County Durham start-ups eye growth through accelerator programme

A group of eight entrepreneurs are set to benefit from an incubator programme designed to accelerate the growth of fledgling businesses in County Durham.

Durham City Incubator (DCI) was launched in 2018 as a joint programme between Durham University, New College Durham and Business Durham, as part of a wider drive to grow the Durham City economy.  It helps entrepreneurs in the county to launch start-ups with high growth potential and supports ambitious local businesses that have been trading for under 12 months to achieve their goals.

So far, the six-month programme has supported 39 entrepreneurs across five previous cohorts, many of whom have gone on to launch successful businesses, achieve national recognition and secure investment funding. DCI is now working with eight more exciting new businesses on its sixth cohort, covering a wide range of disciplines including health and well-being, clothing, recruitment, digital marketing and the environment.

Each business on the programme will also benefit from a £2,500 grant and six months of intensive support to ensure they are ready for the next stage of growth, with training and advice ranging from financing and marketing to legal issues, business strategy and much more. This cohort of businesses are also able to benefit from a £7,500 loan from the Finance Durham Fund, established by Durham County Council and managed by Maven Capital Partners, a private equity and property specialist that offers funding options and equity investments to SMEs.

Delivered primarily through boot camps, one-to-one support, mentoring sessions, workshops, seminars and networking events, DCI also recently linked up with The Experience Bank Group to help entrepreneurs on this cohort to develop key leadership skills. The Experience Bank Group enables SMEs to build and maintain high-performing boards that are more resilient and responsive, can lead successful turnaround or transformation strategies, are better equipped to plan strategically and deliver sustainable growth, promote innovation and attain excellent standards of governance.

The eight companies included in the latest cohort are:

  • Crebl – operates a subscription-based model that enables customers to access a range of wellness and beauty services under one roof
  • Balefire – an artisan condiment producer that crafts gourmet condiments, vinegars and chilli sauce
  • Elvet Recruitment – a specialist construction recruitment firm that operates within the civil engineering, building and housing sectors
  • Huue – a mobile app that facilitates the rapid creation of graphics for social media and marketing
  • Kurfews – an independent clothing brand that also offers digital marketing services and apparel printing for small-to-medium-sized businesses
  • Frost Guard – a novel app that flags up early warnings when frost or snow is likely
  • Digistride – a growing digital marketing agency founded by two Durham alumni who work primarily with start-ups and innovative small businesses
  • Eden Greenspace – a eco-friendly venture that undertakes green projects to improve the environment and fight climate change

Sarah Slaven, interim managing director at Business Durham, said: “As we come through the COVID-19 pandemic, we need innovative businesses of all sizes to grow and sustain an economic recovery. DCI is designed to nurture and support these businesses, and the entrepreneurs who run them, so they have the best chance of achieving their business goals in County Durham, while creating jobs and supporting the local economy. We’re looking forward to working with our partners to support our sixth cohort of entrepreneurs through this successful programme.”

Dr Tim Hammond, Director of Commercialisation and Economic Development at Durham University, said: “The Durham City Incubator provides a hugely valuable programme of support to our student and graduate entrepreneurs allowing them to scale their ideas and make a real impact upon our local economy. I am pleased that there are three graduate start-ups in this sixth cohort and very much looking forward to supporting all the businesses as they progress through this programme.”

Michael Dickens, Investment Manager of Maven Capital Partners, said: “DCI is a genuinely innovative programme designed to back the growing number of ambitious entrepreneurs and start-ups in County Durham. We’re delighted to be a Partner for the programme and help to contribute financially as well as deliver the comprehensive range of sessions and events that equip businesses with the knowledge and expertise to start-up and grow. We look forward to continuing to work with Business Durham and other DCI partners to support the next group of companies through this programme.”

Peter Neal, founder of The Experience Bank Group said: “The Experience Bank Group has a philanthropic initiative, The Experience BankTM, whose mission is to support start-up founders by helping them assemble an advisory board of entrepreneurs and business leaders with as just as many scars as medals. Being able to tap into such a wealth of experience is invaluable when looking to commercialise an early-stage enterprise.”

DCI is part of Durham Internships and Collaborative Enterprise (DICE), which is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) as part of the 2014-2020 European Structural and Investment Fund Programme.

DCI runs in cohorts that each last six months. For more information on the Durham City Incubator and to apply for the next cohort, visit dcincubator.co.uk.

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