Published on 18 February 2020
It’s fair to say businessman Michael Ditchburn has a passion for the University of Sunderland – as all his employees are graduates.
The city-born businessman is himself a graduate of the University having earned a Geography degree back in 2002.
Today he runs ThinkBiscuit Media, a business that specialises in supporting clients with digital eLearning solutions, videos and animations.
The business, based in Sunderland Software Centre, was founded in August 2017, and, having first used freelancers, now has a handful of staff on its books – all of who are also Sunderland graduates.
Michael said: “When I left the University I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to do, in fact my first job was as a security guard for Dixons.”
But after working in a number of large and small organisations learning his craft, Michael’s entrepreneurial side started to shine through and he got in touch with the University’s Graduate Internship Scheme.
Michael was able to access the ERDF Internships and Enterprise project to get some funding for recruiting a graduate.
So when Michael’s business started to grow – and the time came to take on some staff – it seemed only natural for him to make use of the University’s talent pool.
Michael said: “When I first set up, like most businesses, I based myself out of my attic and that worked for a while, but I realised that if I wanted to really make a go of it, I needed to have a proper office. Sunderland Software Centre is a fantastic place to be based.
“Then I took on Rachel Smith who was a Design and Illustration graduate who put her skills to use by creating graphics that can be used in training animations and materials, developing creative and engaging learning tools.”
Since bringing Rachel on board, Michael has employed Digital Film Production graduate Jordan Defty, as well as, most recently, Fine Art student Rosie McQueen. Daniel Richardson, another University graduate, is also used by the company for regular freelance work.
Michael said: “I love what the University does to help graduates and they’ve helped me create a really young, ambitious team here at ThinkBiscuit.
“They offer a lot of support to businesses which is important as well as ongoing training.
“The team we have here now works together so well. The clients seem to like what we’re doing and they keep coming back.”
The company currently boasts an impressive roster of clients, including BrewDog, Vodafone, Buzz Bingo, Sodexo and Tech Nation.
Laura Foster, Internships and Enterprise Manager at University of Sunderland, said: “Retaining graduate talent is critical to boosting SME growth in the North East and our ERDF funding enables us to both financially support SME’s to recruit an intern, as well as providing our graduates with exciting opportunities in growing businesses.
The Graduate Internship Scheme has supported hundreds of SME’s in the region over the years and we are really pleased to add this brilliant, home grown, Sunderland business to the list.”
The project is receiving up to £1,331,381 of funding from the England European Regional Development Fund as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (and in London the intermediate body Greater London Authority) is the Managing Authority for European Regional Development Fund.
Established by the European Union, the European Regional Development Fund helps local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support innovation, businesses, create jobs and local community regenerations. For more information visit https://www.gov.uk/european-growth-funding.
The Northern Powerhouse is a key aspect of this Government’s approach to addressing the productivity gap in the North and ensuring a stronger, more sustainable economy for all parts of the UK.
Alongside over €1.5 billion of European Regional Development Fund support for businesses and communities across the North, the government has awarded £3.4 billion in three rounds of Growth Deals across the Northern Powerhouse.