BRITISH Business Bank’s Start Up Loans programme has lent £500m to UK small businesses since it was set up in 2012 – with almost £29m going to the North East, according to official figures.

Of the 63,920 loans issued to fund small business across the UK, 3,701 went to aspiring business owners in the North-East worth £28.5m, with the average loan amounting to £7,711.

Of those who received a loan, more than a third were women (37.8 per cent), and over a quarter (27.8 per cent) were unemployed when they applied for the loan, reflecting the diversity of the UK start up community.

The Start Up Loans programme, part of the British Business Bank, has lent money and provided mentoring support to aspiring business owners in every part of the country and its impact has been particularly noticeable in areas of deprivation.

A Start Up Loans Heatmap, which went live yesterday, shows the regional breakdown of the £500m.

It found that the North-West region was given the highest number of loans outside of London, receiving 7,841 loans worth £60m. The South-East follows with 5,680 loans worth £48m followed by Yorkshire and The Humber with 5,377 loans worth £44m.

Case Study: Weekend Box Club, Newcastle Upon Tyne

North-East business owners supported by Start Up Loans have used the funding to set up businesses in a wide range of sectors. They include Andy Stephenson, from Newcastle Upon Tyne, the founder of Weekend Box Club. Fed up with his job as a software engineer but determined to remain in the technology sector, Andy saw a business opportunity when he struggled to find fun toys for his niece and nephew. Andy harnessed this gap in the market to create his own business dedicated to teaching children arts and crafts in a new and creative way.

He came up with the Weekend Box Club, a fortnightly children’s activity box delivered through the letter box. The boxes are designed to develop and test children’s skills, help express their creativity and boost their self-esteem. Launched six years ago, the business now has a turnover of £500,000 and Andy is looking to expand overseas.

Case Study: Seaweed & Co., Whitley Bay

Another successful North East business owner is Craig Rose from Whitley Bay, the founder of Seaweed & Co.

As a marine biologist, Craig had always been fascinated by the sea and wanted to create a business that was environmentally, commercially and socially sustainable. Noticing that people were becoming increasingly conscious about the environment and where their food came from, he decided to promote the nutritional benefits of seaweed to manufacturers, brands and consumers.

Using a £25,000 Start Up Loan, Craig invested in the necessary technology to process the seaweed and upscale production. The business’s own range of seaweed products, which are sold under the brand Doctor Seaweed’s Weed & Wonderful, will launch in Sainsbury’s this summer.

Craig Rose, Founder of Seaweed & Co., said: “Seaweed & Co. is going from strength to strength and, as a marine biologist, I am thrilled that the nutritional benefits of seaweed are becoming increasingly understood and applied through our range of products.

“Starting a business is not easy. There are many highs but also various challenges. Start Up Loans supported us every step of the way and we really wouldn’t be where we are today without their help and expertise.”

Patrick Magee, Chief Commercial Officer of the British Business Bank, said: “We’re absolutely delighted that we have supported so many fantastic small business owners from up and down the country.

“The hard work and determination of the UK’s 5.7 million small businesses make a huge contribution to society, and it’s great to see latest research showing that the economic benefits of the Start Up Loans programme are nearly six times its economic costs.

“We’re committed to helping small businesses prosper and grow and we look forward to supporting many more in the future.”

Kelly Tolhurst, Small Business Minister, said: “This half a billion pound funding milestone is a great cause for celebration and a clear demonstration of our modern Industrial Strategy in action – supporting people to start and grow a business, creating good jobs and increasing the earning power of people throughout the UK.

“Small businesses are the backbone of our economy and I’m particularly pleased to see that so many women and entrepreneurs from black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds have benefited from this government-backed scheme.

“This record funding is backing the UK’s entrepreneurial spirit and enabling people across the country to follow their passions and start and grow a business.”