Case study: Future Space and the race to the West of England
One of the jewels in the crown of the West of England University Enterprise Zone, UWE-based Future Space has seen startling growth in the short time since its opening. Nestled next to the renowned Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL) at UWE’s Frenchay campus, the Growth Hub support provider provides occupiers with a space for innovation and collaboration in an array of state-of-the-art labs, offices and communal areas.
We sat down with Centre Director Elaine McKechnie to discuss what’s attracting Future Space customers to the West of England, the challenges they face and what the future holds for them.
GH: What does Future Space offer to small businesses?
EM: We offer a mixture of office space and lab space to businesses wanting a space for their next stage of growth in a really exciting and inspiring environment. We have three rather unique shared labs – coupled with several private labs that companies are snapping up fast – and a range of office sizes which means we can accommodate lab- or office-based companies at various stages of growth.
We’re based at the University of the West of England’s Frenchay campus, which means we’re at the centre of a pretty vibrant and thriving business community. There are a number of different incubators – like Launch Space, which was introduced last year for graduates to grow their start-ups, and the BRL’s own incubator – which then create a funnel into Future Space.
GH: So when you’re speaking to people moving in, do they cite that environment as a major reason behind their decision?
EM: Absolutely. There are a whole range of reasons but that community aspect is substantial. Prospective new occupiers are interested in using Future Space not just as an office area but also for networking with the other businesses, selling to them, buying from them and collaborating with them. It’s down to it being a very cool space – companies do want to be part of this environment and bring in potential new clients, customers and employees.
We had a great example of the community here recently with one of our businesses helping another overcome a logistics issue they were facing. That’s what’s exciting about Future Space.
We also have an extensive in-house, on-site innovation support team. We’re driven to help our customers with a wide range of business support – providing links to other support in our eco system and linking companies with skills, research and expertise within UWE.
GH: Why do you think it is that the West of England is flourishing to this extent?
EM: I’ve got experience working all across the country in facilities like this with Oxford Innovation [which manages the centre] and I’ve never known such a fertile area for business incubation and innovation. It’s quite special. You’ve got EngineShed, SetSquared, DeskLodge and the Bristol and Bath Science Park – all fellow Growth Hub support providers – and that creates something special.
GH: Why are we seeing an increase in businesses looking to relocate to the West of England?
EM: Usually in my experience, a place like this takes a while to gain enough critical mass that it’s then attractive to businesses outside of the region – but there’s something exciting happening here and that process is happening much quicker.
We’ve had companies relocate here from other parts of the UK who had looked all over the south of England. With one company, we were shortlisted alongside facilities in Reading and London, and we were picked for a number of reasons: they needed the lab space alongside office space; the open, collaborative space in the centre; and, crucially, the fact it is also part of a science and tech cluster. Transport has proven a key factor too, with fast train connections to Reading coupled with easy access to the M4 and M5.
A Japanese robotics firm chose Future Space to be the home of a new UK-based branch because of our close connection to the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, so you can see the advantages of being at the heart of this cluster. They also looked at Edinburgh and some of the northern cities and there is substantial funding to attract companies there. However, when you’re in a sector that requires skills, talent and profile, it becomes a no brainer to move here.
We also recently became home to a company from Seattle. They fell in love with the area and chose to settle here because recruiting skills is much cheaper than in the States.
GH: What sort of relationship have you had with the Growth Hub so far?
EM: Because of the wealth of support available in the West of England, I think the Growth Hub plays a vital role in signposting businesses towards the help that they need.
GH: What’s the long-term plan for Future Space?
EM: As we move forward, we’ll be looking to host more events, another way of fostering the atmosphere of innovation we have here. We recently hosted the Pitch@Palace 8.0 event – where HRH Prince Andrew formally opened the centre – so look out for more like that.
We’re also looking to have more of a flow from the incubators around us with the companies coming in small and coming out the other side having graduated. A great example would be Reach Robotics, who started out in the BRL’s Business Incubator and recently completed a £5.8m funding round from their Future Space office.