Northcoders was expanding its coding bootcamps in Manchester and Leeds and needed more space. Director Amul Batra turned to Bruntwood SciTech, the UK’s leading property provider to the science and tech sector, not because their office and lab space is world-class or the locations ideal – though they are – but because of the other companies located at their campuses, an idea known as co-location.
“We add something to the Bruntwood SciTech community that is essential to all fast growing science and tech businesses, which is skilled, talented human beings,” says Batra. “And that’s what we create with our coding bootcamps.” Graduates have access to the other companies at Circle Square in Manchester and Platform in Leeds for work, and those companies have access to a regular supply of the best and next generation of tech talent – which can otherwise be in short supply.
The benefits of taking space in a science and technology campus or in a city’s innovation district aren’t only about infrastructure, convenient location and the surrounding thriving academic, clinical and cultural communities – it’s about who else is there. Being co-located with innovative neighbours can help your business scale and expand through a combination of inspiration, collaboration and sparking new ideas. “They’re communities of common interest that become established to self-help each other,” says David Hardman, managing director of Bruntwood SciTech-Birmingham.
Two-thirds of companies based in the Bruntwood SciTech network say their sector-specialist campus location helps give them access to the skills and talent they need thanks to unrivalled connections to universities for research, alongside the NHS, the public sector and other like-minded entrepreneurs and businesses. “Physical proximity helps all that,” Hardman says.
Locations which are truly beneficial for science and tech businesses are no happy accident and do not just appear out of nothing – their existence derives from the unique and often legacy strengths of a region. For example, at the Innovation Birmingham Campus, the Midlands’ largest digital tech cluster which is home to over 170 tech startups, scaleups and global names, Hardman’s team provides a series of events including monthly meetups, talks, mentoring and training programmes. “Places like ours become a focal point for people in and engaging with the sector,” he says. “People realise it’s a good place to connect with and operate from, as it promotes growth of their businesses.”
Indeed, being based at the Innovation Birmingham Campus helped Kaido attract a number of key staff, says Rich Westman, CEO and founder of Kaido, a digital wellbeing platform that supports businesses, including Google, KPMG and the NHS, to keep their teams healthy, engaged and connected. “Being on the campus enabled us to access local talent that, prior to being based here, would not have been known to us,” he says. “This led to the ultimate recruitment of a CTO and business co-founder who remains a key part of the business to this day.”
Co-location also reduces risk for talent who join startup businesses, which may be seen as less secure employment than a larger, established company. “If you’re in a cluster, and your startup goes bust, the chances are you will meet a business or individual on the campus that can help you find your next opportunity,” Westman says.
Alongside Northcoders, Tootoot is also based at Circle Square in Manchester – and co-location has helped the award-winning pupil voice and safeguarding app startup to scale. “Access to funds and investment opportunities have helped us to continue to grow. Manchester has a very supportive investment network, from angels to VCs and PE houses, all looking to invest for growth,” says Michael Brennan, co-founder and CEO.
“We have recently launched our corporate offering called StribeHQ, and the NorthWest ecosystem has provided a fantastic hub for us to access everything we need on our doorstep to launch our new product. The community in the Tech Incubator at Circle Square allows us to discuss similar challenges and opportunities with businesses who are going through the same things we are at the same time.”
These sector-focused clusters also bring benefits for the wider business community and ecosystem. Katie Gallagher, managing director at Manchester Digital, notes that Circle Square shows how the industry can work together to build opportunities that benefit everyone. “Bruntwood SciTech is a key player in this, across its network of science and tech campuses which bring together the UK’s most forward-thinking businesses,” says Gallagher. “Our location at Circle Square means we’re co-located with other businesses working on similar projects, and as a result, we can forge new relationships and opportunities. When businesses open their doors to collaboration and partnerships, this will subsequently open new doors for young people, talent, diversity and the wider economy.”
For Batra at Northcoders, it’s important for his coding students to be surrounded by people who are doing the work that they aim to do in the real world, alongside having the networks to find work after graduation. That’s the case at Bruntwood SciTech’s Platform in Leeds, the city’s “home of tech” where Northcoders’ students are surrounded by more than 80 digital and tech businesses. “That is aspirational and inspirational for the students,” he says.
Beyond skills, co-location helps bring together companies that can support each other. “As well as providing a home for the business in its early stages, being based at the Innovation Birmingham Campus enables you to learn from other like-minded entrepreneurs, all of whom are tackling the same problems and challenges as you are,” says Westman. “Being based on this campus allows you to fail fast – which is crucial when building a business where speed is seen as a competitive advantage.”
Co-location is key to why incubators are such an important stepping stone for startups. Alongside the business development, investment opportunities, training and office space offered by incubators such as the Tech Incubator at Circle Square in Manchester or Platform’s Tech Hub in Leeds, startups also get the benefits of being located with other startups in the same sector or market.
When that incubator is in a science and tech campus, the benefits expand to include the established companies surrounding them. “On a really good innovation campus or in a thriving innovation district environment, the peer-to-peer support that goes on is as important as the business support that the incubator offers. As well as the direct support, Bruntwood SciTech services also broker and encourage personal connections,” says Hardman.
Cloud Cycle is part of Bruntwood SciTech’s Serendip accelerator programme which brings together large companies with pioneering and disruptive innovators, startups and SMEs to tackle their demand-led innovation challenges. This has included Gymshark, Barclays Eagle Labs, the NHS, Tata Motors, National Express and HS2.
“The community here is great, and the opportunity to mix with all of the other SMEs on the HS2 accelerator has been really valuable,” says Phill White, CEO and founder of Cloud Cycle, a cloud-based concrete management platform designed to cut waste, CO2 and costs. “The collaboration, ability to problem share and network has been invaluable.”
Beyond peer support, being co-located in the right place at the right time with key businesses helped Cloud Cycle make connections to other companies in this very specific supply chain, says White. “This has enabled us to secure a major pilot project to validate our technology with some of the major [suppliers],” he says. “We’ve also secured a grant of almost £900,000 to help us accelerate our R&D programme.”
Over the last year, the pandemic has kept many people working from home where possible, sparking some companies to commit in the longer term to a hybrid way of working, part in the office and part from home. But Hardman believes innovative companies will return to their offices once it’s safe to do so, as co-location is so important to the science and tech sector.
“That’s because of the need for connected communities to drive innovation,” he says. “Close proximity enables creative minds to spark off each other in serendipitous ways. The chemistry of that proximity is much less apparent in video-linked virtual meetings.” After all, co-location shows the power of innovative companies and people being in the same place at the same time – place matters.
For more information, visit bruntwood.co.uk/scitech
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