One of the first graduates from a cutting-edge new Masters programme in Digital Marketing at Northumbria University is putting his talent for enterprise into action.

Digital Marketing graduate Sam Spiers, 27, joined the Weekend Box team on a 12 month internship in October 2017, after owner and entrepreneur Andy Stephenson contacted the Northumbria Enterprise and Business Support (NEBS) project to find the perfect candidate.

Andy Stephenson founded Weekend Box in 2013. The company specialises in the design and delivery of creatively themed activity boxes for 3 to 8 year-olds, containing a magical mix of things to make and do that children love.

Based in Newcastle, the company’s philosophy is to be ethical, practical and green, using 95% recycled materials. It won Start-Up of the Year in the 2014 Start-Up Loans Awards and has delivered over 1 million hours of quality time to families across the UK this year alone.

The NEBS project focuses on bringing graduates and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) together to promote entrepreneurship and strengthen the capacity of SMEs to innovate and grow through access to emerging talent.

Set up with support from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the scheme contributes £3,825 towards intern salary costs, and guarantees a minimum starting salary of £17,000 pro-rata for the graduates.

As the company’s new marketing whizz, Sam is now responsible for developing its online strategy, raising awareness of the Weekend Box brand, the philosophy behind it, developing digital marketing campaigns, website optimisation, market research and exploring new methods of customer engagement.

Owner Andy Stephenson, explains: “The NEBS project at Northumbria has been a fantastic resource for us as a growing business. We’re a small team so it’s vital that we find the right skills, talent and personality to fit the needs and culture of the business.

“Northumbria takes a very proactive approach encouraging students to advance their skills and NEBS simplifies the search process, providing access to bright, enterprising and ambitious people like Sam, with demonstrable business experience and the vital softer-skills essential to operating in the business-world.

“Sam is already having an impact on the business, bringing strategy, creativity and a practical approach to the role. We have grown rapidly and being able to recruit Sam, a high-quality graduate, as an intern is extremely valuable to us at this stage of our development. The support means we have an exceptionally capable graduate with excellent sector knowledge and many transferable skills relevant to our business.

“The benefit of recruiting this way accelerates the training and development process, which is essential for small businesses. The funding removes much of the financial burden of recruitment. It offers a more sustainable way to grow the team whilst helping to establish a secure, longer-term future for the graduate.”

The graduate strand of the Northumbria Enterprise and Business Support project aims to help 130 SMEs in Tyne and Wear and Northumberland find their next generation of graduate talent.

Graduate intern Sam Spiers, 27, said: “Studying the Digital Marketing MSc at Northumbria has changed my life. Originally I studied International Business Management as an undergraduate and spent several years working in the leisure and hospitality industry. When my daughter came along it was time to refocus my career. I decided to go back to Northumbria to develop my skills and focus on the elements I enjoyed most in my previous roles, which were marketing and business development.

“I’ve gained so much in terms of practical skills through project-based learning, using different software and working with external practitioners in a variety of technical workshops.

“Joining the team at Weekend Box has been a dream come true. It’s amazing to put what I’ve learned into practice and a fantastic environment to work in. I have the opportunity to keep developing and the trust Andy has shown in my ideas is a great confidence boost.”

Victor Ottaway, Graduate Internship Manager at Northumbria, said: “The NEBS project truly demonstrates the collaborative role universities can play in promoting business and economic growth.

“Our graduate interns bring energy, drive and innovative thinking to the business. It’s a win-win for the SMEs and can provide fantastic career prospects for our graduates.

“More than 70% of SMEs who had placements in our previous scheme reported an increase in turnover as a result of employing a graduate. Perhaps even more encouraging, three-quarters of the graduates were offered full-time positions at the end of their internship. At Northumbria we work to change the lives of our students, producing the high-skilled graduates employers need which is essential for the growth of our economy.”

The NEBS project is delivered through Northumbria University’s Careers Service and is eligible to graduates from all subject areas. For more information, please visit:www.northumbria.ac.uk/NEBS.

Northumbria University was shortlisted for University of the Year in the Times Higher Education (THE) Awards 2017. Newcastle Business School at Northumbria was recognised as Business School of the Year in 2015 and is also the first North East Business School to win the Small Business Charter for services to SMEs.