IT HAS already helped dozens of companies and entrepreneurs across Hampshire.

And now the third phase of a Daily Echo-backed funding initiative will provide vital funding to create jobs and allow county firms to grow.

The Solent Local Enterprise Partnership’s (LEP) Bridging the Gap phase three was launched at a special event yesterday.

The £1.85million fund is open to existing small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) and start-ups from across the Solent.

It follows on from the successful first and second phases of the funding competition, which have so far seen almost £4million of funding given out to firms in Hampshire.

Almost 400 new jobs have been created and more than 170 existing jobs safeguarded.

The latest winners in second phase of the scheme, which was launched at the Daily Echo’s offices last year, will be announced later this year.

Gosport MP Caroline Dinenage, who helped to kickstart the initiative in 2010, chaired the launch of phase three at the Portsmouth Marriott Hotel yesterday.

She said: “Having already supported almost 100 local businesses, I hope to see this success continue into the next chapter of the Bridging the Gap scheme.”

Funding bids of up to £75,000 will be welcomed to start new businesses, grow existing SMEs and safeguard jobs.

And firms applying for funding can also get help and advice through the University of Portsmouth, which is offering specialist support to applicants.

The LEP’s senior account manager, Steve Futter, said: “We have been delighted with the success of the scheme so far, but have had to turn down applications from great businesses in areas like Fareham and Eastleigh because they have been outside of the area covered.

“Now that we can offer support across the entire Solent area, I would encourage those businesses that may not have been able to apply previously to look at this unique opportunity for grant funding.

“All businesses can apply to Bridging the Gap, but we are particularly keen to see some strong applications from our key sectors looking to grow businesses into new markets.”

The launch event also heard from Andy Jones, managing director at Gosport-based grocery and convenience business Kev Jones & Sons.

His firm were awarded £45,750 in the first phase of Bridging the Gap to extend the store.

He said: “Our objective was to ensure that our customers could shop locally, without paying high street prices.

“We were granted just over £45,000 which was the full amount we applied for and used this funding to almost double the size of our premises and create and safeguard 12 local jobs."

You can find out more about Bridging the Gap at

How to apply

There are two stages to the application process.

Firstly, you must submit an expressionof interest providing a summary of your bid, although this stage is now voluntary.

Forms can be downloaded at and then emailed to when completed.

The deadline for the first round of expressions of interest is September 19. Further rounds will be announced in due course.

Once the advisory panel has looked at each bid, successful applicants will be invited to submit a full bid.

Forms should be emailed to

There is no fixed closing date for full bids, but as there is only a limited amount of funding early bids are recommended.