The business support programmes managed by Business Durham, the business support service of Durham County Council, have played a pivotal role in shaping the economic landscape of County Durham since 2016. These initiatives, supported by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and public and private match funding, have successfully driven entrepreneurship, fostered business growth and encouraged investment in digital technologies.
With a total investment of over £42m, the programmes have made significant contributions to develop- ing the county’s economy as well as creating a favourable environment for start-ups, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and larger businesses to thrive.
Over 1,800 enterprises in Durham have benefited from invaluable support, with around 800 receiving grants which have provided resources for innovation and growth. This comprehensive support framework has empowered businesses to overcome challenges and seize growth opportunities, resulting in the creation of nearly 1,000 jobs.
One notable programme is the Durham City Incubator (DCI), delivered in collaboration with Durham University and New College Durham as part of the wider Durham Internships and Collaborative Enterprise (DICE) Programme.
DCI has achieved its objectives of increasing and retaining Durham University graduates to start up a business in the county and fostering a sustainable SME base. Its intensive six-month accelerator programme supported small cohorts of business founders with workshops, one-to-one support, shared workspace and grant funding.
Its responsive approach and close collaboration with partners have proved highly effective. In total, the DCI Programme has supported 72 high-growth start-ups and more than nine cohorts, who have collectively raised over £8m in investment. Almost half of these having been established by Durham University graduates.
Another successful initiative is the Durham Ambitious Business Start-Ups (DABS) programme.
DABS focused on providing effective support to people with the ambition to start up a business as well as new businesses during their crucial first 12 months of trading. By encouraging ambition, development and growth, DABS aimed to increase the number of successful and sustainable start-ups in County Durham.
Noteworthy achievements include supporting 134 new enterprises, 23 enterprises benefitting from grants, and 152 people helped to be ready to start up in business.
Digital Drive County Durham is a substantial programme promoting digital innovation and technological advancement. With funding of £7.9m, including £4.74m from the ERDF, Digital Drive has made significant strides in engaging businesses to invest in digital technologies. The programme has successfully removed barriers preventing companies from embracing digital innovations and has fostered a culture of digital innovation.
More than 1,800 companies accessed the programme through various initiatives, including digital health checks, events and one-to-one support, and 570 businesses have benefited from grants. These efforts have empowered businesses to harness the benefits of digitalisation and contributed to the county’s overall economic growth with a significant Gross Value Added (GVA) of £60.7m.
The Durham Business Opportunities Programme (DBOP) focused on supporting business growth in County Durham by identifying market opportunities, connecting businesses with support initiatives and addressing gaps in the business support offer. This initiative has played a vital role in enhancing connectivity, competitiveness and productivity among SMEs in the county.
Notably, almost 500 enterprises have received support, with 38 new enterprises assisted and 178 jobs be- ing created. The DBOP’s comprehensive approach has filled critical gaps in the support ecosystem, providing help for businesses at various stages of development.
The Durham Future Innovation Building (DFIB) programme was launched in October 2020.
This programme aims to foster innovation by creating a collaborative ecosystem among businesses, suppliers, customers and stakeholders focused on three sectors. The DFIB project worked intensively with SMEs in these sectors to develop innovative solutions, products and processes.
The primary offer included grant funding to support research and development, and intensive one-to-one support. By addressing barriers and providing crucial support and expertise, the DFIB programme has encouraged business investment in research and innovation, fostering alternative and innovative business ideas for the county while promoting collaboration and learning opportunities among industry peers.
The County Durham Growth Fund (CDGF) has played a pivotal role in accelerating the growth of businesses in County Durham. The project has resulted in a total investment of £27.7m from both the public and private sectors.
A total of £8.9m was awarded in capital grants to 57 companies, contributing to the creation of 577 jobs and supporting the introduction of new products by 11 businesses.
Sarah Slaven, Managing Director at Business Durham, said: “These business support programmes have played a crucial part in driving economic growth, fostering entrepreneurship and encouraging digital innovation in County Durham. They have enabled us to support numerous enterprises, create jobs and empower entrepreneurs.
“As we near the completion of the programmes we remain committed to supporting businesses in County Durham. We are actively exploring new initiatives which will continue to provide invaluable guidance and assistance to entrepreneurs, ensuring their ongoing growth and success.”
The remarkable outcomes – including private investment, employment growth and the introduction of new products and services – highlight the long-lasting impact of these pro- grammes.
As County Durham continues to thrive, the success of these initiatives serves as a testament to the county’s potential and the effectiveness of strategic investment in business development and innovation, aligning with the objectives outlined in the County Durham Economic Strategy, as set out by Durham County Council. This inclusive economic strategy paves the way for future growth and prosperity in the region, further bolstering the county’s economy.
Businesses benefitting from programmes include:
Durham City Incubator (DCI)
- Low Carbon Materials;
- Elvet Recruitment;
Durham Ambitious Business Start-Ups (DABS)
- Cera Cotton Company;
Digital Drive County Durham
- DigVentures Ltd;
- Emma Hignett Ltd;
- Timeless Entertainment Group Ltd.
Durham Business Opportunities Programme (DBOP)
- Ashgarth Engineering;
- Pixel Media;
- Horden Youth and Community Centre Nursery.
County Durham Growth Fund (CDGF)
- Dane Architectural Systems Holdings Limited;
- Durham Box;
- North East Bifolds.