Durham-based, UMi, has designed a state-of-the art application process that will accelerate grant awards for the not-for-profit, Open North Foundation (ONF).

The innovation follows research commissioned by UMi of over 1000 business participants that revealed in excess of two thirds of SMEs are feeling increasingly more uncertain about the longevity of their business than they were during the pandemic.

The ONF was established in March 2020 to support small businesses in the North East to recover from the ravages of COVID-19, via grants and in-kind support, and now assists those affected by the more recent economic shocks. All monies and in-kind support, comes directly from the business community as donations and, so far, ONF has assisted close to 30 small and start-up businesses.

As part of its contribution to the ONF and the region’s business community, UMi manages the grant application process free of charge.

The ONF’s current application form will shortly be replaced with a link to the UMi system, which will use state-of-the-art software to analyse information before providing a summary to assist the ONF board of directors in making a decision on grant applications.

UMi, founded in 2007 and with a headcount of 115, is the first business services company in the North East to receive B-Crop certification. It assists businesses, both regionally and nationally, to become more resilient via its coaching and designs and manages grant and loan funds for organisations in the public, private and third sector.

Nicki Clark OBE, chief executive officer, UMi and an Open North Foundation ambassador, said: “As highlighted by our recently commissioned survey, many SMEs are more uncertain than ever about the future. Our communities rely on these businesses and so it is the responsibility of all who can, to provide the resources that are available to them to offer support.

“At UMi, we believe businesses have the power to make a difference, so we are passionate about supporting fellow businesses and the people that work within them. It is a worrying statistic that two thirds of SMEs are looking to the future with fear and uncertainty. As such, we are delighted to be working with organisations like ONF to help address these concerns.”

Richard Swart, chair, Open North Foundation, said: “On behalf of the team at Open North Foundation, I would like to offer my sincere thanks to the team at UMi. The new grant application system will reduce our workload dramatically, meaning we can concentrate even more on providing support to the SMEs in the region that need it most.

“The decision as to which businesses receive grants will still be solely in the hands of the board at ONF but it will be immensely helpful and a far quicker process for all involved, including the SMEs applying for grants.

“UMi is a shining example of what can be achieved when a thriving business supports others within its network. Its own dedicated community fund has contributed more than £95,000, since 2019, to local charitable projects that make a real difference.

“It is thanks to the support of businesses, such as UMi, that we are able to continue providing support to SMEs within our region that need to be protected.”