Birmingham’s Science Park without walls


The essence of the burgeoning Innovation Birmingham Campus consists in the physical and virtual proximity which it offers – co-working in new dimensions, providing opportunities for co-learning and collaboration.

Innovation Birmingham Campus’s Faraday Wharf comprises three floors of office suites for 2- 40 people – 72 units, which house 118 companies. Three of these units make up the Entrepreneurs of the Future Centre, which consists of a large co-working space and a number of smaller office suites. These house about 50 small businesses, half of which are technology-based and about half are in the Low Carbon Accelerator (which has some funding from ERDF sources). Café Resource is located in the heart of the building and leads out to its own outdoor balcony for alfresco dining or meetings. Meeting rooms and conference rooms including video conferencing are also available.

For early-stage businesses, the ‘e4f.Incubator’ helps innovative technology start-ups to launch, develop and grow their businesses in the West Midlands. It offers a 9-month incubation package ‘worth over £10K’ where companies based in e4f gain access to free events (visiting expert sessions from the professional services sector and other entrepreneurs) such as presentations (eg on tax, intellectual property and Human Resources) – over a hundred a year; and access to professional advice and to entrepreneurs-in-residence – three serial entrepreneurs and technical specialists offering help in such areas as sales, marketing, finance, and IT and other technologies.

By working with a small number of well connected people with a relevant set of skills (who bring in their contacts to address issues they themselves cannot address), these entrepreneurs-in-residence are highly engaged and known to all the companies, and are trusted because they are there regularly and are a constant. They prove their worth to the entrepreneurs by their own knowledge and their address book – in effect the best of both worlds. They are contracted for one day a week of their time, and funded by ERDF money. (They replace the hundred or so mentors who used to be associated with the campus, but did not offer adequate follow up). Each of the incubatees in the e4f Incubator has a mentor for the 9-month period. (1)(2).

Recently the e4f ‘Inspire Programme’ has been added, which brings together around 12 startups and early stage entrepreneurs into workshops and self-help groups, with speakers on key subjects, dinners with experienced entrepreneurs and high profile keynote speakers in an open forum for up to 120 people to attend.

Cisco’s National Virtual Incubator enables international investors to see, discuss, and evaluate new companies with serious growth potential in multiple markets. Cisco’s video conferencing equipment and technical expertise also facilitates contact with supporters – mentors and experts – from other parts of the UK and elsewhere.

The first phase of the Development Zone next door will be the £7.5m iCentrumTM building (one of three to five buildings planned for the site), which will encompass 38,000 sq ft of open work space promoting mobile working, some of which will be zoned, a new incubator offering, self-contained offices, tech demonstration and event facilities and a café. Efforts are also being made to set up a Tech Shop as it exists in 7 US cities, where prototyping facilities are available on the basis of a small monthly subscription.

Campus Membership is Birmingham’s co-working hot-desking space and community – for technology businesses and start-ups whose businesses require a less structured programme or are unable to commit to an office on campus (currently 40). This enables businesses to be a part of the community and take advantage of the Campus’s offerings while still having the necessary freedom to build their own business.

There is a bigger angel network than ever and some half-dozen local VCs are regular visitors and get ‘good early exposure’ to the businesses on the site; and crowdfunding is becoming more popular. Innovation Birmingham is also a founder of the International Investment Forum, an international initiative which is seeking to make it possible to showcase startup businesses based at the Campus to angel investors located throughout the world.

A team of eight senior managers oversee the work of the campus, which is currently completely full, and the managers are keen to encourage occupants to move on in order to release space for new entrants.

See also
(1) ‘Getting advice in early-stage ventures’ describes the different sources of support and advice that entrepreneurs find valuable – in Accelerators.
(2) ‘I am a fly-on-the-wall at an Accelerator’s Mentor Day’ includes descriptions of different roles that Mentors play.

John Whatmore
November 2014


What holds back our vital hi-growth small businesses?


A Report from Octopus Venture Capital high-lights their value, explores their drivers and makes recommendations for their growth

Just 30,000 out of the 7 million businesses in the UK are high growth small businesses*. Yet this tiny universe of companies created two out of every three new jobs (68%) between 2012 and 2013, and 36% of UK economic growth last year; and is growing fast. And more than one third of these small businesses are located in London and the South East.

What will be of greatest interest to the managers of small businesses and to their advisers and directors are the factors that they should be concentrating on – for future growth, of great relevance to Incubators, Science Parks and Innovation and cluster initiatives.

