Starting a business in Sunderland

Sunderland Wearmouth Bridge

Living in or locating to Sunderland? Our ‘Starting a Business’ blog series outline the startup scene of every locality in the North East of England. Our third blog focuses on Sunderland; named among the top places in the UK to start a business in 2019 and 2017. Continue reading to learn more about how Sunderland supports startups and scaleups.

1. Business Support in Sunderland

Sunderland is one of the few localities in the North East that features a wide range of funded support services for businesses from any stage. Whether you’re just about to start out or whether you’re a founder of a high-growth enterprise, Sunderland features programmes that might be suitable for you.

For startups, the North East Innovation Centre (BIC) and TEDCO provide free 1-2-1 business support and workshops from the BIC’s base at Wearfield Enterprise Park East. Alongside generic business support, the BIC can help entrepreneurs on benefits access New Enterprise Allowance, and supports social enterprises with specialised social enterprise consultants.

Once entrepreneurs have registered their businesses, Sunderland Software City‘s business support programme can help SMEs access expert funded support in one of three areas: marketing support, market intelligence and technical specifications. The organisation recruits external experts to help deliver these tailored 1-2-1 advice sessions.

Finally, for aspiring scale-ups RTC North deliver a variety of high-growth programmes to help businesses explore new market opportunities and scale. Programmes include the Scaleup North East initiative and the Pathways to Innovation programme.

2. Workspaces in Sunderland

Just like Sunderland’s business support ecosystem offers support for founders from all stages, the locality’s workspaces are also flexibly designed to enable entrepreneurs to organically grow into bigger spaces.

A notable example of a workspace in Sunderland is the Wearfield Enterprise Park East. Managed by the BIC, the 14-acre enterprise park features a range of offices and hotdesking spaces with ample on-site parking. The enterprise park also features a private nursery which has been marked outstanding by OFSTED, making it a great place for busy entrepreneurial parents.

Located more closely to Sunderland City Centre, is Sunderland Software Centre. The centre predominantly specialises in digital and technological organisations and is home to the Drupal Hub, the Sunderland Digital meet-up, and Sunderland Software City. The software centre features a range of offices as well as hotdesking spaces.

Finally, Sunderland is home to a variety of business centres. Centres include the Evolve Business Centre (Houghton-le-Spring), Washington Business Centre, two Bizspace centres in Sunderland Central, Regus (Doxford Park) and The Old Rectory (Houghton-le-Spring) which specialises in social enterprises and charities.

3. Incubators & Accelerators

The BIC is the largest hub for accelerator programmes in Sunderland, which is perhaps unsurprising as it provides both physical spaces and a range of business support. Furthermore, the BIC recently invested in a dedicated Innovation Zone which has already attracted various accelerators including the Electric Vehicle Innovation Accelerator, and Innovate: Grow.

The BIC also runs its own accelerators from the Innovation Zone. One support scheme involves a partnership with tenant Innovation Super Network alongside dedicated space for innovative entrepreneurs. The other accelerator is focused on social entrepreneurs specifically. Both programs have only just launched and we advise entrepreneurs to contact the BIC to enquire about ongoing accelerator opportunities.

In addition, RTC North run the RTC North Scaleup North East programme which includes an intensive scaleup bootcamp. The bootcamps run regularly so if you’ve missed a cohort, you might be able to get onto the next! Check out their website for more information.

4. Business Workshops

As Sunderland’s startup hub, the BIC is unsurprisingly the go-to place for enterprise development workshops. Topics range from social media management to accounting and finance, and rotate on a regular basis. All workshops are completely free to attend.

In addition, to support founders with basic digital activity, the Google Digital Garage often hosts free digital workshops on topics such as branding and social media. These events are often delivered by external organisations and promoted via Eventbrite. For example, Media Savvy CIC regularly organise Branding 101 workshops at the Digital Garage.

For scaleups, RTC North regularly hosts workshops to help organisations explore scaleup readiness, and to share insights on new supply chain opportunities. For example, an upcoming event helps entrepreneurs explore supply chain opportunities within the rail sector.

To learn about new and upcoming workshops, visit Eventbrite and filter by location (Sunderland), category (Business) and date (this month/next month).

5. Networking Events & Community

Newcastle Startup Week networking at Barclays
Newcastle Startup Week 2019 Day 3 Networking

In addition to specific workshops, Sunderland is known for a variety of networking and business events. Regular ones include:

  • Sunderland Digital: a meetup group for anyone interested in digital technology in Sunderland. Meets at Sunderland Software Centre.
  • The NEBIC are a regular host to the Mussel Club networking events and FSB Connect which are both great ways to meet other SMEs in the area.
  • Sunderland Business Network was set up in 2008 to build a network for local businesses. The organisation now runs regular networking events.
  • Scaleup North East hosts occasional socials for members of the scaleup community.
  • The Hope Street Xchange run seasonal business exchange networking events which connect Sunderland students and alumni with businesses and founders. Check out their winter edition here! Alongside seasonal events, they also occasionally run speed-networking events and other socials.

To stay updated with events in Sunderland, keep an eye on TechDiary: the region’s up-to-date calendar for tech and startup events! For events in the social sector, visit Vonne’s event section.

6. University Support

enterprise place sunderland
Hope Street Xchange Sunderland University

Sunderland University is leading in enterprise support with a fully staffed, dedicated centre for Enterprise and Innovation known as ‘the Hope Street Xchange’. The Hope Street Xchange features office spaces, hotdesking, prototype facilities and free business support for Sunderland University alumni and existing students. To provide the best possible support, the university has recruited external experts and support providers to assist in the provision of fully funded advice for aspiring entrepreneurs.

To continue growth support, the university also ran an accelerator fund for members who spent a minimum of 6 months working on their business idea. Applications of the most recent round closed September 2019.

These are some of our key highlights of the Sunderland startup scene. What are your favourite hangouts? Let us know in a comment below or by replying to us on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.

Want to come to our events?

To learn more about the Sunderland startup scene and to stay up-to-date on the latest opportunities, visit one of our monthly Founders’ Friday events and book your ticket for Newcastle Startup Week 2020!

Please note a 5-day ticket for our Newcastle Startup Week festival in May 2020 for just £150 (+ booking fee) includes free entry to all our Founders’ Friday events.

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