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“This project has been an exemplary regional partner”

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Published on 04 October 2023

University of Sunderland graduates Chris Green, Bianca Gheorgiulescu and Markus Simpson at Hope Street Xchange
University of Sunderland graduates Chris Green, Bianca Gheorgiulescu and Markus Simpson at Hope Street Xchange
  • More than 115 new start-ups created through the start-up support offer 

  • 244 graduate levels jobs created through Graduate Internship Programme

  • £8.4m (Gross Value Added) through increased employment to the north-east’s economy over last five years.

ERDF logo

Meet the graduates now driving the region’s economic growth, set on their journey by a package of support for Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs) at the University of Sunderland.

These three individuals are just some of the many graduates and students who have had their entrepreneurial and career ambitions transformed thanks to the University of Sunderland’s Internships and Enterprise project.

The project, funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), has been supporting business start-ups and graduate Internship programmes for more than a decade. In the latest round of funding, the project has helped create 115 new enterprises, and supported the creation of more than 240 new graduate level jobs within 189 regional SMEs, worth more than £8.4million (gross added value) to the regional economy, over the last five years.

Chris Green, Bianca Gheorgiulescu and Markus Simpson are all playing their part in the economic success.

Chris, a Master’s Inequality & Society Graduate, landed a permanent researcher’s role with charity Rise during his Internship - making an impact on the quality of life for local communities. Bianca, a Master’s Marketing graduate has supported the growth of fintech company Dialect through her internship, which has also led to a permanent position. Meanwhile, business start-up The Rainbow Dev Ltd, a small software and app development company, created by Markus, has grown successfully into its own office space.

Markus said: “The start up support I received through the University’s Digital Incubator helped me gain essential skills to focus on starting my business, and allowed me to gain access to some local funding which was essential to get to grips with working with clients and start earning. I had also found the business mentoring to be invaluable, teaching me ways to grow and introducing me to networking.”

Despite the ERDF funding now coming to an end, the graduates’ success reinforces the importance of enterprise education, nurturing innovation and entrepreneurship, which is now fundamental to the university, continuing into the future to create aspiring entrepreneurs, and foster a new generation of innovators.

Laura Foster, Entrepreneurial Development Manager, in the Centre for Graduate Prospects at the University of Sunderland, has over 17 years’ experience developing entrepreneurship and bolstering start-ups and SMEs. She says: “The Internships and Enterprise project was designed to address business challenges, considered to hinder growth in the north-east economy. This included a need to increase the number of start-ups in the area and drive growth, as well as graduates seeing self-employment and company creation as a viable career path, in addition to encouraging  existing small-to-medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to recruit graduates who will help develop their growth.

“Building on the strong foundations of previous projects, this latest round of Internship and Enterprise funding has done just that. It’s continued to deliver excellent value for money and has achieved, and in some measures overachieved all its targets. We are delighted to have been able to benefit so many student, graduates and small business in the City and wider region, over and above the original project targets."

An assessment of Phase 3 of the project 2018-2023, showed that all its output targets had been achieved, despite the disruption caused to the economy by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The key highlights from the Internship programme found that:

  • 95 per cent of SME employers said the Internship scheme had met or exceeded their needs

  • 86 per cent continued to employ their intern as a result of the support received

  • 75 per cent stated that the graduate intern had helped develop a new product or service

  • 85 per cent of interns found the project had further developed their skills and knowledge within a business environment, and contributed positively to the development and growth of the business.    

One of those employers to benefit is fintech company Dialect, who employed Bianca Gheorgiulescu, a MA Marketing Sunderland graduate, following an internship. Dialect Chief Operating Officer Laura Scott said: “As a SME the funding has allowed us to benefit from an additional resource and one that has added real value to our business and provided tangible benefits. We have recruited a fantastic candidate in Bianca and without the programme may not have had the opportunity to connect.”

Other strategic benefits of the programme that have helped leverage funding and influenced stakeholders, include developing strong relationships with Sunderland City Council, helping to identify new growth sectors and delivering results for the area through SME impacts; successfully connecting SMEs to other projects within the University such as Creative Fuse, which supports the region’s creative, cultural and digital economy.

Laura added: “This project has been an exemplary regional partner. A high percentage of beneficiaries felt the project met their needs, and in many cases gone beyond their expectations, 98 per cent said they would recommend the project. Central to its success has been the hard work of the project team and its high-quality supporting governance.”

She added: “We will now continue by embedding employability and enterprise across the University of Sunderland, creating confident and motivated students who will develop into professional, adaptable, and engaged graduates with rich and rewarding life and career prospects. 

“Through an innovative and integrated offer, we will help them to test and invest in their personal skills, knowledge, and aspirations as well as deliver graduate-level work-related opportunities, creating value for themselves and others through entrepreneurial ideas and action.”

Case studies

Start-ups – Digital Incubator 

Markus Simpson – The Rainbow Dev Ltd 

The Rainbow Dev Ltd is a small software and app development company, specialising in web and mobile apps offering web and domain hosting services.  

Markus, from South Shields, joined The Digital Incubator in September 2020, and has successfully grown his business to now be within his own office space. 

Prior to this, Markus had been working as a food delivery person, but when Covid-19 struck, the business closed and he used this as a opportunity to pursue his new venture.

He added: “My business has continued to grow since starting, and I have recently moved to a larger office at the BIC Sunderland, as I look to potentially working with an apprentice to help my business grow. 

“I'm also getting more and more referrals from word-of-mouth which is great as I believe it shows that clients are happy with my work and the way I approach customer support.”


Graduate Internship Scheme

Chris Green 

University of Sunderland MSc Inequality and Society graduate Chris Green was appointed as Research and Insight Intern at charity Rise.

Rise are a charity funded and supported by Sport England in addition to a number of other national and local organisations, and are part of a network of 42 Active Partnerships across the country. Examples include leisure teams, public health, as well as the education, housing and criminal justice sectors. Their vision is to create a higher quality of life for communities that need it the most in Northumberland and Tyne & Wear, using the power of physical activity. 

Chris explained how the Scheme has supported his career aspirations; “After completing my Masters, I really wanted to continue to be involved in researching inequalities, particularly in the north-east, and the opportunity at Rise fitted that perfectly. The Internship Scheme has given me the opportunity to put the skills I gained during my studies into practice”. 

Chris was made permanent at Rise in July.

Bianca Gheorgiulescu

Approaching the two-year trading point, Dialect were experiencing an exciting period of growth with ambitions to establish a North East foot print within the financial technology industry. CEO Neil Wake looked to the University of Sunderland to recruit a marketing graduate that would bring different skills to the business purposely to focus on a new offer for the business. Neil was keen to work in partnership with the University, leveraging the skills of recent graduates to support the growth of Dialect. 

June 2022 saw the appointment of Bianca Gheorgiulescu, a MA Marketing Sunderland graduate.

 Dialect Chief Operating Officer, Laura Scott said: “It has been fantastic for Dialect to be involved with the internship programme. As a SME the funding has allowed us to benefit from an additional resource and one that has added real value to our business and provided tangible benefits. We have recruited a fantastic candidate in Bianca and without the programme may not have had the opportunity to connect.  Bianca as an individual has joined us and has been a great addition to the team.  Enthusiastic, a team player and brings new ideas into our business.” 

Describing her role highlights, Bianca said: “I enjoy working as a Marketing Assistant because every day I am learning and exposing my creative side in branded materials that brings value for our company. I enjoy working with #teamdialect and I am thankful for such a friendly team.”