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Evaluation of the High Potential Start Up programme


In 2021, the North East LEP conducted a deep dive evaluation of the North East High Potential Start Up (HPSU) programme, which looked at the design and delivery of the support, uptake and effectiveness of the support, and the broader effects on the ecosystem. The study team assessed its scalability, ‘what worked well’ and ‘what worked less well’ and best  practice learning from benchmark programmes.

Workshops to support business model development

with case study examples of high growth businesses. 

One to one sessions with coaches

from high growth enterprises.

Improving investment readiness

and investor relations. 

Networking opportunities

such as end of programme 'graduation' events. 

Support from a connector

through the North East Growth to provide further support 

Design and delivery of HPSU


The HPSU programme launched in 2019, and was resourced at just over £760,000, made up by public funding (including via the Local Growth Fund) matched to private funding. Delivery of the programme was undertaken by RedKite Innovations. The programme funding was initially allocated to cover three cohorts of 25 businesses, though this was changed following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Type(s) of support offered 

The programme provided prospective business owners expert advice, support, and networking opportunities to empower them to become high growth businesses. Specifically, the programme offered support in testing market ideas, filling knowledge and skills gaps, and finding co-founders. Activities included:

  • Six workshops per cohort running to support development of business models with case study examples of high growth businesses.
  • Six one to one sessions per participant with experienced coaches, from high growth enterprises.
  • Partner matching, to introduce prospective entrepreneurs to mentors and experts.
  • Improving investment readiness and investor relations.
  • Networking opportunities, such as the end of programme ‘graduation’ events.
  • Account management from a dedicated growth hub connector, to provide assistance and ensuring they are fully aware of all support on offer.
  • An opportunity to apply for a small grant

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the programme’s cohorts were re-structured, shifting to five cohorts of 15 businesses, and the workshops were re-scoped into shorter online webinars.

Benchmarking against similar programmes, the HPSU delivery model mirrors what is offered via other UK and international programmes.  Examining comparative provision highlights that there are five key features to a high potential start up (or growth accelerator) programme: i) An open yet competitive application process, ii) Provision of investment or investor relations, iii) Focus on small teams, iv) Time-limited support (such as programmed events and intensive monitoring), and v) Cohorts or classes of start-ups[1]

Support may also include direct funding, business and product advice, formation of connections and networking, validation of ideas, and peer support. Other activities (e.g., access to peers, coaching/personal development) are also found to directly improve start-up outcomes by encouraging behavioural change among founders (e.g., finance strategic planning, developing & recruiting staff).

  1. ^ NESTA (2011). The Startup Factories: The rise of accelerator programmes to support new technology ventures.

Business characteristics

The programme support individuals (founders, co-founders, and directors) with high-potential ideas who needed support in developing these ideas into tangible businesses. The chosen participants were believed to have the potential to generate £1m or more by their third year. Efforts also focused on promoting ‘intrapreneurship’ within existing businesses, supporting employees via entrepreneurial leave to develop new business ideas.

Businesses and founders were identified and recruited via an awareness campaign beginning in of May 2019. Entrants were admitted to the programme in cohorts, the first of which enrolling at the beginning of September 2019, and the rest close to or following the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The programme aimed to reach 150 applications in order to accept the most appropriate 75 (with unsupported applicants being redirected to other support from the North East Growth Hub). The programme received 711 expressions of interest, which converted to 123 applications (17% conversion rate).

In terms of key data headlines from the programme: 



accessed the programme 


received high intensity

business support 

Largely based in Newcastle upon Tyne and Northumberland

compared to other areas within the North East LEP area

Professional, scientific and technical activities

was most common in terms of business operations

Majority registered as private limited companies

with a small number of sole traders

Enabling factors and challenges in delivery

Similar to overarching Growth Hub activities, the importance of evidence-based design and early engagement of communications in design have been important. Consulted stakeholders were positive about the effectiveness of delivery, particularly the rapid adaptation created by the COVID-19 pandemic, with the facilitators shifting from in-person to online delivery, and making structural changes to programme cohorts and ensuring that programme content was available and digestible virtually[1]

The move to online facilitation via shorter webinars addressed perceived participant fatigue among the first cohort. Stakeholders reflected on the increased accessibility resulting from the removal of travel. Half of the consulted businesses were also positive about the increased accessibility, and that the content of the learning sessions were relevant, well-prepared, useful, and engaging.

