A Yorkshire business support programme which has helped thousands of fledgling companies has a new man with a mission at the helm.

Stuart Ross, who has over 30 years’ experience in economic development, but once took a year out to train to be a missionary, is the new manager at AD:VENTURE.

Launched in 2017, AD:VENTURE supports start-up businesses and those under three years old in West Yorkshire and parts of North Yorkshire. It is part-funded by European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) money.

Stuart, who has worked for Leeds Chamber of Commerce, North Yorkshire County Council, Yorkshire Forward and Leeds City Council, said: “AD:VENTURE is a really important engine for the growth of jobs and GDP in the Leeds City Region.

“It is achieving great things and I want it to continue to do that even when the European funding ends in 2023. A key element of my role leading the programme, will be to secure funding to enable continuation of this vital resource for the region’s startups.”

AD:VENTURE has offered hundreds of grants, totaling more than £1.5m. As well as financial support, eligible businesses are offered practical advice, from webinars and workshops to one-to-one mentoring and courses run by subject-matter experts.

Funding and delivery partners for AD:VENTURE are from across the Leeds City Region, and include the nine local authorities, Leeds Beckett University, Leeds Trinity University, the Prince’s Trust and West and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce.

Stuart came to Yorkshire in the 80s to study for a degree in economics and public policy at what is now Leeds Beckett University. He joined Leeds Chamber of Commerce and became their head of policy and research, before joining North Yorkshire County Council rising to head of business support, with particular emphasis on developing sites and premises for companies.

In 2001 he took a year out to train to be a missionary, but returned to business support in 2002, joining the now defunct Yorkshire Forward. There he was responsible for the inward investment programme for South Yorkshire and found himself helping out businesses after the floods of 2007.

Flood damage was to become the focus of Stuart’s work again while he was working at Leeds City Council during the Boxing Day floods of 2015.

“My day job at Leeds City Council was appraising business growth grants, but when the floods happened I was literally walking round Kirkstall, where I lived, and talking to the companies that had been affected to see how we could help them.

“I did so much walking I literally got through a pair of shoes, but I know businesses appreciated us giving out grants to help with the clean- up and to contribute towards flood resilience measures such as flood gates and pumps to remove floodwater.”

Stuart, who is now 59, said he jumped at the chance to take the helm at AD:VENTURE when the opportunity came up.

“I have always worked in economic development, which might sound a bit dull, but it is far from it. You never know what is going to happen; whether it’s floods or foot and mouth or Covid.

“AD:VENTURE is a real partnership and pulls together some brilliant organisations to help fledgling businesses, and I am excited to be part of that growth story, which we hope to carry on for years to come.”