Meet the graduates now driving the region’s economic growth, set on their journey by a package of support for Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs) at the University of Sunderland.
These three individuals are just some of the many graduates and students who have had their entrepreneurial and career ambitions transformed thanks to the University of Sunderland’s Internships and Enterprise project.
The project, funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), has been supporting business start-ups and graduate Internship programmes for more than a decade.
In the latest round of funding, the project has helped create 115 new enterprises, and supported the creation of more than 240 new graduate level jobs within 189 regional SMEs, worth more than £8.4million (gross added value) to the regional economy, over the last five years.
Chris Green, Bianca Gheorgiulescu and Markus Simpson are all playing their part in the economic success.
Chris, a Master’s Inequality & Society Graduate, landed a permanent researcher’s role with charity Rise during his Internship – making an impact on the quality of life for local communities.
Bianca, a Master’s Marketing graduate has supported the growth of fintech company Dialect through her internship, which has also led to a permanent position.
Meanwhile, business start-up The Rainbow Dev Ltd, a small software and app development company, created by Markus, has grown successfully into its own office space.
Markus said: “The start up support I received through the University’s Digital Incubator helped me gain essential skills to focus on starting my business, and allowed me to gain access to some local funding which was essential to get to grips with working with clients and start earning.
“I had also found the business mentoring to be invaluable, teaching me ways to grow and introducing me to networking.”
Despite the ERDF funding now coming to an end, the graduates’ success reinforces the importance of enterprise education, nurturing innovation and entrepreneurship, which is now fundamental to the university, continuing into the future to create aspiring entrepreneurs, and foster a new generation of innovators.
Laura Foster, Entrepreneurial Development Manager in the Centre for Graduate Prospects at the University of Sunderland, has over 17 years’ experience developing entrepreneurship and bolstering start-ups and SMEs.
She says: “The Internships and Enterprise project was designed to address business challenges, considered to hinder growth in the north-east economy.
“This included a need to increase the number of start-ups in the area and drive growth, as well as graduates seeing self-employment and company creation as a viable career path, in addition to encouraging existing small-to-medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to recruit graduates who will help develop their growth.
“Building on the strong foundations of previous projects, this latest round of Internship and Enterprise funding has done just that.
“It’s continued to deliver excellent value for money and has achieved, and in some measures overachieved all its targets.
“We are delighted to have been able to benefit so many student, graduates and small business in the City and wider region, over and above the original project targets.”
An assessment of Phase 3 of the project 2018-2023, showed that all its output targets had been achieved, despite the disruption caused to the economy by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The key highlights from the Internship programme found that:
- 95 per cent of SME employers said the Internship scheme had met or exceeded their needs
- 86 per cent continued to employ their intern as a result of the support received
- 75 per cent stated that the graduate intern had helped develop a new product or service
- 85 per cent of interns found the project had further developed their skills and knowledge within a business environment, and contributed positively to the development and growth of the business.
One of those employers to benefit is fintech company Dialect, who employed Bianca Gheorgiulescu, a MA Marketing Sunderland graduate, following an internship.
Dialect Chief Operating Officer Laura Scott said: “As a SME the funding has allowed us to benefit from an additional resource and one that has added real value to our business and provided tangible benefits.
“We have recruited a fantastic candidate in Bianca and without the programme may not have had the opportunity to connect.”
Other strategic benefits of the programme that have helped leverage funding and influenced stakeholders, include developing strong relationships with Sunderland City Council, helping to identify new growth sectors and delivering results for the area through SME impacts; successfully connecting SMEs to other projects within the University such as Creative Fuse, which supports the region’s creative, cultural and digital economy.
Laura added: “This project has been an exemplary regional partner. A high percentage of beneficiaries felt the project met their needs, and in many cases gone beyond their expectations, 98 per cent said they would recommend the project.
“Central to its success has been the hard work of the project team and its high-quality supporting governance.”
She added: “We will now continue by embedding employability and enterprise across the University of Sunderland, creating confident and motivated students who will develop into professional, adaptable, and engaged graduates with rich and rewarding life and career prospects.
“Through an innovative and integrated offer, we will help them to test and invest in their personal skills, knowledge, and aspirations as well as deliver graduate-level work-related opportunities, creating value for themselves and others through entrepreneurial ideas and action.”