Usually, as soon as the first door of the advent calendars are opened it’s safe to assume that businesses and their hard-working employees will begin to take their feet ever so slightly off the gas in anticipation of the Christmas break. Perhaps not so much this year. Who would’ve guessed that we’d be ending 2019 with another general election?
Uncertainty and the ambiguity of Brexit may well present risk, however the BIC will undoubtedly continue to attract new projects and services from within and outside the UK as new opportunities are presented in the future. And what an exciting future as this year we marked the start of our 25th anniversary celebrations!
I’m incredibly proud of the hard work and impact the BIC staff have delivered consistently over the last 25 years. 4000 businesses have been started with our help. For over a quarter of a century our values have remained the same – enterprise support for all, to build on the drive to regenerate the area, create new entrepreneurs, jobs and grow businesses. So far, we’ve accommodated 800 businesses and aided the creation of over 7500 jobs.
We end the year on a high – with occupancy levels across our three business centres (in Sunderland, Darlington and Washington) exceeding expectations as we report 90% occupancy. In continually adapting our services to the growth in demand for ‘flexible offices’ – workspaces which provide our tenants flexibility over location, size, customisation, term and additional services – we strive to ensure that our services are relevant and attractive to our customers.
This year we have made a substantial investment in our IT infrastructure which included a Cisco network equipment upgrade across our three locations – increasing bandwidth, IT resilience and back up for our tenants. We have also invested in a new telephony system (TaaS) which allows telephone calls via the internet replacing the need for traditional landlines. It also enables our customers to access dozens of valuable features including call recording and access to their calls and messages from anywhere.
We have also attracted an array of new services to support businesses including: an extension to the SME Innovation Programme providing grant funding for new products and services; with investment from the NELEP we have also been able to create a new space, the Innovation Zone incubator, designed to hothouse the region’s new ideas and bring together people who are developing new products and applications that address real world problems such as the design of low carbon transport; and in collaboration with the Innovation SuperNetwork, North Invest and the UK Business Angels Association we have launched a pilot project to encourage the growth of local angel networks and investment in innovative early stage companies.
We also continue to drive the message of ‘business with a social purpose’ across the region. The BIC has now established our own very successful social enterprise start-up and business growth service to enhance our existing business support services. Over the past 24 months we’ve made significant investment in promoting social enterprise services and are now fully open for co-operative and social enterprises and social entrepreneurs who bring innovative solutions to the societal and environmental challenges that we face.
In addition, we have recently secured a three year project from the Home Office’s Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund to assist those migrants who have the ‘right to stay’ with the aim of giving them the tools to progress towards applying for jobs or becoming self-employed.
But our 25th anniversary year offers an opportunity to look ahead and ask – what do we want the BIC to become over the next 25 years?
In fact, this year the BIC team has spent a good deal of time looking forward and making plans for the future and I am overwhelmed by the enthusiasm, the fresh perspectives and the new thinking which will now start to drive the development of new services and processes for the BIC. It’s an exciting time and I look forward to sharing updates on new initiatives in the New Year.
I would like to take this opportunity to personally thank each and every member of the BIC team for their hard work, dedication and professionalism. I’m surrounded by expert and skilled colleagues who have a vast array of experience and continue to provide me with a different perspective on the world.
I’d also like to thank all of our partners without whom we could not deliver the range and quality of services and support to the business community.
On behalf of the BIC team, as we start to celebrate our milestone 25th year, I wish everyone a very happy Christmas and prosperous 2020.