A high-profile social enterprise which helps former armed forces personnel set up in business is expanding its operations for the first time outside London – by opening a base in Newcastle.
X-Forces has targeted the North East to meet what it says is high demand from veterans seeking support to launch their entrepreneurial ambitions – and it has major cash support to turn those dreams into reality.
It has established a hub within the £6.5m state-of-the-art Beacon business centre in Westgate Road, and has already held its first expert workshop for forces-leavers, veterans, reservists and their spouses.
The day-long workshop, provided advice on how to take those all-important first steps into entrepreneurship. The free support session, attended by 14 veterans, was designed to offer a fast-track to business success via bespoke mentoring, planning and financial assistance.
Nationally, the organisation – launched last year by Lord Young and backed by partners including Barclays, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and CISCO – is the UK’s only provider of complete business support for the military community.
Its North East venture has already won support from Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the Conservative 2015 General Election candidate for Berwick, Byker Community Trust, and Armed Forces & Veterans Estates.
Ren Kapur, X-Forces founder and chief executive, said she hopes to repeat the success of the London hub, where uptake has been “rapid”, with more than £1m in start-up loans issued to 80 businesses and a dozen new registrations a day.
She added: “The North East was a natural choice for our first regional presence, given the strong number of former and serving armed forces personnel.
“We have received fantastic backing from Anne-Marie Treveylan, the Armed Forces & Veterans Estates, as well as Byker Community Trust. We are looking forward to extending our reach to prospective business-owners from our new hub at The Beacon over the coming months.”
The Beacon is the first in a number of planned regional bases as part of the long-term strategy of X-Forces to allow for greater one-to-one contact with clients and collaboration with associate services.
A wide range of companies now operate from the flagship Westgate Road centre, benefiting from workshops to pay-as-you-go portals.
Funded and managed by two charities, Centre West and Groundwork South Tyneside and Newcastle (STAN), it has been open almost two years and boasts a 95% occupancy rate. Andrew Watts, Executive Director of ‘changing places, changing lives’ charity Groundwork South Tyneside and Newcastle, believes it is the venue’s unusual blend of community and business which makes it the perfect base for X-Forces.
“I am looking forward to X-Forces making a very positive impact on former military personnel living in the North East with the support of our cutting-edge business centre.”
Ammar Mirza, chairman and founder of Newcastle-based Asian Business Connexions (ABC), which worked to bring X-Forces to the North East, said: “I was keen that this service started in the region and especially from The Beacon, as it is an incredible place to do business with great facilities.
“I was particularly impressed with the incredible passion, commitment and expertise that the X-Forces team have in place to support new businesses and feel that The Beacon is the ideal place in delivering these activities.
“ABC is also proud of being located in, and working with, The Beacon to connect, support and promote the whole community, and it will continue to help foster positive relationships.”
Information on The Beacon is at www.thebeaconnewcastle.co.uk.