North East start-ups celebrated in glittering event

November 29 2019 @ 11:44 by Chloe Holmes

Two North East startups, Heartwood Skills CIC and SwitchAid have been voted as the winners of the If We Can You Can Challenge 2019.

SwitchAid, a not-for-profit, comparison site, was presented with the award for Highest Growth Potential while Heartwood Skills, a business working with young people at risk of exclusion, was voted as having the Biggest Social Impact.

The evening saw 16 startups speed pitch their ideas to partners and delegates from the local business community. Following this, the six finalists battled it out in a second round to claim the award and an extensive list of prizes, including two years of support from Deloitte, a tailored legal package with Mincoffs Solicitors, print and design offers from Northern Print Solutions & Land Digital plus much more.

County Durham based Heartwood Skills work with young people who are disengaged from school, involved with anti-social behaviour, misuse of substances or NEET. The numbers of children excluded from education in the UK is costing schools £10,000 in fines per pupil, resulting in having less money to employ vital staff.

Dave Anderson, founder of Heartwood Skills said: “We are a community interest company focused on reducing exclusion in schools, reducing holiday hunger and working with people from disadvantaged backgrounds. It was a privilege to tell our story to the guests tonight. I want to say a huge thank you for voting Heartwood Skills as having the Biggest Social Impact. We have found that funding for the services that we provide is delicate and getting into schools is extremely difficult.

“Winning gives us an opportunity to develop our offering and our short-term plan is to be the go-to name in the education sector for the services we provide, and long-term we plan to have a representative in each academy or secondary school with training centres in each major city across the UK.”

Not for profit comparison site SwitchAid allows its customers to save on energy and telecoms while donating to their favourite charity at the same time.

Dom Ryan, co-founder of SwitchAid said: “A minimum of 65 percent of our profits go directly to a charity of the customer’s choice. In 2018, 70 percent of homes did not switch their energy supplier and one in four small charities are struggling to survive. We provide a solution to prevent our customers from ever over paying again and create income for small charities throughout the UK. We have big plans for SwitchAid and it was fantastic to be voted as having the Highest Growth Potential. We plan to introduce auto-switching for home broadband and grow our offering into business switches while long-term we aim to become a recognised fundraising scheme and a viable competitor to all major comparison websites.”

Brought to you by FIRST, The If We Can You Can Challenge is the North East’s only start-up business competition open to anyone of any age in any sector. The competition is built on the ethos that everything starts with a conversation. The aim of the challenge is to connect startups to members of the business community in order to help them develop, grow and most importantly, be celebrated! Now in its 11th year, the competition has helped hundreds of entrepreneurs reach the next level.

Charlotte Windebank, founder and managing director of FIRST, said: “I recently heard a definition of ‘luck’ which really resonated with me and what the competition stands for. Karan Bilimoria, the founder of Cobra Beer, describes luck as “when determination meets opportunity”. This is a powerful message for anyone starting out and growing a business. Determination is a powerful tool and there are plenty of opportunities out there.

“The North East has the lowest amount of businesses in the UK. For this to change we must unite to support, encourage and celebrate enterprising people across the region to start-up and build successful businesses right here in the North East.”

Office Senior Partner for Deloitte in Newcastle, Stephen Hall, was delighted to open the Grand Final on Friday. He said: “The quality of the businesses in the room and energy from the participants was incredible. We are very much looking forward to working with the winners over the next couple of years, further supporting the exceptional talent we have in this region.”

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