MORE than 20 local businesses have been given professional development support worth £175,000 from York St John University, thanks to a regional funding initiative.

The Yorkshire Innovation Fund programme is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund and is designed to support Yorkshire and Humber Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs) to work with local universities to help develop ideas, grow their businesses and create new employment opportunities.

York St John is one of 10 universities signed up to the programme, and has supported a number of local ventures.

Hannah West, co-director of the Arts Barge project, which provides commercial, community and therapeutic arts, accessed the Yorkshire Innovation Fund after approaching York St John to find creative partners for events.

She says that the university’s mentors have been instrumental in shaping the future of the business.

Ms West said: "York St John business school has helped us to hone our business plan, and really force us to think about what we offer to the city and how this translates financially.

"This process has allowed us to become ‘pitch ready’ and confidently approach other potential sources of revenue in order to make sure that this project stays at the heart of the city."

Patrick Holtby is the founder of Affinity Development, which offers drama-based learning to businesses. He approached York St John to access the Yorkshire Innovation Fund after attending a presentation at the university during York Business Week in 2013.

Through the funding, he was able to work directly with Dr Mike O'Dea, a senior lecturer in computer science, to develop an interactive training tool which will be launched at the beginning of July.

Mr Holtby said: "This innovative and dynamic product will enable us to deliver creative and interactive learning online. The Yorkshire Innovation Fund provided for the research and expertise within the university, which allowed us to design the new programme, and a further research and development grant has ensured that it can be built."

York-based charity Family Fund is the UK’s largest providers of grants to low-income families raising disabled and seriously ill children and young people.

The organisation's director of Business Development Andy Simpson, identified that the university was the clear choice of partner to help take the charity’s strategy forward.

He said: "We wanted to work with a local partner, and York St John has already established a great reputation in the city.

"We discussed with them the business issues that we wanted to tackle, and they were very quick to point us in the right direction of the Yorkshire Innovation Fund. They helped us with the application process and crafting a business model to take forward."

Through the Yorkshire Innovation Fund, the charity was able to pilot two new ways of carrying out assessment visits effectively.