A Testament to Tenacity - Reflecting on a Decade of Success and the End of an Era in ERDF Funding

Written by Laura Foster, Entrepreneurial Development Manager, Center for Graduate Prospects, University of Sunderland.

Celebrating 10 years in business is no mean feat, especially given the global economic challenges of the last few years. But for one of our start-up alumni, a determination to succeed has led to MAD Communications celebrating this milestone in business. For me personally, it was also a moment of real pride, and reminded me how privileged we are in my team to be involved in the journey of these start-ups, right from the very beginning, watching them thrive and grow into successful businesses.

Success story:
Founded by University of Sunderland graduates Amy Armstrong and Marie Donnelly as soon as they graduated, Mad Communications is a PR, copywriting, and social media agency. M.A.D were in fact, one of the first startups to benefit from the European Regional Development Funding (ERDF) which the University accessed to underpin support for budding student and graduate entrepreneurs. Their 10 year anniversary (or M.A.D-iversary as they like to call it) prompts me to reflect on another milestone in my professional life – the end of that same European Funding.

End of an era:
Over that last four-year project, we have supported over 115 businesses to launch, and provided many, many more students and graduates the opportunity to access education and experiences that have helped them to develop their entrepreneurial skills and mindset, which have undoubtedly enhanced their employability prospects and helped them grow in confidence.

But the impact of European funding on university start-up support also extends beyond academic boundaries. Successful start-ups have the potential to generate employment opportunities and drive economic growth. Indeed, many of ours have done exactly that - including M.A.D Communications. They made their first two hires by coming back to the University for support to grow their business through recruiting graduate talent. They accessed our Small to Medium Enterprise (SME) Graduate Internship funding, which was underpinned by, yes, you guessed it, ERDF.

Time for change:
In the light of uncertainty around the delivery timeframe of successor funding calls (looking at you UK Shared Prosperity), it is with mixed emotion that I say goodbye to ERDF. Anyone who has engaged with it will tell you it’s not been without its challenges, and some would argue there has been an over-reliance on this type of funding in building SME support structures.

But it’s with some confidence that I say, that without a decade of funding to build resources, infrastructure, impact, and profile of the importance of nurturing innovation and entrepreneurship, the University may not have considered enterprise education to be so fundamentally important in the work of the new Centre for Graduate Prospects.

Sitting firmly in a Teaching and Learning, rather than extra-curricular / optional space, the Centre will explore new strategies of career education in which to positively impact the experience of our students. Students who we firmly believe have the potential to achieve life-changing success and make a society-shaping impact.

Meaningful impact:
Our mission is to embed employability and enterprise across the University of Sunderland, creating confident and motivated students who will develop into professional, adaptable, and engaged graduates with rich and rewarding life and career prospects. Through an innovative and integrated offer, we will help them to test and invest in their personal skills, knowledge, and aspirations as well as deliver graduate-level work-related opportunities.

And yes, we are going to be entrepreneurial about it.

About the author

With over 17 years of experience at the University of Sunderland, Laura has played a crucial role in developing entrepreneurship and bolstering start-ups. 

Beyond her operational roles, she has developed tailored programmes to enhance entrepreneurship and employability skills. Through her stewardship at the Enterprise Place, she provides a nurturing environment for aspiring entrepreneurs, cementing her commitment to fostering a new generation of innovators.

If you would like to find out more about the Centre for Graduate Prospects, or get involved in providing work experience opportunities or projects, contact laura.foster-1@sunderland.ac.uk

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