Economists the world-over warned businesses to prepare for ‘a bit of grin and bear it’ as last year came to a close but is it just me who thinks there has been… a lot of unexpected positives?!
Yes, it’s been challenging, especially dealing with rising inflation, the end of EU funding and the ‘death of the workplace’, but as 2023 draws to a close, there still seems to be plenty to cheer. Especially for the BIC, anyway.
Over the last year, we’ve housed more businesses than ever before, we’ve opened a new business centre in Darlington, which is far exceeding our initial expectations, and we have grown our existing business support and start-up programmes.
We also launched new initiatives which saw us engage with even more budding and existing entrepreneurs than ever. Take Veterans RV and Social Boost for example.
Helping former armed forces personnel utilise their unique skillsets to set up their own business, the pilot Veterans RV programme – designed by veterans, for veterans – was fully subscribed and it has been amazing seeing them achieve so much.
Social Enterprise Boost Durham, too, saw us expand our social enterprise support into County Durham, helping even more community champions improve the areas they live in, and we have similar programmes launching in Gateshead and Sunderland in due course.
Further afield we’ve been making an impact overseas, courtesy of BIC Africa. From the sands of Wearside to the deserts of Sudan, the mentoring programme supported 15 inspiring women entrepreneurs from Kenya, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Somalia and others…all looking for support to scale their businesses.
And it doesn’t stop there… we’ve recently secured funding and contracts to deliver even more services, which will make our support accessible to even more people and businesses. This includes Wear Together, which will see us continue to grow Sunderland’s social economy, and Enterprising Sunderland.
Launching in the coming months, Enterprising Sunderland will be delivered as part of a consortium of Sunderland based organisations to provide intensive and customised support to people and organisations wishing to pursue their business idea or grow their business further, through information, online resources, one to one advice, support and mentoring, peer group learning and workshops.
We will also be bringing in new members of staff, revamping our coworking and atrium spaces to deliver an all-round better experience for our tenants and continuing to invest in becoming a more sustainable, environmentally friendly organisation.
Central to this will be further investment into cutting our emissions and reducing costs for our customers. Solar panelling, battery storage units, LED lighting and EV’s will all help us to achieve this, as well as making the BIC more accessible.
Introducing more tenant meet-up events is also something we’re keen to continue building on, as well as more pop-up markets and networking opportunities, which I’m sure you’ll all be glad to hear!
What is most intriguing about all of this however… is that the BIC is in a really unique position where our own success doesn’t just stem from us performing well, but the entire business community doing well, which is what all of this really boils down to…
It’s the budding entrepreneurs starting up, the intrepid business leaders pulling up their socks in the face of mounting costs and pressures and the social entrepreneurs giving back to their communities. It’s when they excel, that we excel.
Which probably explains why, given all of the challenges we have faced over the last 12 months, 2023 has been so surprisingly positive and why there is absolutely no reason we can’t look forward to 2024 with the same enthusiasm as we have when reflecting on the past year.
Last but not least, I’d like to say a special thank you to all of our amazing staff, partners, suppliers and everyone that we work with. I think I speak for everyone associated with the BIC when I wish you all a relaxing, well-earned Christmas and New Year.
Here’s to 2024!