Oxford Innovations: offices for SMEs


Oxford Innovations – a major source of incubator space in the South East, but one that provides meagre support for occupants

It can boast a good record in the development and management of Innovation Centres and in sustaining the companies in these Centres, firstly because of the value of the address, and secondly because of the networking opportunities they provide.

Next: WeWork is sharing at work. WeWork has launched a huge new co-working space in London.

The Oxford Centre for Innovation provides incubators for young businesses aspiring to hi-growth, and that are based on exploiting knowledge – with

  • flexible working spaces, in some cases with a small amount of co-working space
  • access to finance, both through running Angel Networks and links with VCs
  • support, in the form of Incubator Directors, who coach and organise workshops and events along with a their network of associates.

Originally set up by a charitable trust, and now a for-profit private company, it has Centres in nineteen locations, mainly in the South of England.

All of its Innovation Centres provide serviced office accommodation of various sizes, on short lets and at relatively low cost, together with a kitchen/cafe, and the services of an Incubation Director. These Innovation Centres tend to be full where they are located in prime locations – in Oxford there is a desperate shortage of space for aspiring young businesses. (A HackSpace is about to be opened in the basement of the Oxford Centre.)

The Incubation Director’s role (of which there are six – in some cases shared between locations) is to offer business coaching both in their Centres and in their areas, based on business analysis tools that help them identify their issues and develop their plans; and they also organise workshops and events with their network of associates; but support does not include active mentoring, and evidently varies from Centre to Centre depending on circumstances and funding. The Directors’ role encompasses several different tasks; and good candidates are evidently difficult to identify and to recruit.

Consideration is being given to working with a large corporate with the aim of setting up local incubator space to whose young businesses it would contribute, and from which it might hope to benefit. It is also seeking to develop closer relationships with universities and their technical and businesses courses – for use by its young businesses. It is interested in replicating the model it has established at Culham and Harwell, where a quantum of technical support and advice and access to scientists and their facilities is available free of charge to the Centre’s young businesses. And, like other Innovation Centres, feasibility studies and opportunities are being explored for further Centres in new locations.

(Oxford Innovations was one of four organisations that delivered the Government’s Business Growth Service – which through the advice of its Growth Managers provided mentors, consultants and advisers for businesses with high growth potential; but the Government is now closing this service.)

John Whatmore, February, 2016

Managing support for early-stage ventures – a fast emerging role In Silicon Valley support is everywhere, and it is increasingly immanent in London’s entrepreneurial world, with some high profile examples – promoted by a new breed of support managers. But there are other areas where it is still a distant prospect. http://wp.me/p3beJt-ax