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Business & Economy

STEPHANIE shining a light on North East space potential

An innovative programme is looking to help more North East businesses take advantage of the growing space technology sector.

STEPHANIE was established two-and-a-half years ago to help firms capitalise on opportunities by sharing knowledge and good practice.

Bringing together eight partners from seven European countries, STEPHANIE works to influence policy and funding decisions to guarantee real benefits from space technology based on photonics, particularly in space and earth observation.

Led by the National Research Centre of Italy, Business Durham, the economic development arm of Durham County Council, is the UK partner for the EU-funded Interreg Europe five-year programme.

Space technology, including photonics, which uses light, is playing an increasingly critical role in resolving some of the world’s greatest challenges, from sending bigger sized data to the lasers used in automotive production to make cars lighter and safer.

The region is already home to the North East Satellite Applications Centre of Excellence, the National Photonics Centre and Durham University’s Centre for Advanced Instrumentation, and Elaine Scott, business engagement and opportunities manager at Business Durham, said STEPHANIE will be an important factor in the area’s space sector growth.

She said: “The North East not only has world-leading expertise in photonics technology but is also one of the most forward-thinking regions when it comes to ways of turning space research and technology into applications that can help solve real-world problems.

“We know businesses in the North East have the passion and ideas to capitalise on the opportunities in the photonics industry.

“STEPHANIE is about influencing new or existing projects in the region to support businesses which might be working in this innovative field.”

An important facet of the programme are its exchange trips, which allow delegates to discuss issues and gain greater understanding.

“The trips are a fantastic way of sharing best practice and showcasing what the North East has to offer,” added Elaine.

Referring to the opportunities in space, Steve Clements, chief executive of NETPark-based Axenic, which designs high-speed optical modulators, said: “We’re looking for investment to scale up the team to match our growth.

“STEPHANIE has definitely helped businesses to make connections and raise awareness of the great things being done in photonics in the North East.

“The refreshing thing was being at a meeting in London recently and a company based in the South East had heard there was thriving space activity in the North East and that the photonics industry was part of that.

“Space is definitely where the future lies.”