Tees Valley talented tech start-ups launch mid-pandemic

Tees Valley tech start-ups have launched innovative services and products in the midst of the global pandemic with support from the Teesside University-led initiative, DigitalCity.

Over the last 12 months, DigitalCity has helped 21 early-stage tech companies to pivot their services and fast-track their business through its online Accelerator Programme. From e-learning platforms to digital interior design services, meet the founders of five start-ups that have rapidly responded to the changing needs of individuals and companies through the launch of their own ventures.

Andrew Stogdale | Managing Director | Spark Tees Valley

With over 20 years’ experience in education, Andrew Stogdale wanted to make a difference to schools in the region by increasing knowledge on the world of work. As a result, he set up Spark Tees Valley in October 2019 with an initial short term plan to support teachers and schools with digital integration, effective use of technology and developing cultural capital through events and an online subscription service.  

Knowing that he needed to adopt a more strategic view of how the business could operate in the short, medium and long term, Andrew joined the Accelerator Programme. One week in, the pandemic hit meaning his initial business plans were somewhat interrupted, however it was at that point an urgent need for e-learning materials emerged while in-class teaching was suspended.

Combining his existing skillset and network with the business elements that he was learning on the programme, the Ed-tech entrepreneur efficiently pivoted his services to provide online educational support to families and children through interactive video content and unique cross-curricular activity. The SME has gone on to provide online resources for other local companies including everything from escape rooms to museums.

W: sparkteesvalley.com/

Emma Ozpinar | Director | United Food Academy

After witnessing first-hand how challenging it can be to climb the business ladder during her role as a business development manager in the food and drink industry, Emma’s ambitious approach to life compelled her to do something about it. With that, United Food Academy was born – an e-learning platform that provides equal training opportunities for food handlers, both in the UK and internationally.

In just one year, the business had developed bilingual training courses, received endorsements from Open Awards and welcomed three new employees. However, it was at that point Emma felt the business came to a sudden halt.

To reach a wider audience and optimise the platform for large groups of remote learners, Emma joined the Accelerator Programme to seek help from experts in the digital industry. From this, the SME has taken a full 360 and now has a clearly defined growth plan to make UFA the most effective and accessible product on the market.

W: unitedfoodacademy.co.uk/

Lauren Ridley | Creative Director | Studio Alma

From graduating with a BA Hons Interior Design at Teesside University to returning as an Interior lecturer, Lauren has gone full circle and used her wealth of knowledge and expertise to set up Studio Alma. The business has operated digitally from the get-go, working with software on a daily basis to design, detail and make ideas a reality for clients.

However, the rapid shift to homeworking influenced the existing service menu as the SME set out to create a solution for those that do not have functional space within their homes to both work and live. From that came the launch of the virtual design package ‘At Home with Studio Alma’.

With a passion to make a difference in people’s home and businesses, Creative Director, Lauren joined the DigitalCity Accelerator Programme during lockdown 2.0. having the opportunity to take a step back from the day-to-day operating of Studio Alma, Lauren was able to evaluate where the business was heading, explore growth opportunities and become a more confident businesswoman during the unprecedented climate.

W: www.studioalma.co.uk/

Marie Ranson & Melissa Armstrong | Co-founders | Key Wellbeing

With a passion to help employees to become healthier, happier and more productive at work, Marie Ranson and Melissa Armstrong paired up their extensive range of expertise to create the workplace wellbeing consultancy and training organisation, Key Wellbeing.

Intentions to serve businesses both in-house and digitally, rapidly changed when the pandemic hit. Forced to reimagine their business model, the duo adopted a complete digital approach and initially made their online resources on physical and mental wellbeing free for organisations to share with employees.

Eager to do more to help the workforce through these unprecedented times, the business joined the Accelerator Programme at a pivotal moment. It helped to refine their vision and build an entirely new membership platform – The Key Wellbeing Hub. Described as an on-demand, ‘Netflix’ style suite of video, audio and visual tools, the hub covers the key elements of workforce wellbeing, all of which are designed to improve employee’s mental health in the remote world, office and on the road.

W: www.keywellbeing.co.uk/

Matthew Protheroe-Hill & Gareth Kerr | Sencode

After spending time in the industry, Sencode realised that the same problems occur for many cyber security consultancy companies. From long-winded, costly Penetration Tests to out-dated awareness courses, the innovative SME wanted to provide a service that adhered to the industries rapid changes. Something that makes companies secure as well as compliant.

Knowing that having a large digital footprint is the key to business success in the current growing marketplace, Sencode used the expertise of DigitalCity to fine-tune their digital strategy before launching in the midst of the pandemic.

Despite the challenges that came from launching at this time, Sencode have received a warm welcome from the local business community and are determined to help companies to adapt quickly, ensuring they are compliant to new regulations and working securely in the new remote world.

W: sencode.co.uk/


If you’re a budding entrepreneur with a digital business or tech idea in mind, we’re on the lookout for more early-stage SME’s to join the next Accelerator Programme starting 24 February 2021. Apply before the deadline, Monday 1 February here.