Thu 18 Nov 21
The Innovation Centre, Knowledge Gateway is looking to the future with renewed confidence after a successful year of bringing in fresh businesses helped it go well beyond 50% occupancy.
Based on the Knowledge Gateway research and technology park at the University of Essex’s Colchester Campus, the Innovation Centre is now home to 31 businesses with seven further virtual customers and three hot desk member companies. Further companies are lined up to join in the coming months.
The Innovation Centre is attracting a rich mix of companies from digital creative, Software as a Service (SaaS), app development and digital professional services through to fintech, heathtech, education and recruitment.
Its annual customer survey also shows its community of businesses is seeing the benefits of being based at the Innovation Centre with a 92% satisfaction score from customers.
Innovation Centre director Neil Griffin said: “Now we are building some good momentum. With the new wave of digital flowing through into new business creation, we have seen over 18 new businesses enter the centre with a further four growing and upgrading office space in the year and another three right on the cusp of joining us. We are pleased to say as of the end of October we are 56% full!
“We are proud of that achievement and there is even more reason to be optimistic with other businesses signing up in November and December
“We are attracting the right talent to the area and our goal is to help keep that talent locally in Colchester and Essex..”
The Innovation Centre is operated by UK sector leader Oxford Innovation in partnership with the University of Essex and businesses join a community which is supported to grow and succeed. Innovation Centre businesses now employ more than 85 staff.
The Innovation Centre has also attracted strong support from Essex County Council, Colchester Borough Council, South East Local Enterprise Partnership, Tech East, The BEST Growth Hub, Essex Chamber of Commerce and Innovate Martlesham. The University’s Business Engagement team, which is now number one for Knowledge Transfer Partnerships, has also now moved into the Innovation Centre.
Director of Research and Enterprise at the University of Essex Rob Singh said: “We’re so excited about what is happening at the Innovation Centre and the incredible community of businesses developing with its support. I am delighted to see that many are also developing links with the University’s research community, our Business Engagement team, and our student and graduate talent pool.”
Rob highlighted the many connections between the University and Innovation Centre businesses including insurtech company Arma Karma, which was set up by an Essex graduate and recently one a gold NOVO Award; intelligent syndication firm Mondaq, which has connected with Essex researchers through a successful Knowledge Transfer Partnership and recruitment platform Rolecatcher which is also working with Essex researchers and also linked up with the University’s careers team to develop its service.
Neil said: “We see ourselves as a full-service ecosystem for scaling businesses and are more than just office space. Customers make good use of the services we provide, and we collaborate with them in several areas.
“All new businesses that enter the Innovation Centre had a 1-2-1 meeting with our Innovation Director for a business diagnostic session to identify any ongoing needs. This allows us to identify where the company is on the growth scale and what business support they might need. We can then tailor interactions to guide them to the next stage. “
In total 138 hours have been delivered by the Innovation Centre team with 1-2-1 business support sessions. these include business canvas modelling; brand and marketing guidance; direct leadership training; internship, apprentice and kickstarter guidance; investment reports and pitching for investment; recruitment and hr guidance. and business growth mapping with our licensed GROWTHmapper tool
Neil adds: “The rate of engagement between customers is growing significantly and we’re seeing all kinds of connections developing between businesses including the purchasing goods and services between companies; knowledge sharing between founders; joint grant applications; and mentoring.
“We mapped the number of collaborative interactions between Innovation Centre businesses over this reporting period. We found that 17 of our companies are working together and trading skills/services/advice. We are helping to drive this by facilitating ‘Meet the Neighbour’ events and through our Innovation Director and Centre Manager.
“Another massive benefit we have is, we are lucky that Barclays and Scrutton Bland also base themselves here one day a month to support the businesses, and we are very grateful for all their collaborative support.”
Neil is pleased to see how companies are progressing. He said: “Over this reporting period we have had four companies upgrade and expand their office after seeing the impact and benefits of being here and the business support in the centre.
“Three further companies have also increased their staff headcount since arriving due to the need for more desks/staff and company growth.
“Numerous companies have been successful in raising finance through a variety of routes such as grants and equity. We have links with The BEST Growth hub, Angels@Essex, Anglia Capital, Innovate Edge/UK and even our Oxford Innovation fund with OION.
“This helps us direct companies to the right level of investment needed for the business to scale and it works very well with companies gaining Innovate UK grants, Angel Investment and local government grants.
“We are an Amazon partner and this means anyone that has a licence with us can tap into a significant amount of AWS credits to help their business with the Digital/Cloud storage side of business operations. A few businesses have already taken this up with more on the horizon, it is well worth being here just for this cost-benefit.”
For Neil building a community is at the heart of the Innovation Centre’s work and this includes events throughout the year. He said: “From informal Meet the Neighbour events where people trade war stories and services over pizza and beer, to meet-ups with Tech East and to more formal masterclasses on specific topics, we try and cater for what businesses need to scale up. In the last year, we have put on 12 events and are now planning more for the rest of 2021-22.”
What do innovation Centre residents think? Here is some of the feedback from companies:
Digital agency dotcrafted said: “The Innovation Centre is a perfect place for any business. Apart from great office space at the heart of the University campus, it offers access to exceptional business support services. The Centre is more than just office space, with a real ecosystem of companies moving in the same direction.”
Website creation and management company Ubie said: “Being part of the Innovation Centre has been fundamental in the growth of Ubie Ltd. Having the expert advice of business coach Neil Griffin on-site and regular events organised by Georgina Watts, makes the Innovaton Centre stand out from a traditional office space.”
Proxy solution provider FOGLDN Litd said: “The Innovation Centre is a fantastic hub for all businesses in different industries to come together and make use of networking opportunities, communal space, and modern offices. There is no other office space that does so much for the businesses within it, to ensure everyone scales to their potential. The staff are fantastic!”