The North East Business and Innovation Centre (BIC) has launched the region’s first social enterprise incubator – designed to nurture entrepreneurs who want to use business as a force for good.

Innovate for Good is a facility designed to hothouse entrepreneurs who share an aim to change the world for the better with their ideas, products, processes or services.

Based within the BIC’s new Innovation Zone at its Sunderland business park, the incubator is designed to provide the collaborative working space, practical tools and specialist support to stimulate new ideas and solutions to challenges of today’s world.

Twelve businesses (full list below) have become the facility’s first cohort and have now begun work on projects with potential to tackle issues including inequality, poverty, isolation, climate change, ill-health and disability. Their ideas span everything from dementia support focused on using arts, activities and culture as an alternative to the traditional respite care model, to specialist training to get more disabled and disadvantaged women jobs in IT.

The aim of the incubator is to create a new community of next-generation social enterprises – businesses that value their social purpose as highly as profits, with profits reinvested or donated to improve people’s lives and the environment. According to a recent report* by Social Enterprise UK, this thriving sector of 100,000 businesses contributes £60 billion to the UK economy, employs two million people and is outperforming mainstream counterparts in nearly every area of business including turnover growth, job creation and innovation.

BIC Chief Executive Paul McEldon said: “Social entrepreneurs play a crucial role in the UK economy and are on a mission to change the world – but they can’t do it on their own. Innovate for Good is all about creating the right environment to develop, test and structure their ideas, giving them the best possible chance of success.

“As a successful social enterprise ourselves, the BIC is dedicated to finding and encouraging ethical and sustainable ways of doing business and we have 25 years’ experience to share.”

The first intake of entrepreneurs are founders of young businesses that aim to make a difference in sectors including ageing and health, education, environment, leisure and IT. They will undergo a six-month fully-funded programme designed by the BIC to accelerate and strengthen their plans.

While working on their own business plans, the Innovate for Good entrepreneurs will also work together to tackle a group challenge – a real-world issue posed by a regional organisation. Solutions identified could lead to new businesses and collaborations.

Expert social enterprise advisers from the BIC will provide guidance throughout the programme and a panel of experienced social entrepreneurs will act as mentors.

The BIC’s Social Enterprise Manager Kevin Marquis said: “The North East has always been a hotbed for social enterprise. Industrial challenges and societal issues have led to the emergence of innovative solutions and the social enterprise model is best placed to address and deliver these.

“Social enterprises are in our neighbourhoods and on our high streets – from coffee shops and care homes to banks and bus companies. The sector is going through something of a revolution with the rise of conscious consumers who take more interest in the ethical practices of who they buy from. We are incredibly excited to help drive forward this momentum, encouraging a new wave of dynamic social enterprises who have the potential to make a real difference to the North East.”

The BIC plans to recruit a second cohort of entrepreneurs to join Innovate for Good in the autumn of 2020. To register your interest email

Innovate for Good entrepreneurs and their businesses:

Active Families NE, based in Sunderland, tackles high levels of inactivity across the region with innovative programmes for older people, families, and children. Entrepreneurs: Kelly Brougham and Amy Watson.

Artmospherics, will become an interactive arts and crafts activity centre in Durham with a mission to combat isolation, encourage social interaction and create job opportunities. Entrepreneur: Andrea Benson.

Azalea Academy IT, based in Sunderland, provides training and career support for disabled and disadvantaged women in the region and aims to increase the percentage of women in the IT workforce. Entrepreneur: Azalea Johansson.

Best Self CIC is run by a specialist performance coach based in Sunderland who has spent the last two years tackling her own health challenge and now aims to share her knowledge of health, mindset and nutrition with others. Entrepreneur: Samantha Chapman.

Climate Action North, based in Sunderland, is taking action on climate change alongside developing a sustainable suite of services including eco-therapy. Entrepreneur: Sharon Lashley and Jen Robson.

Family Advisory Service, based in Sunderland, provides accessible and affordable mediation and advice services to families who need a helping hand in times of hardship, conflict, isolation and relationship breakdown. Entrepreneur: Angela Wilcock.

Lighthouse Therapy CIC, based in Sunderland, offers counselling for veterans and the third sector while also helping people to reconnect with nature, each other and themselves. Entrepreneur: Mark Walsh.

My Cloud Coach, based in Sunderland, is committed to increasing the quality and availability of free digital educational resources in poor and marginalised parts of the world. Entrepreneur: Chris Nutman.

Sunderland Community IT provides technical and IT support for all public access computing facilities. Entrepreneur: John Bartlam.

Sunshine Co-op, based in Sunderland, is using food and health as a way of creating a thriving and connected community – providing pop up events, a veg box scheme and training. Entrepreneur: Claire Wayman.

Tailored Leisure, based in South Tyneside, Northumberland, offers short breaks and specially-designed leisure services for disabled people. Entrepreneur: Tara Johnson.

Unforgettable Experiences, based in Darlington, helps older people with dementia to enjoy arts, activities and cultural places – acting as an alternative model to respite care. Entrepreneur: Victoria Burnip.