By Claire West

The number of new businesses start-ups in the UK has risen for the first time in 18 months with more than 39,000 companies being launched in the last sixth months, a Royal Mail study has revealed.

Royal Mail's business start-up barometer reveals a 13 per cent rise in new companies in the UK, with 4,400 more small businesses being set up between the beginning of March and the end of August 2010 than in the previous six months.

The barometer, which is compiled every six months using Royal Mail's Business Changes File, highlights a stark turn-around in the UK market which, during the previous eighteen months, had seen a steady decline in the number of new businesses being established..

Keith Jones, Head of Data Strategy at Royal Mail, said: "The picture for start-up companies in the UK is optimistic and we should take this as a good sign that throughout the UK there is a lot of opportunity and entrepreneurial spirit despite the difficult economicclimate."

Regionally, the report found that Sunderland, in Tyne and Wear, was the fastest growing city in terms of businesses established in the last six months. The number of start up businesses in Sunderland, as a percentage of all the businesses in the area, topped the list at 1.89 per cent, while Rotherham in South Yorkshire (1.86%) and Stockton-on-Tees in Cleveland (1.76%) followed close behind.

Elsewhere in the country, Swansea was the leading town in Wales with 1.67 per cent of all businesses being start-ups, while in Scotland Aberdeen headed the table with a 1.28 per cent share.

Dragons Den investor and serial entrepreneur Doug Richard, who is the founder of School for Start-ups said: "It comes as no surprise to me that start-ups have begun to increase as, despite difficult market conditions, people are becoming increasingly creative and opportunistic and are taking the chance to create businesses that can help build the economy up from the grass roots.

"We have seen a considerable uptick in entrepreneurial interest at School for Start-ups in the last six months. This is a leading indicator that new businesses will follow."

Councillor Paul Watson, Leader of Sunderland City Council said: "The Royal Mail survey shows that there's a strong entrepreneurial spirit in the city and how commerce and industry regard Sunderland as a good place to do business.

"In these difficult economic circumstances, the City Council and its partners are totally committed to helping people start their own businesses and seeing companies grow.

"Sunderland also continues to attract business with more than 8,000 jobs created in the last seven years, capital investment totalling more than £1.5bn and more inward investment than any other location in the North East."

Saif Chaudry, Founder of Sunderland-based start-up Stereografix, one of the world's first integrated stereoscopic content and hardware consultancies, said: "After conducting extensive research throughout the country into the UK's entrepreneurial hot spots, we decided on Sunderland as the best location to set up Stereografix in March 2010.

It has a world class IT infrastructure, great transport links, excellent EU support and a Council Investment team that offers fantastic support packages to start up and growing businesses. This combined with competitively-priced office space and land means businesses can both start and grow successfully even in the current economic climate.

He added: "We have also been selected to help launch Sunderland City Councils "Economic Master Plan" which will allow us to showcase our products and services to MPs, national body representatives and Blue Chip company executives. As Stereografix expands, we will make use of the emerging software, technology and new media graduates from the regions universities and are talking to several about developing stereoscopic 3D course modules and/or collaborating on stereoscopic research and development projects.

Many businesses still have the misconception that they require a Hollywood budget to join the stereoscopic 3D revolution, however thanks in part to the fantastic support of Sunderland City Council, Stereografix has opened up this technology to the education, gaming and new media sectors through our studio, consultancy and training courses"

The study comes as Royal Mail launches a campaign offering companies a free business solutions pack tailored to their specific needs. Once customers have completed a questionnaire about their businesses, packs are delivered
electronically just 30 minutes later or 5 working days by post. Customers can find out more at www.royalmail.com/freshideas