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Three Durham-based organisations are working together to encourage innovation and business growth in new and emerging markets after receiving £820,000 in funding from the Government’s UK Community Renewal Fund (CRF).

Business Durham, the business support service of Durham County Council, the Centre for Process Innovation (CPI), and Durham University aim to build on each of their existing strengths and capabilities to support innovative business development in key sectors including science, technology, and space.  The Emerging Markets Innovation Accelerator project focuses on supporting County Durham SMEs, university spinouts and potential start-up businesses, and will pilot and further develop new approaches to accelerating the innovation opportunities in areas which play to County Durham’s strengths.

Key elements of the project include support to SMEs in the development and market positioning of new and improved products and advanced materials, which is being delivered by CPI. Companies will benefit from access to specialist equipment and facilities at the North East Technology Park (NETPark) at Sedgefield, and CPI’s expertise in product development, prototyping, optimisation, cost modelling and commercialisation support.

To encourage the development of university spin-outs, Durham University is providing a targeted PhD enterprise programme to support their PhD students with a bespoke entrepreneurship training programme focussing on deep technology commercialisation.

And Business Durham is leading on a diversification support programme for businesses looking to explore new emerging markets, including support for businesses that are keen to engage in opportunities within the space and satellites sector.  The project is also helping to map the skills needs for these emerging sectors and exploring the development of innovative solutions to address these needs working with regional partners and building upon what is already available to support skills development.

An important outcome from this collaborative project will also be the development of innovation action plans aligned to the emerging markets in which County Durham has identified potential for growth, including net zero heat, fintech, space and advanced materials.  This will provide a blueprint from which CPI, Durham University and Business Durham can together drive ambition and raise the profile of the county’s capability for innovation, as well as help to position County Durham to secure future funding for this important work.

Sarah Slaven, Managing Director at Business Durham said: “We’re delighted to be collaborating with CPI and Durham University as we all have a strong track record in delivering projects, and in working together in partnership, including successfully delivering previous innovation support projects.

“With new and emerging markets comes the demand for an innovative workforce which can rise to the challenge, so this project aims to maximise opportunities for both businesses and individuals across these fast-growing sectors.

“Together we are committed to building on County Durham’s existing strengths, and the CRF funding will enable us to further develop and promote the specialist equipment and capabilities present at NETPark in Sedgefield, which is a key growth area for our local economy.”

Jenny Taylor, Head of Economic Development at Durham University, added: “By working together to encourage more businesses to innovate we continue to create vibrant and collaborative ecosystems, bridging the gap between academic research and industry practice in County Durham.

Our PhD enterprise programme is supporting students to launch start-up businesses and test their ideas for commercial applications by connecting them with industry experts and giving them the enterprise skills to turn their ideas into reality.”

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