North East BIC Innovation Centre delivers £2.5bn boost

The North East Business and Innovation Centre (BIC) said research has revealed it has provided a £2.5 billion boost to the region’s economy since opening its doors 30 years ago.

An impact report conducted by the North East BIC shows how one of the region’s largest social enterprise – which currently houses over 300 companies across four business centres – has helped create and support thousands of jobs.

Set up in June 1994, the BIC began life as a business centre on the site of the former Austin & Pickersgill shipyard on the banks of the River Wear.

Today, it operates two business centres in Sunderland and two in Darlington, totalling 249,000sq ft of workspace housing 1,080 people.

“Providing a home to over 1,100 businesses over three decades, the economic impact of the BIC’s flexible workspace is estimated to be in excess of £1bn, with its free business start-up support also helping to launch over 6,000 firms, representing an economic contribution of over £750m,” said North East BIC.

“Add to that the numerous other business support initiatives the BIC has delivered, including innovation advice and grant funding, and the research has calculated an overall economic boost of over £2.5bn.”

North East BIC CEO Paul McEldon said: “Other than the usual metrics, such as how many firms we’ve housed and helped start up, we’ve never really delved into the wider impact of our day-to-day work, so it’s been great undertaking an in-depth impact report of our activity.

“Through some pretty conservative calculations, the findings revealed that over the past 30 years, we have contributed over £2.5bn to the economy, which is an incredible feat, especially when you look at the many challenges facing the region during that period.

“We’ve always been aware that we’ve helped thousands of businesses grow and even more to set up, but these findings have really made us sit up and realise just how impactful our support has been. It’s been a real eye opener.”

An £8 million Innovation Central development is the latest addition to the BIC portfolio in Darlington, which also includes Business Central, with the BIC managing the business centres on behalf of Darlington Borough Council.

Since opening its doors, the business hub – which comprises office, lab and coworking space – has proven a huge hit, attracting 114 businesses.

“We’ve been delighted by the success of our Darlington workspace so far,” McEldon added. “It has helped support hundreds of jobs while providing the high-quality space required to attract new businesses to the town and retain its existing talent.

“It’s a great example of how, by working with like-minded partners from the public and private sectors, we can deliver the flexible, quality workspace required to help the region’s businesses innovate and grow.

“Looking forward, our plan is very much to continue in this vein, by investing in improving our existing sites and working with existing and new partners, both public and private, to continue delivering more of our unique flexible workspace and support as regional demand continues to outstrip supply.”

As well as introducing new business centres to its portfolio, the BIC is seeking to expand its business support offering.

Currently, the organisation works with partners including DCMS, Darlington Borough Council, Business Durham, North of Tyne Combined Authority, Gateshead Council and Sunderland City Council to deliver business support programmes across the region.

It also delivers a number of projects through organisations which are part of the BIC group, including NBSL, Sunderland Software City and TEDCO, as well as working collaboratively with North East Enterprise Agency Limited (NEEAL), a community of enterprise organisations working across the North East, which it chairs.

McEldon said: “Working alongside NEEAL, local authorities and other business support providers, we’ve been fortunate to secure contracts to deliver numerous new business support programmes over the coming months and years.

“From start-up support to innovation grants and social enterprise support, the projects will hopefully help buck the regional trend which, traditionally, has seen the North East ranked among the poorest performing regions in the UK when it comes to start-up and scale-up rates.

“As a region, we are blessed with five world-class universities, incredibly bright minds and scores of innovative businesses, yet there is still a real lack of belief among swathes of the general public that they too could make a success of setting up their own business.

“Our mission for the next 30 years is to continue working side by side with our partners, the region’s business community and public bodies to change that mindset and continue providing the space and support required to help the region realise its full potential.”