Budding entrepreneurs are being encouraged to take advantage of a new programme to help people in Sunderland start up in business.

The Prospecting for Enterprise initiative, which is being delivered by the North East Business and Innovation Centre (BIC), aims to boost enterprise and economic growth in the west of the city.

The support, which includes free one-to-one meetings with business advisers and social enterprise specialists, workshops and information packs, is available to anyone who lives in the Pallion, St Anne’s, Barnes, Silksworth, St. Chad’s and Sandhill areas of the city.

Backed by Sunderland’s Community Led Local Development (CLLD) Programme, the initiative has just started and will run until September 2020. The CLLD Programme is a five-year strategy aimed at delivering local jobs and economic growth, supported with funding from the 2014-2020 European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme.

This means the support on offer is delivered within the eligible communities themselves. All of the workshops and one-to-one meetings will be delivered in each of the six wards, making it more convenient and accessible for those who participate and may otherwise find it difficult to travel to events or meetings.

Kevin Marquis, Social Enterprise Manager at the BIC, is heading up the Prospecting for Enterprise programme.

He said: “Prospecting for Enterprise is a fantastic initiative and is a great opportunity for anyone thinking of or simply exploring the idea of setting up a business to find out if their idea is viable.

“Small businesses are the lifeblood of the economy and programmes like this are vital to ensure budding entrepreneurs have the support and confidence they need to get started.

“The BIC has been delivering support to the region’s businesses for 25 years now and projects like this are at the heart of everything we do.

“Without support programmes like this, there are so many people who would never have even thought of, or would ever have developed the confidence, to start a business.

“I would encourage anyone thinking of setting up a business to get in touch and find out how to get involved.”

As well as providing support to people looking to set up in business, the programme also offers support to those heading up voluntary organisations in the west of the city.

The community economic development arm of the programme has been created to help organisations in the voluntary sector to make use of the BIC’s Community Economic and Social Enterprise specialist services to help them become more sustainable.

Kevin added: “Running a volunteer-led organisation can be extremely challenging and social entrepreneurs often require support beyond simply raising funding.

“Our social enterprise advisers specialise in helping voluntary, community and charitable projects overcome the common challenges they face from reduced capacity, increasing competition and public sector cutbacks.

“The community economic development support is aimed at making the sector more sustainable and we are looking to hear from anyone who feels as though they could benefit from this support.”

Councillor Graeme Miller, leader of Sunderland City Council, said: “Supporting and enabling economic growth is a key priority for the council and this programme will raise the quality of support on offer to those wanting to make the brave leap into self-employment.

“The BIC has a proven track record of supporting the region’s start-ups and we’re delighted to be working with them on this project.

“We would encourage anyone in the west of the city, however small or premature their business idea is, to get in touch and see how they could benefit. You never know what it could lead to.”