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North East LEP appoints contractor to simplify business support through digital hub

A world class software solutions firm has been appointed to deliver a flagship digital platform to help revolutionise the support North East firms need to grow and thrive.

The North East LEP has awarded Escher Group the contract to deliver the North East Growth Hub – a comprehensive online platform bringing together digitally for the first time in the region all the data available on business support.

The Growth Hub aims to be the go-to resource for North East companies seeking help – hosting in one place all local and national, public and private sector support for firms. It aims to be the foundation stone of a thriving digital ecosystem for business support.

The hub is a key component of the LEP’s Strategic Economic Plan, to make it far easier for firms to get the help they need, rather than have to navigate their way through the present complex network of support.

Escher Group – which operates in 37 countries with an office in Newcastle – will work with two specialist local partners to deliver the Growth Hub.

Cobweb Information, a Gateshead-based specialist content provider to business support advisors, will curate content for the hub while The Roundhouse, a Newcastle-based design and digital consultancy, will design the hub’s interface.

The Growth Hub is being developed as part of the LEP’s business support programme with funding secured from the Government’s Local Growth Fund.

The hub will:

  • Offer a comprehensive directory of business support and sources of finance – a single reference point where companies will head to for support, enquiries and advice
  • Offer users real-time contact with a suitable advisor who can help by email or phone call
  • Support conversations and networking between businesses, enterprise support specialists and access to finance websites and networks
  • Promote the sharing of information and peer-to-peer mentoring through online community forums
  • Allow users to filter content to suit their needs, fully accessible from mobile devices
  • Provide a gateway to a diary of events, briefings, seminars, conferences and networking opportunities

The Growth Hub is aimed at people looking to grow small and medium-sized businesses through, for instance, improved productivity, marketing or exports.

It will also support business start-ups, and be available for private sector business intermediaries including bank managers, accountants and consultants.

Paul Woolston, North East LEP Chair, said: “Launching the Growth Hub is one of our key aims to help new and growing firms get the help they need quickly and easily.

“This is vital if we want growth in the North East economy to continue powering forward in the way that it has over the past year.

“We have appointed a world class software specialist in Escher Group to help us deliver this hub, a real milestone in the development of a resource all businesses can use to navigate swiftly to the help they need. Working with local delivery partners Cobweb Information and The Roundhouse provides a firm footing in the North East.”

Steve Blanks, Head of Operations for Escher Group in the North East, said: “We are delighted to be working with the North East LEP along with the region’s stakeholder and business community to develop the North East Growth Hub.

“We are passionate about building a digital ecosystem that will connect the region’s businesses to the relevant support to not only help them grow, but make a vital contribution to the LEP’s strategy of creating more and better jobs in the North East.

“We believe that through a collaborative approach, we will be able to develop an exemplar platform for other growth hubs within the UK.”

Marianne Whitfield, Managing Director of Cobweb Information, said: “Cobweb is delighted to be working with Escher to help deliver the North East Growth Hub.

“We’re looking forward to liaising with all the partners involved to ensure that the content on the hub is up to date, relevant and accurate and of the highest possible quality.”

Jason Longworth, Account Director at The Roundhouse, said: “We’re thrilled to be involved in the design and development of a new digital destination for the North East.

“Our priorities are to create a platform which is user friendly, works across devices, delivers information efficiently and makes it easy for people across the regional business community to connect.”

The North East LEP will launch a Beta version of the Growth Hub in late Spring this year, through which businesses will be encouraged to populate and feedback on content and functionality. The hub will have on-going development over the next year to ensure that it meets and responds to business needs.