NatWest to launch eight regional support hubs
Birmingham is to be the first of eight cities to roll out a new business accelerator hub from NatWest.
It will offer free workspace, hands-on mentoring, a start-up bootcamp and a programme of up to 18-months of advice, support and funding clinics.
Entrepreneurs will gain access to hubs in Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Leeds, Manchester, Belfast and two as yet unnamed locations, uniting them with fellow self-starters, specially trained bank staff and experienced business mentors. They will also have the opportunity to go on to pitch to potential investors.
Growth awards of up to £50,000 will also be launched across the country offering cash injections to businesses when they need it most.
The hubs will be rolled out over the next two years, beginning with Birmingham early in 2015.
NatWest will look to situate hubs in existing banks premises where possible. Building on the Entrepreneurial Spark model which is already in operation in Scotland, applicants will be welcomed from any sector and do not need to be NatWest or RBS customers.
Applications are being accepted now for the Birmingham programme, and entrepreneurs in other cities can also register their interest online.
Alison Rose, chief executive of commercial and private banking, said: "This is a step-change in how NatWest supports entrepreneurial talent in the UK.
"By opening up our premises and providing them with support and a far reaching network of contacts, we are backing the businesses of tomorrow and helping ambitious entrepreneurs take their businesses to the next level.
"This is good for them, good for us and ultimately good for the UK economy."
The hubs will be physical work spaces for up to 80 entrepreneurs selected to join the programme through a competitive application process, with each hub hosting two intakes every year.
At the end of the programme each hub will host a graduation event bringing together entrepreneurs, investors and business advisers for mentoring and networking sessions.
These events will also include rewards for outstanding businesses and the opportunity to pitch to win cash injections for the business.