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