Consulted stakeholders noted that in addition to requiring changes to the mode(s) of delivery, COVID-19 created difficulty for some participants, who were forced to leave the programme because of the strain of the pandemic either professionally or personally. Consulted businesses tended to report difficulties with absorbing the material delivered virtually, with some suggesting increased interactivity in delivery would have been valuable. Other businesses suggested that one barrier was the time commitment, particularly when attending while also working.

  1. ^ Stakeholders suggested that the move to virtual learning was facilitated efficiently, though some workshops content was de-scoped. The application and assessment process was also re-configured. This also included the removal of a marketing stream that was deemed too far removed from where participants were at the time

Effectiveness of the HPSU

Business benefits and performance

The programme has achieved its target of business creation, and is making progress towards its job target. The programme has resulted in the creation of 58 new businesses[1] (over the target of 50 by December 2021) and 99 new jobs (43% of the target of 230 by March 2025)[2]

The study team examined outcomes and impacts via consultation with stakeholders and participating founders. Some stakeholders offered anecdotal accounts of successful participation cases, whereby businesses had received external funding or participated in successive support schemes. Consulted participants offered examples of business benefits, including tailored business strategies, a website for the businesses, and initial sales. Three of the 13 consulted businesses reported increased insight into their own trajectory, plus increased confidence in pursuing their goals, and access to a support network. Consulted businesses perceived the experience more positively the earlier on they were in their business journey at the time of engagement and a beneficial starting point for new entrepreneurs with an idea to develop. Those with more established businesses were more inclined to question their exact fit on the programme.

A qualitative counterfactual (contribution analysis) was also conducted, testing a selection of hypotheses deemed relevant to the programme. The results are positive in relation to business impacts (employment, upskilled employees, increased turnover, and formation of new businesses). It is important to note that the impacts of the programme are yet to be confirmed, with the horizon for this set as March 2025.

  1. ^ Of which 25 have started trading and a further 33 have incorporated. The press release of the article also note that the new businesses have generated £2.7m of turnover
  2. ^

Effects on business outcomes

Effects on policy and the broader ecosystem

Consulted stakeholders raised concerns around a perceived lack of broader support for high potential start-ups, including under-developed relationships with potential investors. Despite aspirations for greater coherence and collaboration between what providers do exist in this space, there was a sense that some competition exists. Where other similar programmes are found, it was thought that these are competing for participants. One stakeholder reported seeing “a degree of ‘programme-hopping’ among participants”, rather than following a customer journey or structured referrals.

A small number of consulted founders were able to comment on the ecosystem, stating they had used other services or had found the landscape complex and difficult to navigate. This reinforces a general sense of complexity in relation to the business support ecosystem at large. With this in mind, the HPSU programme aimed to address and improve the coherence of the landscape by bringing together programmes and providers.

Our contribution analysis sets out a mixed view of the impact of the programme on the ecosystem. Much of this is arguably related to the small scale of the pilot, which makes any sizeable system-level impacts difficult to realise.

Benchmarks of programme performance

Due to the early stage of this evaluation post-intervention, producing precise benchmarking for the programme is difficult. However, the review of international comparator programmes found that provision is broadly comparable. In addition, evaluations of these compactor programmes offer insight into the types of impacts observed over time. Similar schemes are measured on a fairly expansive set of key performance indicators (KPIs), including: increased turnover, job creation, business formation, business survival, market access (e.g. exports), and external finance secured.

For example, the evaluation of Enterprise Ireland’s High Potential Start Ups scheme[1] found that, between 2006-2010, supported businesses saw an average of a 79% increase in turnover, and an increase in total exports for all businesses of 1,125.1%. Businesses saw increases in employment and firm survival rates. The UK government’s evaluation of accelerator programmes from 2019 also highlights similar outcomes[2].Participation in accelerator or incubator programmes was found to be positively associated with start-up survival, employee growth and raising funds. The majority of consulted start-ups that had participated in incubators or accelerator programmes considered their participation to be significant or even vital to their success.

  1. ^ Evaluation of Enterprise Supports for Start-Ups an Entrepreneurship. (2012) Forfás.
  2. ^ The Impact of Business Accelerators and Incubators in the UK. (2019) BEIS Research Paper Number 2019/009