Igniting innovation across County Durham

March 5, 2020

The North East BIC is helping local SMEs realise their potential with bespoke advice via the Flexible Support Programme and the SME Innovation Programme

Designed to unlock the innovative potential of local businesses, the North East Business and Innovation Centre (BIC)’s Flexible Support Programme enables SMEs to use innovation as a powerful tool to gain competitive advantage and accelerate growth.

Funded through the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the programme supports a wide range of key sectors – including manufacturing, digital industries, renewable energy and healthcare.

Paul McEldon, chief executive of the BIC, says: “Innovation is embedded within the history of the UK. Our strong economy is a result of our persistence to strive towards innovation, creating products for the global market.

“We believe that in order to ensure the growth of the North East economy, we need to foster innovative entrepreneurship. However, when embarking on a new and innovative project, it can be a lonely environment for a business owner, with no one to share their successes or lessons in failure with. The Flexible Support Programme encourages and inspires entrepreneurs to think differently and to invest in innovation, providing advice and guidance tailored to their specific needs.

“It also helps us to identify projects that can be supported through our SME Innovation Programme where eligible businesses can receive up to 40 per cent of project funding.”

The generation and successful exploitation of new ideas is a crucial part of refining business processes and augmenting performance while increasing efficiency and improving profitability.

Gillian Middleton, innovation project manager, adds: “In the last four years, the Flexible Support Programme has supported 18 projects across a wide range of industries.

“I’ve had the opportunity to meet some extraordinary people and businesses over the years with some really exciting and innovative ideas. It really is a pleasure to be working with such diverse SMEs.”

Adding value to your business Giving businesses the confidence and capabilities to excel in the North East is a vital part of the North East BIC’s aim to attract and retain an immense pool of talent armed with the tools they need to innovate and succeed.

The Flexible Support Programme is available to Durham-based SMEs who are committed to embracing innovation as a whole business process but lack the confidence to take the next step.

Twelve hours of one-to-one support is available to eligible businesses.

The support covers four themes and a ‘pick-and-mix’ approach ensures that support is provided where it is needed most – and is tailored to the specific needs of the business.

The four themes

Horizon Scanning: analysing how emerging trends and developments may potentially affect current activity.

Strategic Planning: helping SMEs take a structured, sustainable and focused approach to embed innovation throughout the business.

Digital Landscape: opening new markets through understanding new and developing technologies. Attracting

Innovative People: creating an innovative culture by cultivating knowledge from within the SME, and then managing it well.

North East BIC can also identify projects that may be eligible for up to 40 per cent funding through our SME Innovation Programme.


The Flexible Support Programme is available to SMEs located in County Durham and who are operating with a B2B remit. Eligible businesses must demonstrate a strong commitment to understanding what innovation means for their business and can dedicate 12 hours to the programme.

Simon Pelly, managing director at S&A Fabrications, recently accessed the programme to aid the management buy-out (MBO) and expansion of the 40-year-old firm. Working with an experienced innovation adviser, Simon was able to tap into his wealth of knowledge to complete the MBO as well as secure the funding required to expand the company’s factory in Barnard Castle, invest in new machinery and increase its headcount.

The company is now fulfilling more orders than ever before with a suite of new, state-of-the-art machinery.

Simon says: “It was a very broad project because we were looking at what we could do with an established and successful company but we have since expanded our main manufacturing facility and invested in new technology.

“We’ve also built our own health and safety system for when we load vehicles and have invested in a whole host of new machinery that has since helped us explore new frontiers and break into new markets.

“We’ve turned what was a traditional ‘metal bashing company’ into a forward-thinking and award-winning manufacturer of a wide range of fabricated products. This would never have been possible without the support we received from the team at the North East BIC.”

North East BIC
For more information about the Flexible Support Programme or the SME Innovation Programme call 0191 516 6039

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