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New startup incubator to generate 500 super-businesses in five years

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Spark Up programme director, Dr Nick Owen MBE, explains: A super business is defined as a start-up which, after completing the accelerator programme, demonstrates meaningful and sustainable long term growth. This will be measured in a number of ways including GVA, employment generation and inward investment.

“We want to support the creation of an environment whereby businesses from across the world begin to relocate to the region because of tangible economic, social and cultural advantages. We want to help create a market for generating, supporting and attracting successful businesses.

Modelled on the world-renowned MassChallenge in Boston, Massachusetts, Spark Up will provide workspace, state of the art IT equipment, mentoring and master classes during a rigorous programme designed to maximise sustainable business growth.

Created with investment from Liverpool Chamber of Commerce and NatWest, with additional support from University of Liverpool, The BIG Partnership, Glow New Media and Aspire Creative Enterprises, the accelerator will begin with a five-month pilot in March 2014.

Spark Up has space for 15 Bright Sparks and applications are being accepted from entrepreneurs with nothing more than a great idea, to small businesses which have been trading for up to two years and are ambitious to grow.

The programme will culminate in a graduation event for the Bright Sparks during the International Business Festival in July.

Jenny Stewart, chief executive of Liverpool Chamber of Commerce and chairperson of Spark Up, got the idea to create a start-up accelerator during a visit to MassChallenge last year. Jenny said: We hear it time and again in Liverpool there simply arent enough businesses to realise the markets full potential. However, theres certainly no lack of creativity or ambition, what we need is something to leverage that energy and give our entrepreneurs the confidence and resilience to thrive.

I was blown away by the set up in Boston. The energy, the drive, the collaboration between entrepreneurs, private businesses and mentors was incredibly inspiring. I returned home completely invigorated and began researching how we could create our own MassChallenge-style accelerator in Liverpool.

Spark Up is understood to be the first of its kind in England to mirror the structure pioneered by MassChallenge where start-ups take part in a rigorous four-month accelerator to give them the knowledge, resource and experience needed to succeed. It is free for all successful applicants and does not take equity from the start-ups on its programme, but relies on funding from large private sector organisations including Microsoft and American Airlines.

Since its launch MassChallenge has supported 360 start-ups and estimates its alumni has created 2,910 jobs, generated $95m in revenue, and raised $360m in funding.

Spark Up also takes a cue from Scotlands Entrepreneurial Spark (ESpark). Established in 2011 by Scottish entrepreneur Jim Duffy, ESpark was the first business accelerator in the UK to adapt the MassChallenge model for use in the British market.

Last year alone, ESpark helped 139 start-ups achieve 3.5m turnover, raise 2.5min business funding and create 196 jobs. 

Dr Nick Owen, awarded an MBE for services to business in 2012, is a social entrepreneur and educator with over 25 years experience working with start-ups as director for Aspire Trust, mentor for Liverpool Visions Im Liverpool Im Business Start Up, and guest mentor for ESpark in Scotland. 

Nick said: Spark Up is a game changer for the Liverpool City Region. Never before have entrepreneurs had access to such a hands-on, switched-on programme of support and all completely free of charge.

The beauty of Spark Up, however, is in its collaborative ethos. We dont demand exclusivity from our start-ups; they can work with whomever and whatever organisation they want. All we ask is that they stay committed to their business and keep pace with the accelerator programme. We all want the region to be a thriving hub of business and entrepreneurship and we know that will only happen if the business community works together.

Jim Duffy, founder and chief executive optimist of ESpark, has also thrown his support behind Spark Up. Liverpool City Region is leading the way in fostering a more entrepreneurial society in England. The launch of Spark Up is really exciting what a fantastic opportunity for entrepreneurs in the area. ESpark is delighted for the Spark Up team and look forward to supporting them as they grow.”

One of the first organisations to commit its support to Spark Up was NatWest. Part of the RBS Group, the bank has thrown its full support behind ESpark in Scotland and, having seen first-hand the impact such a programme can have on the market, was keen to back a similar initiative in the North West.

Applications for the March programme are open now. To apply or for further information please contact 

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