Firms share a funding bonanza

Stuart Hill who is the Director of Solent LEP speaks to (left), Ken Moon of Wessex Federation of Small Businesses and the MP for Gosport Caroline Dinenage at the launch of the, Bridging the Gap fund at Lakeside North Harbour.'Pictures: Ian Hargreaves  (122044-3)
Stuart Hill who is the Director of Solent LEP speaks to (left), Ken Moon of Wessex Federation of Small Businesses and the MP for Gosport Caroline Dinenage at the launch of the, Bridging the Gap fund at Lakeside North Harbour.'Pictures: Ian Hargreaves (122044-3)
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BUSINESSES have been given a shot in the arm of almost half a million pounds, thanks to a new fund.

Four firms in the Portsmouth, Havant and Gosport areas have been awarded a share of a £158,750 grant, handed out by the Solent Local Enterprise Partnership.

But the grant also unlocked £316,000 in private financing, meaning the four firms have shared in a total of £474,750.

The money has come from the government’s Regional Growth Fund, which is a £2.4bn fund designed specifically for businesses and projects which will create jobs and help the economy grow.

The Solent LEP was given a £2.1m slice of the RGF fund, which it is now handing out to firms under the banner of Bridging the Gap.

The four firms which have received the money are: Kevin Jones and Son, a family-run convenience store in Gosport; Tofu Cute, an online retailer of Japanese confectionary and gifts based in Portsmouth; MDI Networks, a Havant firm which provides business-to-business IT systems; and UK Biofuels, which will be set up by Jonathan Hulls and which looks to help firms and the public reduce their carbon footprint.

Richard Jones, of the Solent LEP, said: ‘This follows the initial award of £100,000 to Elite Care and Cobra Precision Engineering bringing total confirmed funding awards announced to £258,750.

‘We have also allocated further funding, around £772,000, to applicants that are currently finalising funding agreements or working up full applications. This leaves us with about £800,000 remaining for applicants if there are still either businesses or new start-ups looking to apply.’

The next deadline for businesses to apply for the remaining funding, Mr Jones said, is June 21.

The criteria for entry is that the business should be based in either Portsmouth, Havant or Gosport, as these are the three areas hit most by cuts to private sector funding.

They must also either be looking for funding to start up, or to grow significantly. Job creation is also a must.

To find out more about applying for the fund, see

Tofu Cute

A love for Japanese culture has been with Rosanna Mackney since she was young, so when its influences began to be felt in the UK, she saw an opportunity to mesh her passion with business.

She founded Tofu Cute online just over a year ago.

It is already the UK’s largest stockist of Japanese sweets and snacks, and Rosanna, 26, and her partner Rob Fulton are developing a fashion range.

Her decision was the right one – thanks to the surge in popularity for Japanese culture, Tofu Cute has taken off.

So much so that Rosanna and Rob are having to move into bigger premises and take on new staff to cope.

She said: ‘I don’t just sell online, we also sell at various events and exhibitions around the country as well, doing at least one a month.

‘I’ve run businesses before in online retailing, and I saw the rise in popularity of Japanese culture and that was the launch.

‘We knew we needed to purchase a commercial unit so my partner Rob looked into ways we could go about it, and found Bridging the Gap.

‘We’re expanding, and we need more staff to cope with the demand.

‘It’s too much just for the two of us.

‘We’re hoping to be in our new premises within two or three months.’

The pair are also hoping to employ three full-time equivalent members of staff after they have moved.

MDI Networks

Accelerating growth is the focus of MDI Networks, a Havant-based IT firm which helps businesses get and stay connected.

It was set up in 2002 by its current directors, Andy Tsoi and Steve Voller, after they spotted a gap in the market to help other SME firms in the area.

But 11 years on and the pair want to expand, and invest in customer management systems, training for their staff and quality management systems to ensure their business keeps going smoothly and healthily.

Andy said: ‘The company is also looking to relocate to larger offices. These items will require a substantial investment and the Solent LEP funding will contribute towards this.’

The firm aims to create four jobs over the course of the next year in order to ensure their customers’ needs are being met.

Jonathan Hulls

A man with a vision, Jonathan Hulls has one desire – to see our region’s diesel engines running on used vegetable oil – so-called biofuel.

To do that he wants to open a production plant and get his firm, UK Biofuels, off the ground at Trafalgar Wharf in Portchester.

The grant he has been given will help pay for equipment, and a delivery vehicle, among other things.

He said: ‘We’re about to start-up now. We just need the money to arrive as we’ve sourced the equipment we need and found a supplier for the used vegetable oil.

‘We’re going to be targeting about 70 per cent of our business to haulage companies, the local council, and other organisations, and about 30 per cent to the general public.

‘The great thing about biofuel is it works in any diesel car manufactured after 1994 and the only issue is that after a couple of tanks of fuel have gone through you have to clean your fuel filter out because actually the biofuel cleans the engine.

‘You only have to do that once, though, and it’s an easy job. Without this grant we’d only have been able to launch in a very small way, or we wouldn’t have been able to launch at all.

‘It also allows us to employ people straight away, and we’re going to be employing three people in the first year and two more in the second.’

Kevin Jones and Sons

This firm runs two convenience stores in Gosport, and was started by Kevin 35 years ago.

One, in Nobes Avenue, needs an extension having expanded three-fold since it was bought by Kevin’s son Andrew in 2007.

The firm prides itself on the fact it’s a family-run business, with roots deeply entrenched in the community.

Andrew, 35, said: ‘I saw a piece in The News about one of the firms that had won a previous round of funding, and thought it was something that could benefit us. We set about writing a report, which turned into a dissertation in the end, and we got through the first stage. We added some detail and got through the second and third stages to be told we’d got the funding.’

The shop started out in one unit in Nobes Avenue, but then took over two, smaller, neighbouring units. The extension will make the second and third units the same length as the first, to give a much larger shop. What we want to do is expand the shop in order to give our customers more of a range so that they don’t have to travel so far to get their shopping,’ said Andrew.

‘We’re going to employ three members of staff when we open the site, which we’re hoping will be mid to end of June this year, and a fourth after the first year.’