An entrepreneur who studied abroad has used his experience to launch a student support business with the help of a £30k loan from the Business Enterprise Fund (BEF) via its NPIF (Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund) Microfinance scheme.

Settle In, based in Stockton-on-Tees, was the brainchild of Ray Abbas (28) and offers help to international students in universities across the North East. The website displays information on local attractions, maps, what’s on guides and student essentials such as money and travel advice.

Ray was inspired to set up the business after spending time in France and Germany while studying at Edge Hill University. During his time abroad, he discovered the lack of support available for international students and found it difficult to find basic information and navigate a foreign city.

After working closely with international pupils at his university’s office, he discovered other students had encountered similar experiences; understanding the enormity of this issue, he wanted to make moving to a new country less daunting. As he was unable to find a similar service, Ray saw the real difference he could make to students’ wellbeing and contacted BEF for funding to expand and develop the business.

Chief executive officer at Settle In, Ray, said: “The loan has enabled me to recruit two full time digital marketing staff, who will help develop the website, manage social media, create content and marketing materials for the business. The support from BEF has also allowed us to move into fantastic new offices and develop our website, helping us feel more established as a brand new business.”

Ray added: “Our experience with BEF was phenomenal, the turnaround was so quick and they all shared my vision. Our investment manager Lee was superb, he really got under the skin of the business and completely understood what made us tick. We wouldn’t be where we are now without his hard work.”

The Business Enterprise Fund is a social enterprise specialising in providing funding and advice to businesses across Yorkshire and the North East. In 2017 it was announced as a joint fund manager for the NPIF Microfinance scheme with Doncaster’s Finance For Enterprise.

Lee Vickers, investment manager at BEF, said: “It’s marvellous to see such a powerful story behind this loan – Ray has experienced the issue first hand and has used his entrepreneurial spirit to bring his idea to life. He has identified a huge gap within the market and we’re excited to see how our loan will transform the business and help students across the country.”

The Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund project is supported financially by the European Union using funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020 and the European Investment Bank.

Ben Houchen, Tees Valley Mayor, said: “As a region we’re renowned the world over for our expertise in heavy industry, chemicals and engineering but we have so much more to offer. The Tees Valley has a thriving and growing tech and digital sector, and I’m pleased that Ray has secured the funding he needs to take Settle In to the next level. Entrepreneurs and risk-takers are vital to our region and I look forward to following Ray’s progress as the business grows.”

The Business Enterprise Fund has offices in Teesside, Bradford, Leeds and Goole.