FIRST delivers Startup Awards North East to drive social and economic impact for the region

April 1, 2021

Between June 15 and 17 this year, the North East business community will be united to celebrate and connect with the region’s top entrepreneurial talent.

Startup Awards North East (previously The If We Can You Can Challenge) will celebrate and showcase early stage founders at three milestones of their business development: SkillUP, StartUP and ScaleUP.

FIRST have extended the eligibility criteria for this year for businesses up to four years to give people an extra opportunity to take part and make connections, that they may have missed out on due to the pandemic last year.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has hit the region hard, the North East has some of the fastest-growing sectors in the UK and a thriving start up ecosystem made up of community, university and government initiatives, plus, of course, the professional and financial sectors.

Startup Awards North East exists to connect early stage founders into these sectors and to the unrivalled business support programmes that are on offer to give founders the best possible chance of success.

Charlotte Windebank, managing director of FIRST, the organiser of Startup Awards North East, explains: “Working with highly regarded and established cross-sector partners, such as North East Times, means we can collectively support and give back to local founders at the beginning of their journey and when they need it most; our partners are in it for the right reasons and for that we are truly grateful for the continued support.”

Previous winners:

In 2019, Switch Aid were crowned High Growth Award winners.

Dom Ryan, co-founder, says: “The last 18 months have been difficult for all businesses, but the exposure we received from the awards, and the advice we got as prizes from businesses like Deloitte LLP, have been key to our growth.

“For me, the best thing about it was that we were voted the winners by local businesspeople; you know they have all been where you are, and they all want to support you and help you succeed.”

How it works:

There are two awards for each category – Social Impact Award, which is supported by The Awards longstanding partner PNE, and the High Growth Award, supported by Muckle LLP for StartUP and ScaleUP businesses.

PNE has worked with Hannah Wilson, founder of Harlow Collection, since her pre-start days and encouraged her to take part in the awards, as well as providing her access to a Get Growing Grant.

Hannah says: “I definitely valued improving my public speaking. Events like these really help you to perfect the skills and confidence you need.”

On top of the awards, Accelerator Partner NEL Fund Managers will be collaborating with other Awards partners to deliver a 12-hour programme to equip every applicant with essential business and entrepreneurial skills which can be used for the Awards and to progress their ideas further.

Topics will include FIRST workshops in confidence, pitching and market research and engaging themes from our partners, such as Innovation Super Network’s exploring ideas, The PNE “Sustainable Business Challenge” and “Making Workspace Work for You”, and Harris 21’s step-by-step guide to research and development tax relief to help save money when developing ideas.

Partner of Startup Awards North East and the Accelerator Programme, British Business Bank’s Shaun Fooy, says: “The Start Up Loans programme supports employment, enables economic growth and has a transformational impact on the lives of thousands of people across the UK who might be struggling to access other forms of finance.

“We’re delighted to be collaborating with NEL Fund Managers on the Accelerator Programme, as we are passionate about bringing our expertise in helping new and aspiring entrepreneurs of the North East.”

Places for the Accelerator Programme are limited, but people can register their interest at

Further opportunities to get involved:

Startup Awards North East is looking for passionate partners who want to make a social and economic impact within the region. If this is you, contact to discuss bespoke partnerships that are mutually beneficial.

Tickets for the events:

For 2021, the awards are open to the entire North East business community. There are a range of ticket options available, which include a ‘pay it forward scheme’ that enables early stage founders and young people affected by the pandemic free access to the events.

Full details on all ticket options are available at and searching Startup Awards North East, or by emailing

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