TODAY we reveal the names of the 10 young companies which have been shortlisted in the race to win free advertising from The Journal - and expert advice from some of the region’s most senior business leaders.
The Local Business Accelerators campaign has seen hundreds of local and regional newspapers across the UK come together to offer free advertising space worth over £15m.
And in the North East the three winning firms will also receive mentoring from three top businesspeople – Alan Hall, Geoff Hodgson and Alan Holmes – who have led the judging process along with Journal business editor Iain Laing. The overall national winner of the contest will receive advice from Dragons’ Den judge Deborah Meaden.
The competition has won backing from Prime Minister David Cameron along with business groups including Codeworks, the Federation of Small Businesses and the North East Chamber of Commerce.
The 10-strong shortlist of companies features an eclectic mix of businesses from across the North East, including a sign manufacturer, coach tours company, property development firm and a business which has designed and patented a machine for weighing luggage prior to check-in at airports. Other innovative companies in the final 10 include a business that introduces babies and young children to foreign languages and an electric bike specialist.
Editor of The Journal Brian Aitken said the shortlist reflected the diverse nature of businesses across the North East.
“These companies are all very different but they each have impressed the judges with what they have achieved in such a short time and with their ambitions for future growth,” he said.
“We are delighted to be running this competition which gives the chance for three of these companies to win invaluable support both in terms of free advertising and also expert business mentoring from three of the North East’s most successful business leaders.”
NECC chief executive James Ramsbotham said: “Quality marketing has never been as important to drive awareness of a business. Hopefully, this campaign will help provide a showcase for the good work being carried out within the regional business community and demonstrate the important role newspapers can play in a thriving North East economy.”
Description: Describes itself as an independent thought leader on sales performance. “We deliver a measurable difference by improving sales processes, training and coaching sales and non-sales people and embedding sales best practices through technology,” they say. “We provide a range of business development and key account acquisition solutions designed to increase the footprint and success of our clients.”
Number of employees: Eight
Location: Team Valley, Gateshead
Description: Manufacturer specialising in signage, digital printing and exhibition products. Started out as a print, copy and design shop and has now grown into an 8,000sq ft factory. They say: “With a growing local and national customer base and a highly- experienced, happy and committed workforce, the company is looking forward to the challenge of further expansion over the next few years with an emphasis on employing younger workers.”
Number of employees: 13
Location: Stanley, County Durham
Description: Runs sessions introducing babies, toddlers, young children and their families to a new language through stories, songs, games and play. The sessions take place in community centres, schools, nurseries and Sure Start centres and are led by experienced, fully-qualified modern foreign languages teachers or fluent speakers. Angela Sterling has also produced a songbook and CD for parents and teachers to use with children outside the live sessions.
Number of employees: 1
Location: Gosforth, Newcastle
Description: ‘Regeneration Property Development’ – refurbishing derelict property and tenanting them with key workers from the local area at an affordable price. They say: “We bring like-minded individuals together to live in our buildings as a community, harnessing their ambition for more than just a house but a home.” Their first development was a new house in a once-derelict area that is now home to eight professionals who cycle to work or use public transport.
Number of employees: n/a
Location: Monkseaton, Whitley Bay
Description: E-commerce business specialising in items such as personalised mugs, T-shirts, keyrings, cards and calendars. This year the company supplied the judges on the X-Factor with personalised mugs and glasses. They say: “Our clients range from household consumers to corporates including ITV, X Factor, Nokia and Ben and Jerrys to name a few.”
Number of employees: 4
NMC TOURS (GARDINERS NMC)
Location: Ashington, Northumberland
Description: Coach company tour operator offering good-quality holidays and day excursions with pick-up points throughout Northumberland. They say: “Our customer feedback continually awards us 99% satisfaction, we enjoy strong repeat business, we achieve over 20% growth year on year.”
Number of employees: 5
STORCK RADDAR UK
Description: The company is the UK distributor for Storck Raddar Electric Assist Bicycles. They say: “The products we have are some of the finest quality electric assist bicycles in the world. A combination of Swiss- built motors and German engineering offer reliable, seamless pedal assistance for the rider when they need it.” The electric bicycle market is growing in the UK.
Number of employees: 2
Description: Offers rapid, cost-effective user testing for companies with a website who want to improve their conversions. Typically the benefits are more sales, more leads, more sign-ups, reduced bounce rates, etc. They say: “Our product is for companies who want to find out what users do on their website and what they think of it.”
Number of employees: 8
Location: Benton, North Tyneside
Description: Weigh-ahead developed a patented pre-check-in luggage weighing system and also retail exclusive hand luggage bags from bespoke vending machines. The company operates in 11 UK airports. They say: “Weigh-ahead are dedicated to improving the check-in experience for passengers, airports and airlines.”
Number of employees: 4
SPECIALIST IT SERVICES (SITS) GROUP
Location: Benton, North Tyneside
Description: Virtualisation consultancy selling to large businesses with the North of England. They say: “Virtualisation is Cloud Computing – both on premise and cloud and SITS group work with clients to decide what is the right solution for them after talking to them and discovering their business needs.”
Number of employees: 10
After building up his strategic consultancy WoodHolmes Group from 1989 until he sold it two years ago, Alan Holmes has a wealth of experience in guiding and growing businesses. He has a strong background in sales, marketing, business strategy and general management and has worked in construction, engineering and manufacturing. He has board roles in organisations including Sunderland College, Buy North East and North East Access to Finance, where he is project director. He said: “I believe that successful coaching results in unlocking the personal potential that will lead to improved performance, by enabling people to identify and address the interference and barriers that inhibit them.”
Geoff Hodgson is one of the best-known business figures in the region after a high-flying career in the brewing industry. He started as a director at Newcastle Breweries, turning round Federation Breweries before leading a management buy-out of 40 of its pubs to found Northumbrian Taverns, before selling that firm in 2006. He has since launched property developer Till Services and been on many boards including One North East. He said “Throughout my career I have been very fortunate to have mentors who have made a significant difference to my success and I wanted to use my experience to help others in the way I have been helped.”
Alan Hall spent 10 years at manufacturers’ organisation EEF which saw him rise to the position of regional director. He has served as a non-executive director with several companies. He is currently a business consultant at Jacksons law firm in Newcastle. During his career he has worked with businesses in several sectors although with a focus on manufacturing. He said: “I am delighted to be lending my support to this major press campaign. The Journal is throwing down the gauntlet to entrepreneurs to have the chance to win free professional help at a key stage in the growth and development of their company.”