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Northern Accelerator to receive major innovation funding boost

The company creation partnership has secured an additional £4.3m to expand support spin-outs.

17 October 2023

The partnership of Durham, Newcastle, Northumbria, TeessideSunderland and York universities has secured an additional £4.3m across two funding streams to expand its support and create more successful businesses in crucial sectors.

In 2016 the Northern Accelerator partnership set out to increase the rate at which universities in the North East could translate their research findings into commercial products and services to make a social and economic impact. The trailblazing programme introduced a range of support to ensure spinout businesses had the best chance of success, and in just a few years it has transformed the university innovation ecosystem, creating 47 businesses and set to deliver over £123m additional GVA (Gross Valued Added) to the region’s economy over a 10-year period.

Recognising the importance of this contribution to the North East’s economy, North of Tyne Combined Authority and Durham County Council awarded £2.79m UK Shared Prosperity Funding to continue Northern Accelerator’s best practice research-commercialisation model at Durham, Newcastle and Northumbria Universities, via the InTune project. And last week Research England announced an additional £1.5m Connecting Capability Funding for the full six-university partnership to pilot new activity alongside the well-established existing offering, trialling new interventions and additional support programmes.

Today the Northern Accelerator universities have a strong pipeline of innovative commercial opportunities, with spinout businesses being created in a range of sectors from cancer-curing drugs to carbon-negative building materials. Most of those businesses are based in the North East and North Yorkshire, creating high-value jobs in the area.

Northern Accelerator universities will work with partner organisations in key sectors to proactively develop solutions to crucial issues, and to ensure new businesses are embedded within the North’s innovation ecosystem. Working alongside partners in the digital sector, net zero, cancer research and pharma, focus challenge events will explore opportunities for improved collaboration and industry engagement around innovation.

Critical innovation ecosystem

In a blog announcing the new CCF Awards, Dame Jessica Corner said: “These allocations will provide funding to reinforce the critical innovation ecosystem building that is already playing a vital part in levelling up, and to contribute to technology sector developments. Projects here address a range of technologies, and an impressive set of university and private partner collaborations.”

Professor Jane Robinson, Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Engagement and Place, Newcastle University, said: "At Newcastle University, we’re really proud of the work we’ve done in recent years since the launch of Northern Accelerator creating new high-tech companies providing good quality jobs. This new funding will allow us to do even more to help build the future economy and the jobs and prosperity that comes with it."

Dr Tim Hammond, Managing Director of Research and Innovation Services at Durham University, and programme lead for Northern Accelerator, explains: “We have clear feedback from investors, our Technology Transfer Offices, and our nascent businesses that stronger engagement with key sectors would strengthen our business propositions.

“Our academic founders work tirelessly to make their spinout businesses a reality, and through Northern Accelerator we’re able to team them up with experienced business leaders to get their company off the ground. As with any start-up, our spinouts face an uphill struggle and it’s important to get that right from the beginning.

"The new funding allows us to offer several enterprise fellowships, giving academic founders dedicated time, training and support to really focus on getting their company launched. It also allows us to support new spinouts with fast start grant funding, to help accelerate their development and impact.”

Speaking about the impact of the university collaboration, Professor Karen O’Brien, Vice-Chancellor and Warden of Durham University said: “Universities in the North East of England have a strong track record of collaboration on initiatives that positively impact economic development. 

“Northern Accelerator has contributed greatly to the ‘innovation ecosystem’ over the last five years. This significant funding ensures we can build on a successful programme that benefits our regional and national economy.”




Image Caption – Dr Tim Hammond with the founding team of Northumbria University’s EcoTech69, showcasing their innovative ‘Solar2Water’ and ‘OptimumAirCon’ devices. From L-R: Muhammad Mehroz, Dr. Muhammad Wakil Shahzad, Dr Tim Hammond, Muhammad Ahmad Jamil, Mohammed Sanjid Thavalengal

This new funding will allow us to do even more to help build the future economy and the jobs and prosperity that comes with it

Professor Jane Robinson

One project that has benefited significantly from Northern Accelerator’s support is Northumbria University’s upcoming spinout EcoTech69 which develops sustainable solutions for clean drinking water and aircon.

Over the last decade, Dr Muhammad Wakil Shahzad, Associate Professor in Northumbria’s Department of Mechanical and Construction Engineering, has been developing pioneering solutions to help tackle water scarcity. His latest project has seen the creation of ‘Solar2Water’, which uses solar energy to extract moisture from the air and turn it into safe drinking water. The patented Solar2Water system overcomes the limitations of similar water generators available on the market, with one major advantage being that it can produce a constant amount of water, regardless of the outside air humidity. It also generates double the amount of water using the same amount of energy when compared to existing systems.

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