The Central Research Laboratory (CRL), the first and leading hardware product focused accelerator in the UK, revealed plans at its Demo Day on 26 November to create five Innovation Hubs over the next five years, under a new brand ‘Plus X’ and with an enhanced offer, with the first opening in Brighton in January.
Claiming to be ‘an amazing group of entrepreneurs, makers, inventors and technologists who love to share what they know and with the best open-access prototyping workshops in London’, CRL’s Accelerator programme works with early stage startups (50 to date) to take them from early prototype towards manufacture and commercial success, and has had some notable successes (Aceleron, Mimica Lab and Cosi Care.)
CRL’s goal is to ensure that high-productivity and high-growth-potential businesses are attracted to locations where such things are too rare, increasing economic activity and productivity – often as a result of reducing the brain drain of graduates that move to a location to study and then leave (eg for London).
Research has estimated that such a hub – with the intensive support that it provides, gives a return on investment of over 5 to 1; will generate ten times more value than a standard co-working space, and many times more social value than a conventional office block.
The CRL Accelerator is a fully funded programme, part funded by European Regional Development Fund, with support from HEFCE, Brunel University and property developer U+I, offering support in manufacturing, marketing and investment for companies that are taking hardware products to market and looking to scale.
At its well-equipped labs at Hayes, its programme includes group workshops and one-to-one mentoring sessions. Among its facilitators are entrepreneurs and founders of hardware companies that have traded on a global scale and secured significant investment, consultants experienced in navigating manufacturing eco-systems in Asia and beyond, as well as investors and investment experts.
The programme offers customer discovery, product development, engineering support, investment readiness, a £5,000 grant (and looks to take 3% in equity), mentorship, 24/7 prototyping facilities, and a trip to China. (CRL is now accepting applications for its six month, hands-on, hardware accelerator programme starting in January 2020.)
Over the 4 years that the CRL Accelerator has been active it has expanded to offer follow-on incubator space and this has allowed a specialist community of product-based businesses to become established. It now aims to exploit this success, by working with U+I to build and operate innovation hubs in regional cities across the UK – under the name of Plus X (http://www.plusx.space). Each hub will support startups, scale-ups and corporate innovation teams and will make the most of local strengths in software, hardware and other technologies.
Plus X Brighton, a 40,000 sq ft purpose-designed building, will open in January 2020 and be home to more than 500 entrepreneurs and innovators, with close links to both University of Brighton and University of Sussex. The Central Research Laboratory itself will move in late 2020 into a newly refurbished Victorian powerhouse, tripling capacity in Hayes. Future locations may include Greenwich, Manchester, Birmingham and Oxfordshire.
John Whatmore, 2019