£1.3m boost for business leaders of the future

The University of Sunderland’s Enterprise Place hosts the European Regional Development Fund scheme

The University of Sunderland has launched a project worth more than £1.3m to help student and graduate entrepreneurs turn their business dreams into reality.

The European Regional Development Fund scheme, at the university’s Enterprise Place, will build on projects that ran from 2015 until 2018.

Enterprise Place helps students, graduates and staff start their own business by providing free hot-desking space, business advice, structured interactive workshops, PR and networking opportunities, and up to £1,000 of funding.

Based at the university’s Hope Street Xchange building, Enterprise Place has helped graduates like Robert Banerjee who, in August last year, co-founded Korp Talent, a recruitment agency working in the Swedish market.

Banerjee graduated with a degree in criminology before setting up office at Enterprise Place. The 24-year-old said: “It gave me a chance to get out of the house and work in an office environment surrounded by other people. It also provided the opportunity to access some of the support services they offered, like the workshops and training they held in areas like marketing and branding. This type of help has been invaluable.

“We are hoping to take on new staff members this year and, by the end of the year, will be looking towards moving into our own offices.”

Amy Armstrong and Marie Donnelly were both studying for an MA in public relations when they decided to turn their business dream into a reality. The pair founded MAD Communications and, in 2013, moved into offices at Enterprise Place.

Since then, the business has gone from strength to strength, relocating to St Peter’s Gate before moving into its current offices at Design Works in Gateshead.

“It’s been incredibly hard work but we love what we do and we enjoy getting up every day to do it,” said Armstrong. “It’s been an incredible five years and we have been able to take on another member of the team, Beth Waldron, through the Graduate Internship Scheme.”

Support from Enterprise Place was pivotal, she added. “You were in a place with other young entrepreneurs starting out on their own, so to be able to share experiences was incredible.

“We were all in the same position and all there to support each other on our journey. We know we wouldn’t have been able to get that kind of office space without their support.”

Donnelly added: “The other key thing was the help we got on the business side. We did not have a business background in terms of knowing about keeping your own accounts, etc.”

Laura Foster, internships and enterprise manager at the University of Sunderland, said: “It’s fantastic to be able to help students and graduates like Robert, Amy and Marie realise their start up ambitions.

“To see them develop their businesses, from concept to taking on their first employees through our subsidised internship scheme, is a huge privilege – we wish them every continued success.

“We are also pleased to be able to support SMEs in the region, through this funding, to recruit our graduate talent.

“For many businesses, taking on a new member of staff is a big step. The graduate internship scheme not only supports SMEs financially, by paying a proportion of the graduate’s salary, but the team can also guide business owners through the recruitment process.

“Employing a graduate can really make a positive impact, bringing new and innovative ideas into the business. I would urge any small to medium business looking to grow their team to get in touch.”