Virgin Money celebrates year of start-up loans in North East and Cumbria

125 new start-ups are now operating across the region thanks to The Journal backed Start-Up Loans scheme

Jodi and Stella Kean
Jodi and Stella Kean

Virgin Money is celebrating a year of start-up loans in the North East and Cumbria.

A total of 125 new businesses are now operating across the region thanks to the Start-Up Loans scheme, with funding from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).

Loans amounting to almost £700,000 have been awarded to young entrepreneurs, with an average loan size of £5,858, over an average three-year term.

Virgin Money, Virgin Unite, The Northern Rock Foundation (NRF) and Project North East (PNE) joined forces in 2012 to offer young entrepreneurs aged between 18 and 30 the chance to access low-cost funding to start their businesses, together with mentoring and marketing support from Virgin Money and other local partners.

The new businesses are now operating in a range of industries, from retail and leisure to hospitality and creative film.

Entrepreneurs have also grasped the opportunity to be mentored by volunteers from Virgin Money and other local businesses.

A number of the new start-up business owners have also had the chance to meet Sir Richard Branson, the founder of the Virgin brand and one of the most successful entrepreneurs.

Not only did he attend a gathering of the new businesses at Virgin Money’s Gosforth site in February, he also invited five of the North East’s brightest new start-up companies to a ‘Fast Track 100’ event at his family home in Oxfordshire in May.

They met and shared their business ideas with him over lunch, and each had the opportunity to pitch their business plan, receiving feedback from some of Britain’s most successful entrepreneurs and leaders of Fast Track 100 companies.

Highlights in 2012 include the Big Kick Off competition in April when Choclateas won the chance to sponsor Newcastle United Football Club for a day against Liverpool.

Choclateas was the idea of entrepreneurial twin sisters, Jodi and Stella Kean. The business was selected by the public as part of Virgin Money’s start-up loans scheme.

The Journal-backed campaign to provide cash to help young entrepreneurs get their businesses off the ground donated the prize to enable Choclateas to publicise its name to more than 50,000 people at St James’ Park and to a live TV audience of millions more.

In September. Newcastle-based Weekend Box landed an exclusive contract to provide its range of gifts for Downing Street for the Prime Minister to give visitors including heads of state and dignitaries.

Weekend Box was the brainchild of 25-year-old Andy Stephenson, and the brand supplies activity boxes for young children.

The former software developer was invited to a special audience with the Prime Minister and the BBC ‘dragon’ James Caan – where he impressed Downing Street staff so much they asked him to produce specially commissioned Number 10 boxes.

Richard Clark, director of Workspace at PNE, said: “Project North East has been delighted to help these young people to launch their business here in the North East and Cumbria, with a start-up loan during 2013. We wish them all good luck for the future and hope that their businesses will be very successful for many years to come.”

Pete Wood, head of social enterprise projects at Virgin Money added: “It is wonderful to be able to look back over such a fantastic year. The creation of these businesses is great news for the region and the popularity of the scheme demonstrates the innovation, creativity and drive we have in the North East and Cumbria.

“This scheme has given young entrepreneurs access to start-up funding, at a time when it might otherwise have been difficult, and has allowed these young business people to take those all important first steps into the world of business.”


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer