an ageing workforce and lack of skilled workers
  • New policies to replace EU funding streams to the North East and to ensure that financial regulation can boost growth and skills
  • A national Government communications campaign with clear and consistent advice and messages about Brexit, encouraging firms to prepare for legislative changes well in advance of leaving the EU.

In addition to the need to deliver a positive outcome to the discussion about the single market, trading regime and regulatory framework, another key finding is that more advice and support is needed for businesses to help them to prepare for the range of changes which could lie ahead.

Andrew Hodgson, North East LEP Chair, said: “This is a helpful report by the North East Brexit group, which identifies the economic opportunities and challenges of Brexit for the North East’s economy and businesses. The North East LEP will continue to deliver the ambitions of the Strategic Economic Plan (SEP) and adapt activities to maximise the economic opportunities, but also address the challenges, of Brexit in the North East.”

Jonathan Walker, head of policy and campaigns, North East England Chamber of Commerce said: “We communicate daily with our members on Brexit, hold regular consultations on trade policy and facilitate the shipment of millions of pounds’ worth of goods overseas every month.

“We do not believe Government should pursue a Brexit strategy that could cause any harm to our status as a strong exporting region and we’re delighted to contribute to any work which makes this point.”

Alistair Westwood, Deputy Regional Director at the CBI spokesperson said: “Businesses in the North East welcome the progress that’s been made so far, but this is no time to sit back and rest on our laurels. There is so much more to do.

“We leave the EU in less than one year and this must concentrate the minds of those on both sides. The global economy is growing, but the UK is already lagging behind.

“This means putting the big, unresolved issues under the microscope to find the right answers on Ireland, customs, regulation and access to people – for starters.

“Evidence is our best guide to good decisions about what comes next.”

Beth Farhat, TUC Northern Regional Secretary, said: “We welcome the report and are pleased to be able to work with others to highlight this evidence. 140,000 North East jobs depend on EU trade, and paid holidays, fairness for part-time workers and parental leave are guaranteed by the EU. The best way to keep the good jobs and rights at work that the single market provides is to be part of it.”

The report also identifies opportunities from Brexit. Businesses could build on sterling devaluation to boost exports, and there may be opportunities to secure more local supply chain activity given relatively cheaper capital costs.

The group’s report adds that some North East exporters, such as medicines manufacturers, have seen uplift in trade volume with businesses benefitting from the devaluation of sterling.

However, the overall balance of trade value has reversed to put the North East in a net importing position for the first time in many years.

Business confidence in digital and transport sectors has been affected with some decisions made to locate investment in Europe rather than in the North East.

Alongside manufacturing, a particular UK wide impact of Brexit is expected in places hosting knowledge intensive services. In the North East these are concentrated in Newcastle, Gateshead and North Tyneside.

Some businesses are planning ahead, in the absence of clarity and some are planning for a perceived worst case scenario of reverting to World Trade Organisation (WTO) trade arrangements. The majority of North East businesses have yet to start to plan as the implications of Brexit for them are not yet clear.

The full report can be read here


Notes to Editors:

The North East Brexit Group is an informal group of participants from the following organisations: CBI North East, North East Chamber of Commerce, North East Federation of Small Businesses, Entrepreneurs Forum, North East EEF, Northern TUC, North East Local Enterprise Partnership, North East Combined Authority, representatives from Northumbria, Sunderland, Newcastle and Durham universities and Voluntary Organisations Network North East (VONNE).



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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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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