Business Durham has supported the launch and growth of three technology companies thanks to its six-month accelerator programme for start-ups.

Networking platform NetKnoWho, taxi and private hire app taxigoat and messaging app ChatPro all took part in the Durham City Incubator (DCI), designed to nurture and support ambitious innovative entrepreneurs to help them build a scalable and investible business in County Durham.

Set up in 2018 as a joint venture between Durham University, New College Durham and Business Durham, the business support service of Durham County Council, the DCI programme helps up-and-coming businesses, that have been trading for under 12 months, to accomplish their goals. It also supports local entrepreneurs launch start-ups with high growth potential.

So far, in the past five cohorts, the programme has supported 39 entrepreneurs across a wide range of sectors in not only launching their businesses but achieving national recognition and investment funding.

Each of those businesses benefitted from six months of intensive one-to-one support from the DCI programme – including mentoring sessions, workshops, seminars and networking events to enable them to grow and scale up.

NetKnoWho is a networking platform connecting the North East business community, ensuring clients are making the best use of their networking time in a post-lockdown world, meeting the right people and having the right conversations. 

It was launched this year by Jeni Smith, who has over 15 years’ experience in the networking industry and exists as a digital platform of her original networking ecosystem, which has seen huge success since the launch of her business in April 2020.  She joined the most recent DCI cohort in January 2021, an experience she describes as invaluable to her.

Commenting on the programme Jeni said: “Being Part of the DCI programme was a huge help to me and the business. Those six months were intense, but packed full of useful content, training, and information. The support that DCI provides as a community, and the 1-2-1 advice you receive, really helps you maintain momentum and hold yourself accountable. I’m so glad I applied and was able to tap into the fantastic support they offer.”

Another emerging platform receiving DCI support is taxigoat, a mobile app which connects customers to local licensed taxi and private hire firms – where customers choose their operator and always pay the advertised price, even during busy times.

The platform is described by taxigoat founder Ross Pottenger: “As someone who has lived rurally all my life, I have forever been frustrated by the experiences I’ve had when trying to book a taxi.  After working in the city and being exposed to food delivery and taxi booking apps, I thought there must be a way I could fuse those two business propositions to work for the more rural market.

He added: “To provide the solution I developed taxigoat – an app where local providers can offer their services to passengers, and where passengers can pick which available provider they want to book. We’ve very excited to have recently launched our pilot in Durham.

“Durham City Incubator and  Business Durham have been  great for me being a first time entrepreneur – steering me in the right direction on various aspects of business, and importantly helping me to build connections with other businesses and investors.”

Secure messaging app ChatPro also took part in the programme. A fast, secure messaging app for education, sport and social care organisations, it facilitates safe and effective communication across teams while enabling them to meet their safeguarding needs and data protection duties.

The platform was set up by teacher Harry Serle, who sought to create a version of WhatsApp that was safeguarding compliant and could be used in schools. It allows all members of an organisation to communicate on one safe, efficient platform, replacing complex multi-channel communication with simple instant messaging.

He said: “The DCI was crucial to enabling me to turn ChatPro from an idea into a reality. It opened doors to do vital market testing, and gave structure and support to start the process of developing the product and getting it to market. DCI is an essential part of the start-up ecosystem in Durham, enabling entrepreneurs to make the leap from vision to action.”

Sarah Slaven, interim managing director at Business Durham, said: “I’m delighted to see the DCI programme support County Durham businesses in setting up with ambitious plans within the fast-growing technology sector.

“Through initiatives such as this, Business Durham and our partners at Durham University and New College Durham can support innovation and enterprise in the region, working closely with businesses every step of the way on their journey to develop and grow.”

Cllr Elizabeth Scott, Cabinet member for Economy and Partnerships at Durham County Council: “It is vitally important that we support enterprising new businesses to grow within the county, in order to create jobs and boost the local economy.

“The technology industry is one of the fastest-growing sectors out there, with a rising demand for those specialist skills. Programmes like DCI can offer tech start-ups the experience, support and guidance needed to establish their companies and set them on a trajectory for business growth and longevity.

“It is great to see the incubator programme continuing to attract innovative businesses choosing to set up in Durham.”

The Incubator was developed as part of a wider drive to grow the Durham City economy and to offer Durham University graduates and New College Durham students high quality facilities and business support to grow their ventures in Durham City.

Durham City Incubator is part of Durham Internships and Collaborative Enterprise (DICE), which is part funded by European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) as part of the 2014-2020 European Structural and Investment Fund Programme.

DCI runs in cohorts that each last six months. For more information on the Durham City Incubator and to apply for the next cohort, visit dcincubator.co.uk.