A giant startup factory – the first of many

A powerhouse of innovation opens its second initiative – a huge startup factory, five times the size of its first; and unveils plans for a number more, with a model that meets needs in many locations.

The new Central Research Laboratory opened its doors in Hayes in 2015 – on the site of EMI’s eponymous lab. In partnership with property development company U+I, Mat Hunter’s conception was of an innovation community that was focused on the development of physical products, and was not either an Incubator or an Accelerator, but both. And since then, the evolution of online communication has transformed the nature of that community (and has highlighted the task of managing it).

Its second exemplar, now under the title of Plus X, opened in Brighton in May 2020 – over seven stories, with space for five hundred desks, five times as many as at Hayes. Almost three hundred people tuned into its recent online Demo Day. The aim is to create an entire scale-up community. It has four workshop spaces, along with associated expertise managers and product development people. It has been established with some public funding, ERDF funds and match funding from U+I.

It meets several aspirations: importantly, it enhances a part of Brighton that was run-down; its work with the university is in line with the latter’s objectives in relation to the local community (it could attract candidates who might before have headed for London); and in the same way it supports and benefits Brighton’s image.

Plus X is now an organisation that is independent of specific sites, and aspires to establish 25 such sites in the course of the next five years, three or four within the next twelve months. Its next, the Plus X Powerhouse, its Head Office – at Hayes, will open by the end of 2021. Its business model is that of a managing agent, leasing property, earning revenue for managing the space, and sharing in the value created.

U+I will provide Plus X with a pipeline of sites to manage, with Greenwich, Manchester and Birmingham among early prospects. Plus X is currently working on some twenty sites – with local councils, other developers and different partners, including private landlords. It is at present a team of 35 souls including its two co-founders and two co-CEOs, and it has a small Board of Directors.

Like many great innovations, Plus X is a private sector initiative, driven by self-propelled entrepreneurs in the tradition of the great industrialists, working here with others whose interests match up with their own.

John Whatmore

February, 2021


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