NEARLY £2m has been invested in County Durham over the last year through a special new fund designed to support business growth – and the result has been hundreds of new jobs!

The Finance Durham Fund, managed by Maven Capital Partners on behalf of Business Durham, is a £20m pot which can be used to invest up to £700,000 per company in small and medium-sized enterprises.

“The fund has worked really well, and the businesses supported so far have really good growth potential,” says Brian Archer, managing director of Business Durham. “These are early days, but there are real grounds for confidence.”

Durham County Council leader, Councillor SimonHenig, believes the package of business support initiatives established in the county, including the Finance Durham Fund, are even more important in the light of national economic uncertainty.

“It means there’s even more reason for us to engage as closely as possible with businesses and work together – the private sector and the public sector – to drive Durham forward,” he says.

“The Finance Durham Fund has proved to be really important in not just attracting new businesses but helping existing businesses to expand and increase the number of jobs in the county.”

One of the companies attracting optimism is Honcho Markets Ltd. It has produced an alternative to price comparison websites with the aim of disrupting the insurance market by providing consumers with a new way to buy products, thereby reducing the costs for motorists.

Through Honcho’s m-Commerce reverse auction marketplace, insurance companies transparently bid for consumers’ business, ensuring that a highly competitive quote is offered.

The Finance Durham Fund contributed £150,000 to support Honcho’s innovative technology start-up, with CrowdCube investors providing another £700,000.

The support led to this exciting business moving from Milburn House in Newcastle to Salvus House on the Aykley Heads site last March.

“The supportfrom the Finance Durham Fund was really important to us because it showed other crowd investors that we had the faith of a commercially-run fund operated through a venture capital company making decisions based on the prospects of the business,” says the company’s head Honcho, Gavin Sewell, who is delighted to be part of the Durham business revolution.

“It’s been a very supportive process and developing that relationship with Business Durham has been crucial at this stage, as well as hopefully creating the opportunity for continued support in future.

“In addition to this invaluable financial support we have also been able to move into a highquality building in Durham.

“Aykley Heads is developing into an excellent community of businesses.

“It’s great to be down the road from a company like Atom Bank and we are very happy to be part of that growing community.”

Honcho comprises a small team of five, but it partners with other northern businesses and hopes to grow to 15 employees by the end of 2019. It has employees ranging from Northumberland to North Yorkshire and, with Durham being central, no-one has to travel too far.

Durham is also convenient when travelling by train, with Aykley Heads an easy ten-minute walk from the station – useful if staff need to get to London.

“We’ve got five brilliant universities on our doorstep, including Durham University, which is fantastic because our aim is to grow a team of talented individuals in insurance, technology, digital marketing and product development, and stop them having to look further afield for careers,” says Gavin.

With another round of crowd funding planned for the first half of 2019, Honcho is poised to go on growing and Durham has the flexibility to provide more space when its needed.

“It’s so exciting to see Durham County Council and Business Durham developing a technology hub with fantastic facilities close to a world-class university and attracting an excellent set of businesses. We love being part of what’s happening,” says Gavin.

Another business to benefit from the Finance Durham Fund is independent shipping container supplier, Parsons Containers Limited, which received £500,000 to support its growth plans.

Parsons was established in 2000 in Sedgefield by Ean Parsons, who sought to capitalise on his extensive experience in the container business by supplying containers for shipping freight, storage and accommodation.

The Finance Durham Fund support will enable the company to develop its digital presence and help the business to open four new sites for its self-storage brand, UHold the Key.

“Parsons has always been firmly rooted in the North-East and from here we have been able to develop a thriving national business.

This investment will enable us to take that to another level, building on recent momentum and exploring new opportunities for growth,” says Ean.

“The county has all of the key ingredients that a company like ours needs in terms of business support infrastructure, facilities, transport links and a skilled and loyal workforce, and that’s essential.

“However, what I think sets the area apart is the huge collective drive to achieve success, despite all of the historical and current challenges.

“There’s a real ‘can do’ attitude in Durham, which reverberates around the county, and I am certain that this adds to the potential for businesses to succeed here.”

Councillor Carl Marshall, the council’s portfolio holder for economic regeneration, emphasises the depth of the Durham offer: “In the past we had the ambition but not the space and infrastructure. That’s changed now because we have sites across the county with huge potential.

“We are on the cusp of being able to make some big announcements on jobs which will put a marker down for further investment in the future.”

That optimism is echoed by the council’s chief executive, Terry Collins.

“What we are seeing now is the plans that were put in place at the start of the unitary authority in 2009 coming to fruition,” he says.

“By working with the university and colleges we can maximise the skills of our young people and retain them in this area as the supply chain grows. It takes time, but things are really happening now, and we are keen to move on to the next phase because this is the beginning of a really exciting journey.”

  • To discuss your business needs with Business Durham please contact the team on 03000 261261 or visit businessdurham.co.uk