SETsquared is the world’s number 1 university business incubator. Simon Bond, Innovation Director of SETsquared, discusses the secret to their long-standing success, and what they plan to do next.
Over the last 15 years, the SETsquared Partnership of the universities of Bath, Bristol, Exeter, Southampton and Surrey has established a successful track-record based on unlocking economic growth from the commercialisation of research, incubation and collaboration with businesses.During this period and in order to ‘feed’ these initiatives, the Partnership has also launchedprogrammes to develop the business skills of its most talented entrepreneurial students and researchers.
From our base in the South of England, the impact of SETsquared has been measurable and it has helped to unlock over £1bn of private sector investment through its support of 1,000 science, engineering and technology companies. Many of these companies have continued to achievegreat success as our alumni and gone on to have an economic impact that has been independently assessed to be worth over £3.8bn, and to have created 9,000 new jobs.
As pioneers, and because of the success of our member companies, SETsquared has beenregularly acknowledged for its thought leadership and practices. Most recently it was commended for its work in the Dowling Review and also cited in the Government’s Industrial Strategy Green Paper. Since 2015, SETsquared has been ranked as the world’s No.1 university business incubator.
So far so good. But where do we go from here? Undoubtedly, these are extraordinary times and ‘business as usual’ and incremental growth is not enough. SETsquared does have the advantage of the long view, and survived and thrived through previous seismic shifts, with the 2008 financial crisis and the bonfire of the quangos and the reorganisation of our regional system thatfollowed, being just two examples among many. In this context, Brexit and the likelihood of newtrade flows in a new global economy is set to be ‘similarly extraordinary’. No one has come up with the winning formula yet, but I’d bet that our best chance of making a success of the present situation will come from an entrepreneurial and creative response from the kind people and companies that SETsquared has a track record of working with.
The good news is that we have a head start with this community. One of the benefits ofpioneering is that many of the start-ups that SETsquared has worked with over the last 15 yearshave now matured to become substantial scale-up companies led by entrepreneurs with whom we have a long-term, trusted relationships. Earlier this year we celebrated the achievements of many of these good friends at SETsquared’s House of Commons Reception for our top 50 Entrepreneurs from the last 15 years. In the weeks that followed we carried out research based on detailed interviews with this cohort of scale up alumni and members and were delighted that they were very clear on how SETsquared should continue to add value to their ambitious growth plans – specifically our scale-up alumni and members told us that they are looking to SETsquaredto support them via mentoring and critical business review, along with access to internationalcustomers and access finance for growth and innovation.
Alongside this endorsement of the SETsquared model, a further benefit of our track record in business incubation is that, through the activities of our member companies, we have built a presence and reputation in several key innovation-intensive sectors, specifically in: digital, data and communications; advanced engineering and manufacturing; health and wellbeing; and a spectrum of environmental and sustainable related technologies. The deal flow provided by our member companies in these sectors has caught the attention of large corporates including from the likes of Apple, Schlumberger, Huawei, Magna and Sony along with many more, especiallysince we launched the SETsquared Open Innovation Programme four years ago. Not surprisingly,the presence of consistently high-quality deal flow and corporate interest, has also caught the eye of specialist investors, from the City of London of course, but also from the East and West coast of the USA, and lately, from tech hot spots in China, who look to SETsquared as an accesspoint to world-class new technology, innovation and talent.
Encouragingly, the nexus between scale-ups and these innovation-intensive sectors has also been picked-up as an opportunity for economic growth by the recent Science and Innovation Audits, in which GW4 was instrumental in South West England and South East Wales.
This has helped SETsquared to shape its own ‘extraordinary response’ to these extraordinary times and develop plans to power-up its proven ability to unlock GVA from private companies. We will of course maintain and continue to invest in our presence as the ‘go-to’ place for start-ups through our incubators. However, SETsquared will also launch programmes that will help the many ambitious scale-up companies in our networks and from across our region, particularlyfrom the innovation-intensive sectors that are the distinct strengths of the South of England, to access innovation and R&D collaborations with our universities, access international customers and access investment in order to grow and build their businesses as an integrated part of theUK knowledge base.
Simon Bond is Innovation Director at SETsquared Partnership.