A nest for Southwestern fledglings

June 29, 2001

Bristol and Bath universities are joining forces to create an innovation centre nurturing technology start-up businesses.

The Academic Innovation Centre will help spin-offs and work to attract private research to the two universities. It will focus on the high-growth knowledge and technology-transfer sector.

Building will start on the incubator unit in the new QWest science park early this autumn. The unit should open next summer. The park will house up to 20 fledgling companies. Space for 30 more will be added in the second phase if demand merits it.

Peter Maxwell, chief executive of Emersons Innovations, the joint-venture company set up by the two universities to manage the centre, said there was already great interest from technology start-ups keen to move in.

"At Bristol we have tried to provide cradle-to-adulthood support for businesses, but there is nowhere for them to go when they spin off. Often they are lost to this area as they have to move away in order to grow," he said.

"High-tech start-ups are a growth area, and the Southwest has been late into the game. The science park will mean we are involved with the local economy, and it will also be a source of employment for students," he said. "The big advantage of two universities working together is that our combined science and engineering research base will rival anywhere in Europe."

The AIC will offer a full range of incubation services including physical, mentoring and networking resources, and business seminars.

Mr Maxwell said support was essential in a business's early days to ensure its viability. The success rate for start-ups based in incubator units is 75-90 per cent, compared with just 33 per cent for those outside. When start-ups are big enough to become independent, they could move to premises on the science park.

The QWest science park, which will be built near the Avon ring road at the M4/M5 interchange, will create 5,000 jobs. It is being created by a consortium of developers and landowners, including Laing Property and the pension fund Electricity Supply Nominees.

The project will be closely aligned with the Bristol Enterprise Centre, which promotes entrepreneurial links between the university and industry. Initiatives include an entrepreneurship scheme and the Bristol Enterprise Network, which brings together academics, students and commercial partners.

Successful university spin-offs include Neurotargets, a joint venture between Bristol and Progeny bioVentures that uses gene technologies to develop drug targets for chronic pain, and Blazephotonics, a result of Bath University research in photonic crystal fibre.

One of the Bristol research projects that the AIC will help to develop is electrical energy management work by Duncan Grant, who has produced a radio board that runs for 1,000 hours off a single battery or solar power.

Details: www.bristol.ac.uk/enterprise

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