It will initially provide a £5,000 grant to each of 20 selected small businesses to develop their concept and undertake feasibility studies to solve one of five challenges set by major organisations.

Then the firms will each pitch for a further £45,000 of funding per challenge to make their prototype a reality.

Procter & Gamble, AV Dawson, National Energy Action, North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Trust and St John Ambulance are setting the challenges to solve an issue within the areas of process and manufacturing, digital transformation, social enterprise, healthcare, and wellbeing in the workplace.

A series of sessions will take place led by these organisations on Thursday 17 February and Friday, 18 February to outline their challenges. Spaces are still available on each programme to find out more on the challenge.

The challenge, funded through the government’s Community Renewal Fund, is open to all Tees Valley businesses employing less than 250 people.

Mayor Houchen said: “Right across Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool our small businesses are leading the way in groundbreaking products and systems that are helping to create good-quality, well-paid jobs in the industries of the future.

“We need to do all we can to support them, and this challenge will help spur on even more game-changing innovations.

“The problems posed by our challengers look to tackle a range of issues, including decarbonisation and working towards our net zero ambitions, improving efficiencies in our logistics sector and even mental health – an especially important subject after the difficult past two years.

“This challenge will help our brilliant companies scale-up and grow while driving forward the revolutionary work that some of our key sectors such as digital and process and manufacturing are increasingly becoming known for.”

Simon Green, CEO at Edge Innovation, said: “The Tees Valley Business Challenge provides a huge opportunity for small businesses to showcase their skills and expertise whilst at the same time raising their profile and highlighting the strength and versatility of the supply chain

“This challenge encourages business growth and the development of high-quality jobs that will create a more inclusive economy, one capable of contributing to the net zero agenda and driving economic regeneration across the Tees Valley.

“This initiative will support small businesses to turn their ideas into a viable product or service to solve real-life issues. As a result, local small businesses and social enterprises will be able to access new markets and grow.”

As part of the prize, each of the five finalists will also receive intensive business support and will be invited to take part in a range of development workshops, including intellectual property, sales and marketing and wellness.

The Challenge is being delivered on behalf of Tees Valley Business by a partnership of innovation specialists Edge Innovation, regional network of NHS trusts AHSN, IT industry cluster Dynamo, process cluster NEPIC and VONNE, the regional network for charities and social enterprises.