Local businesses have displayed tremendous resilience over the last 18 months in dealing with the unprecedented economic shock the pandemic has caused.
During that time, Business Durham, the business support service for Durham County Council, saw at first hand the challenges established enterprises and budding entrepreneurs faced.
A common theme from those businesses which survived and thrived during that period and continue to do so is that they are willing to innovate, they have leaders with great ideas and bold ambition.
The Business Durham team offer support and a range of services for start-ups; growing companies; and businesses looking to develop new products or enter new markets, all contributing to the County Council’s priorities of creating more and better jobs, building a stronger competitive economy and helping people back to work.
Two of the teams most recent programmes, Durham Future Innovation Building programme (DFIB), and Durham Ambitious Business Start-Ups (DABS) have proved popular. Both programmes, offering easy access to the advice, contacts, and the funding they need to bring forward new business ideas.
‘The support has been fantastic’
One business to have benefitted from DABS is Berry Education, launched by Claire Mitchell last September. The company provides support services to multi-academy trusts and has big plans for growth.
DABS is designed to help those embarking on new business ventures and is celebrating its first anniversary, having helped 100 entrepreneurs.
DABS supported Claire to produce a growth business plan and two-year financial forecast, which secured a £25,000 start-up loan from Virgin Start-Up. She was then introduced to Digital Drive, another Business Durham programme, which helped her access a grant to invest in software that will enable the business to grow rapidly over the next couple of years.
In addition, Business Durham approved a £5,000 grant to help her recruit a new member of staff. “The support has been fantastic, it’s completely transformed the business,” said Claire.
“When you set up on your own, it can be a lonely place, but it makes such a difference to have access to people with experience, expertise and the right contacts.
“Business Durham and the DABS programme have been an integral part of our success and I’d whole-heartedly recommend them to other start-ups.”
‘Don’t hesitate to get in touch’
Doctor Chenna Rajagopal OBE launched his business Affotek to create affordable medical solutions minimising the disruption to people’s lives.
While working in the NHS, Dr Rajagopal saw the potential for portable and wearable medical devices, inventing one to monitor the brain to detect seizures. Determined to further develop this and others, it became clear he needed expert help to take his ideas forward.
“Technology, especially for health, doesn’t need to be expensive and I could see areas where my devices could be used to help people, but I needed support to realise their potential,” he explains.
Dr Rajagopal approached Future Innovation Building Programme (DFIB) which makes innovation accessible to all businesses providing opportunities to collaborate and learn from industry experts.
It offers masterclasses and workshops to support further ideas, define needs, and help entrepreneurs understand the different applications in which they can innovate.
The programme focuses on supporting the construction, ‘Elec-tech’ (electronics, electrical and embedded software) and health sectors.
Expert, in-depth analysis of the business, creating a portfolio of products, and advice on how to employ people to produce them followed. Dr Rajagopal received guidance for a presentation to Challenge North East, which led to £5,000 grant. While an introduction to the Engineering and Manufacturing Network connected him to businesses that could help manufacture the equipment.
The business is now developing wearable devices in other areas of medicine, for continuous detection of blood pressure, and air quality.
“Business Durham was superb in helping me to get further support and identify funding sources. There is a real culture of support and encouragement,” he says.
“I definitely have a lot to be thankful for and I would whole-heartedly recommend Business Durham for the benefits they can bring to your business – my message is don’t hesitate to get in touch.”
For more information about the support provided by Business Durham, visit www.businessdurham.co.uk or follow them on LinkedIn.