The report explored the factors that had influenced their growth. Of those that were within their own control, the leading five factors identified were:
Better customer services
Having local knowledge
Better marketing
Innovation of new products
Upgrading technology
Interestingly, when asked what is holding them back, none of the above factors are mentioned – nor any others in the list of factors that have influenced their growth! They mention instead external factors, particularly taxes, and skills shortages.

Regional and local business organisations should help enable emerging hi-growth small businesses to learn from one another’s experience – for which this Report should be a valuable catalyst.

* Defined as having an annual turnover of £1-20mn and with average annual growth greater than 20% over a 3 year period.

Accelerator, TV Show and Science Lab all in one!


Accelerator, TV Show and Science Lab all in one!
(And that’s a lot more than Dragons’ Den)
Stars of Science selects and then brings together a dozen entrepreneurs with exciting scientific ideas; puts them through a development programme whose milestones are filmed each week for a TV Show (as are regular snippets); with candidates being eliminated until the winner and three others share $600k in the final programme.
Stars of Science has raised interest in science and scientists through a unique mix of science and entertainment that keeps millions of viewers tuned.
To date, over 28,000 online applications have been received; and some 500 experts in various fields of science and technology, design and business have mentored and judged the contestants – among them academics from prestigious higher education institutions – as they moved through a series of competitive challenges along the stages of product development.
“Starts of Science searches for…the most promising innovators and connects them with world-class experts in order to bring their ideas to life”; and so far they have filed 62 patents. “The programme is stimulating a passion for science and technology among …youth and is contributing to educational attainment and economic development…”
“The success of the Show (now in its sixth season) comes from the novel way it merges science and fun” said the winner of Season 2. “No other programme incubates scientific projects like that. It has created a new awareness of science.”
Backed by Qatar Foundation, Stars of Science broadcasts on the MBC 4 channel and has ever-increasing audiences across the Middle East.

International New York Times, 5 November, 2014

An Innovationary – every town should have one


Bathtub 2: a compact co-working condominium in the heart of the City
with intriguing laterals: a FabLab below, a change-your-life lab above, and an arts incubator-to-be across the road. If ever there was a co-working space whose different components were mutually self-supportive, this is it!

The Bathtub is a co-working space for early stage startups in ‘Everyman Businesses’ with an emphasis on job creation – in fields including ‘doing’ and ‘making’ and not just IT. The second of its kind, it has 130 desk spaces on the first two floors of 1 Frederick’s Place (EC2), with some desks butted up to accommodate teams of up to six people. The majority are for allocated to permanent users and the balance for hot-desk users. There are also some small meeting rooms and board rooms.

The ground floor is occupied by Bathtub 2 Boardroom’s partners FabLab London, one of a growing number of mini prototyping laboratories worldwide, a concept born in MIT. Its founders have furnished their space with a materials lab and the latest equipment such as a laser cutter and 3D printers and have given space over to The RSA’s “Great Recover Programme”, which focuses on design innovation that encompasses environmental concerns. Besides being useful to the likes of the Bathtub’s online retailer of bespoke wedding rings, who use it to send clients 3D rings to try on, it is looking to offer residences for other maker start-ups in small studios within the Lab.

On the third floor is The Escape School, an enterprise from Escape The City that aims to help people with “the life, career and start-up education you never had at school”. Located in the heart of the Square Mile, it is well placed just now to find customers, as it is to provide candidates for startups on the floors below.

Over the road, there will be a collection of small charities working in the performing arts, an incubator in another field – with eminent trustees.

Bathtub 2 has a big kitchen, which makes for chance meetings and chance conversations. Events are run regularly (in addition to those being run upstairs and downstairs); there are over a dozen mentors with whom you can make contact; and Scrub Club sessions provide opportunities for peer-to-peer problem-solving.

Bathtub 2 is the work of entrepreneur Paddy Willis, whose mantra might be: co-location, co-adventure, and co-inclusiveness! The accommodation is provided on a peppercorn rent from the Mercers’ Livery Company and is Grade II listed, though the area is due for redevelopment. It was refurbished with help from a £150k loan from Trust For London. It now employs five staff, the latest of whom – the new manager – last ran a noisy roof-top bar in Dalston – an ideal background for Paddy’s biggest challenge, that of getting people to spark off one another. After 8 months the charity is now profitable and busily looking for a new marketing manager, whilst Paddy is looking to replicate this wonderfully eclectic conglomerate in other suitable locations away from London.