This week we’ve been talking to Simon Bond, Innovation Director at SETsquared, the business incubator for tech businesses in the South West. Through his work with SETsquared Simon helps startups across the region secure investment and realise their commercial potential as well as encouraging student enterprise.

TechSPARK: Simon, tell us a little about yourself and where you’ve come from.

Simon Bond: I’m the innovation director at SETsquared Bath; one of five ‘business acceleration centres’ across the South West, with sister networks in Bristol, Exeter, Southampton and Surrey. Over the past ten years we’ve helped around a thousand companies raise over a billion pounds of funding for tech projects and research.

TS: Why Bath?

SB: Bath is one of the most vibrant innovation centres in the South that isn’t London, but still with the benefit of being close to the capital. The city has a history of great investment and exits for tech businesses. I’m a Londoner by birth and left the capital in search of a better quality of life for my six-month-old daughter; in Bath I found world-class companies and opportunities outside the smoky streets of Tooting and Balham. In time I found that I didn’t need to move back or commute to London, as I had first expected; what I’d initially viewed as a pause in my career became nothing of the sort. When I applied for my role at SETsquared my contract lasted 12 months. Nearly 11 years later I’m still here!

“Over the past ten years we’ve helped around a thousand companies raise over a billion pounds of funding for tech projects and research”

 

TS: At SETsquared you work with the University of Bath to foster student enterprise. What are the student success stories you’re most proud of?

SB: Within our ‘business acceleration’ network, last year we had a team of four students win the final of Microsoft’s Imagine Cup with their music-streaming app, SoundSYNK. A group from Southampton University came second in the 2013 Enactus World Cup with their not-for-profit business, and we’ve also had Young Ones win investment for their clothing company on BBC TV programme Dragon’s Den.

More recent is our work with Dan Murray, a PhD student who came to us with an idea that his work on industrial phycology might have commercial potential. Phycology is the study of algae, and through his research Dan has found an environmentally friendly solution to cleaning swimming pools. The effluence created by pools at the moment is a real environmental danger.

We negotiated a commercial partnership between Dan, Wessex Water and Stirling Dynamics in Bristol, which raised more than £500,000 funding for Dan’s research. He’s now seeking further investment on a national and international basis.

Our work with Dan followed the typical SETsquared process. We helped Dan to consider his research as a business proposition, then worked on a business plan together which we circulated through our network of South West business contacts. We also had Dan present his idea to investors at our SETsquared events, including one at St James’s Palace in London.

TS: Are there any specific areas of research that you think Bath shines in? Any patterns of development?

SB: In general, I think the greatest commercial potential in all five of our business acceleration networks is in the latter: PhD research and post-doctoral students. These are highly skilled students with refined knowledge and analytical skills, but young and flexible enough to consider entrepreneurship an alternative to a career in academic research.

“In Bath I found world-class companies and opportunities outside the smoky streets of Tooting and Balham”

 

Within the five business acceleration centres are a set of doctoral training centres, which create partnerships between PhD students and companies, or sponsorship opportunities for research. In Bath we have the Centre for Digital Entertainment and Centre for Sustainable Chemical Engineering.

TS: What else do you do to foster that commercialism on research projects?

SB: Broadly speaking, before linking students to our investment and funding networks we try to awaken a spirit of entrepreneurship in them. Society is focused on fostering careers for public sector or corporate jobs. Instead, we run our ‘Research to Innovator‘ program to give researchers who have mainly worked in academia a chance to experience an entrepreneurial environment.

TS: A big part of your work is connecting researchers to investors who can fund new businesses. How do you do this?

SB: Each of our five business acceleration centres is connected to a local investor network – Silicon Gorge in Bristol, the Surrey 100 Club in Guildford and London and the Bath connection to the Cambridge Wireless network with who we run the annual ‘Discovering StartUps’ event  – as well as regular workshop programs and competitions for tech startups that we all run together. At SETsquared we also host an annual investor showcase in London. This November we’ll have 150 firms pitching to investors at the Shard – a great opportunity.

If you’ve got an idea that you think may mean great business, visit SETsquared.co.uk and for more South West tech, head over to TechSPARK.co. We’d like to thank Simon for taking the time to talk to us. To hear more from Mr Bond, follow him on Twitter.

Callum Dunbar