Spotlighting the region’s business champions

July 30, 2021

A cohort of 42 early-stage founders and over 300 members of the North East business community united at the Startup Awards North East regional celebration and talent showcase.

Spanning three days in June, new business owners from across the North East were given the opportunity to pitch for support and build their professional networks while being broadcast live from Recognition PR’s studios in Darlington.

The awards, supported by national partners such as Deloitte and British Business Bank – Shaun Fooy of the latter revealing it was “delighted to have been able to support” – were separated into three stages of new business (SkillUP, StartUP and ScaleUP) and saw more applicants than ever before, with a combined turnover of £3 million and 64 per cent starting up during 2020.

Organised and hosted by learning and development agency FIRST, finalists presented their passion and potential to virtual audiences from across the globe, followed by hard-hitting questions randomly generated with the help of a bingo wheel and some light-hearted chat with guest hosts in the studio.

With two awards decided by audience vote, each event celebrated winners of the Social Impact Award, sponsored by PNE, and the High Growth Award, sponsored by Newcastle University Business School and Muckle LLP.

Day one: SKILLUP

Presented by Charlotte Windebank, co-founder of FIRST, and Sam Clegg, co-founder of Highfly, SkillUP Social Impact winners Amy Lou Clunes, of fashion brand Whozamy, and Farzaneh Hajirasouliha, with her idea to link young people with curriculum and their career aspirations, says: “Winning the Social Impact Award based on the public vote means responsibility and motivates me to work harder to grow this business idea.”

Billie Jenkins, communications manager at PNE, praised the quality of the applicants, saying: “We were thrilled to see so many businesses passionate about making an impact for their communities in taking part in the awards; something particularly poignant after the impact of the last 18 months.”

For the SkillUP High Growth Award, Nick Gardiner, of Displai, says: “Startup Awards North East was the event I didn’t know I needed.

“Though a bit daunting at first, the process since being shortlisted was fun and challenging and the awards were amazingly professional.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity and feel proud to be included – thank you FIRST!”

As High Growth Award sponsor, Dr Nicola Patterson, senior lecturer and co-chair of GENE (Gender and Entrepreneurship North East), says: “The event is a great opportunity for the North East.

“It was inclusive, professional, celebratory and supportive for all nominees.”

Day two: STARTUP

With FIRST co-founders Charlotte Windebank and Caroline Theobald hosting, this event showcased headline sponsor Teesside University and its new facilities for the business community, The Assembly Hall.

Steve Dougan, head of enterprise, says: “As we come out of lockdown, it’s extraordinarily important to support new businesses as they will drive the region’s economy and create employment opportunities for the future.”

PNE’s StartUP Social Impact Award at this event saw a tie, with Tara Johnson, from accessible short breaks service Tailored Leisure, and Ian Brown from single use plastic eliminator Chestnut Natural Capital, crowned as winners.

The Muckle LLP StartUP High Growth Award was given to Mark Wong, from Impossibrew, a non- alcoholic beer brewed with active plants.

Alex Craig, partner at Muckle, says: “Owner- managed businesses are the heart of the Muckle client base; it is vital to support them at the start of their journey and help guide them along their road
to success.

“The calibre of finalists was outstanding, and the winners have real potential to develop and grow.

“We are very much looking forward to meeting the winners and supporting them as they progress.”

Day three: SCALEUP

Co-hosting with Charlotte Windebank for ScaleUP was Lucy Batley, co-founder of Traction Industries and inspirational North East business leader.

The event opened with headline sponsor Deloitte sharing its story of working with 2019 award winners Switch Aid and Heartwood Skills, while highlighting the meaningful connections they made and the start- up support Deloitte provided to them.

Jo Robertson, Deloitte associate tax director, says: “The quality of the talent was astonishing, and we were passionate to support those businesses as they grow throughout their journey.”

ScaleUP Social Impact winner Laura Hepburn, of waste material solutions-based company Greenology, says: “It has already created collaborations, coverage and the most amazing showcase of wonderful, courageous start-up businesses in the North making real change – that’s what levelling-up stands for.

“Everyone was a winner in my eyes.”

For the ScaleUP Muckle LLP High Growth Award, Pat O’Connor, from virtual reality company VRAI, and Gary Giles, of recycled building materials firm Ogel, tied for top prize.

Gary says: “We were honoured and surprised to win the award, and it’s great to get a thumbs up from the North East business community.”

Future plans

As well as money can’t buy mentoring experiences and access to space and software, winners of the Social Impact Award will have the opportunity to share their journey at a high impact event planned for this autumn, which is in collaboration with the North East Institute of Business Ethics.

Charlotte Windebank, managing director of FIRST and co-host of all three events, says: “Startup Awards North East was an ambitious, pioneering
and risky project to run during various stages of the pandemic, but we knew that with the support of our long-standing and new partners, we would be able to deliver a meaningful and much-needed experience for early-stage founders.

“With partnership backing, the awards gave all applicants a vital confidence boost, connections and publicity to grow their start-ups, while inspiring members of the North East business community with their ideas and ambitions to grow.

“A healthy tonic after the year we’ve had and as I said at the events, if you can start a business during a pandemic, you can pretty much do anything!”