The advantage of university engagement for growing businesses.

May 24th 2021

UWE & Future Space Engagements 2016-2021

There are many reasons why Future Space is a fantastic location for growing science and technology businesses: Purpose built laboratories; Customisable workshops; A range of flexible offices and shared spaces; as well as on-site business support. A distinct advantage is the positioning of the centre - based on the University of the West of England (UWE) Frenchay campus and co-located with the Health Tech Hub (HTH) and Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL).

In this article, Aimee Skinner, Innovation Manager, writes about university engagement, the importance for growing businesses, and how the Future Space community has benefitted from the support of the University.

"One of the most compelling reasons for me applying to join the team in 2020 was the strong affiliation with UWE, and the emphasis on the Innovation Manager role to further enhance university collaboration opportunities for Future Space residents." - Aimee Skinner, Innovation Manager

So, how important is university engagement for SMEs?

If you are a small company in the early stages of development, it can be difficult to find the capacity to carry out all aspects of running the business as well as giving focus to building your product and services. The knowledge and expertise you have in-house is also likely to be limited. Universities can play a key role in helping SMEs grow, with access to skills training, student and graduate resource, academic expertise, and an abundance of practical advice.

One of the most compelling reasons for me applying to join the team in 2020 was the strong affiliation with UWE, and the emphasis on the Innovation Manager role to further enhance university collaboration opportunities for Future Space residents. Having studied at UWE as an undergraduate, I know first-hand the quality of the facilities, the vast research opportunities, and the devotion to support student and graduate outcomes. This adds a valuable dimension to the business support on offer at Future Space, and goes beyond advisory services, events, and mentorship, to full-scale innovation support.

Shaping the future through enterprise and driving an enterprising culture, is painted through the core of the UWE 2030 strategy - Innovation support is a vital part of the enterprise ecosystem at UWE, with a range of joint opportunities available to businesses, including partnership PhDs, academic consultancy, and collaborative research. More than 40 projects from the Future Space community have been made possible through this type of interaction.

“Our relationship with UWE is invaluable. It is a cross-fertilisation of ideas and opportunities. Over the years we have collaborated on various research projects that have brought funding to both organisations. And, of course, the university brings access to vast networks of knowledge - if we have a question that our contacts don't know they answer to, they usually know an expert they can ask.” - Liz Davidson, CMO, Esoterix

Luke Venn, Director of Spry Care, explains how working with UWE is helping him to build internal capability in the field of Machine Learning. “We are running a partnership PhD with UWE, starting later this year. As an early-stage business, and a small team, we rely on these opportunities to bring in vital skills in areas where we don’t have the experience. It’s also a cost-effective way for us to develop our learning and in-house capability. We’re hopeful that this will be the first of many joint projects with UWE as we grow Spry Care.”

Since opening in 2016, on-site businesses have benefitted from c.200 engagements with UWE, from the use of specialist equipment at the university, to funded business assist support through programmes such as the Health Technology Accelerator Programme (HTAP) and SABRE. This support has enabled companies to build new products and services, as well as giving access to valuable knowledge and technical expertise that is needed in the early stages of development.

Mass Spec Analytical (MSA) joined us in 2020, developing a new type of low-temperature, direct analysis, ion source for mass spectrometry. In their first year with us they have benefitted from several university engagements, including support through UWE’s HTAP, a student project looking at comparative analysis and testing of their equipment, and ongoing exploration of collaborative research projects.

Lance Hiley, Managing Director of Mass Spec Analytical, tells us – “Future Space has been the perfect location for the relaunch of our business combining flexible workspace with a climate of innovation and collaboration that has yielded benefits in our first year of residence.”

Student and graduate engagement with SMEs are a core focus in the centre, with residents offered fully funded UWE internships, as well as regular chances to pitch project briefs to degree and masters level students. 24 interns have been employed in the Future Space community over the years, and for 2021 we've announced another 10 UWE-funded places to bring in vital skills and talent to resident businesses.

With such a wealth of expertise and support across Future Space and UWE, the opportunities for business are countless, and I for one am truly excited to be a part of it.

“Last year we took on a skilled UWE graduate intern to work on a project to optimise a crypt graphic algorithm implementation, and this year have benefitted from a design enterprise studio undergraduate project with three students working on a live project brief for A&E wristbands. Throughout the students have been engaged and enthusiastic and have developed something that we can use to further our business." - Andrew Lindsay, Director and Co-founder, Cerberus Security Laboratories

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