Bristol has recently been named the most innovative city in the UK outside of London. It now has one of the biggest and most vibrant communities of innovators outside of the capital.

No one knows this better than the team at Future Space, who took home the Community Award at this years’ SPARKies and presented the FutureSPARK award, recognising up and coming talent in the sector.

Nurturing innovation with Future Space

Future Space is managed by Oxford Innovation, who created Europe’s first innovation centre – and now manage a growing network of over 25 centres across the UK.

Developed in 2016, it became one of four University Enterprise Zones in the UK. Co-located with the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol), the pilot looked at how workspaces on campus could create better outcomes for both students and businesses.

Tracey John, Director of Research, Business and Innovation at UWE Bristol thinks the partnership works well for both the businesses and the students. She says, “UWE Bristol are proud of Future Space and the businesses it supports and hosts. We’re committed to working with and supporting businesses across the region, and Future Space has enabled us to do that on a much deeper level.

“Several Future Space businesses have undertaken Collaborative Research Partnerships with us or have applied to one of our funding schemes; as well as benefiting from the close location to our students and academic expertise. Innovation is at the heart of what we do and Future Space has helped us support the companies of the future.”

The in-house team at Future Space provide office space, laboratories, workshops, incubator hubs, and business support to entrepreneurs innovating in science and tech. As well as connecting their members to the university and all the knowledge and support it offers, businesses benefit from on-site facilities and expertise from the Health Tech Hub (HTH) and Bristol Robotics Laboratory.

Five years on and Future Space has helped more than 100 businesses on their growth journey, provided internship opportunities to more than 40 students, and created more than 400 jobs.

Meanwhile their members have raised almost £45M in finance and have contributed £16.9M to the local economy through the development of 240 new and improved products and services.

" Being situated at UWE Bristol has offered our members unique collaboration opportunities, such as our internship programme. As a startup, your overheads need to be low, and the university has also supported our members with equipment sharing. "

Parm Cory-Jones, Future Space Centre Manager

One of these businesses is Indus Fusion, who hit the headlines recently for their innovative vaccine preparation device. Co-Founder of the business, Arthur Keeling, started out as a student at UWE Bristol where he studied on the Team Entrepreneurship course for three years.

“This course allows you to learn everything you need to set up and run a business alongside your studies.” Arthur says. “When I left university, I wanted to try out a few of the business ideas that I had. Because of the connection between UWE Bristol and Future Space I was able to join the Launch Space incubator programme and get one-to-one mentoring and support to develop these ideas.

“Once we’d developed our ideas into a clear business plan, we were able to apply for funding and investment, which enabled us to grow. We moved into Future Space permanently, where we were able to tap into support from the Bristol Robotics Lab to scope out ideas and access equipment.”

Indus Fusion is now focusing on how automation can improve the service in sectors such as food, health and care. Their automated vaccine preparation device is currently being tested in NHS Covid-19 vaccine clinics, with early trials indicating a 40 per cent increase in roll-out capacity.

Their journey epitomises why Future Space works so well for businesses. “The partnership between Oxford Innovation and UWE Bristol provides companies with access to a wealth of opportunities for collaboration, for funding, for resources, and for skills development, and all on one campus!” says Aimee Skinner, their in-house Innovation Manager.

“I think we are quite unique in that sense. Onsite innovation and business support services mean that we can work closely with our members to understand what they need, and through the combination of the onsite OI team, UWE Bristol, and the local ecosystem, we are never in short supply of expertise, facilities or events that can help shape their growth.”

Operating at near full capacity for the last couple of years, Aimee believes their success comes from putting Bristol’s innovation and tech community at the heart of everything they do. Aimee focuses her day job on building connections between businesses and the university, running business support initiatives, and providing business training – such as how to successfully obtain innovation funding.

In her spare time she uses her skills and connections to develop supportive communities outside of Future Space. Aimee has played a key role in creating the Bristol Innovators’ Group, which brings innovators across the region together to connect, learn, and do. The community, which started in late 2019, grew to more than 500 members in its first year.

Her dedication to the local innovation community earned Aimee a spot in TechSpark’s Top 75 Innovators list 2021. She works closely with the Future Space Centre Manager Parm Cory-Jones, who has been with the team since the beginning.

“It’s been an amazing five years”, Parm says. “Being situated at UWE Bristol has offered our members unique collaboration opportunities, such as our internship programme. As a start-up your overheads need to be low, and the university has also supported our members with equipment sharing.”

One of the members benefitting from these opportunities is Service Robotics. Not only were the team nominated for three awards at this year’s SPARKies, including the People’s Choice Award, they have also completed their B Corp UK application with Andy Hawkins, who has been working with Future Space to support businesses through the B Corp Impact Assessment.

" Everyone is becoming a lot more aware of the businesses they work with or choose to buy from. B Corp gives us a framework for creating the business we want to be. "

— Imogen Keane, Business Development Manager, Service Robotics

Speaking about the internship programme their CEO, Rob Parkes, says, “We’ve had five interns through Future Space so far and it’s been really successful. Two have now been offered employment with us. We’re a startup so we don’t have much money and anything that’s funded is a big help. We’re also very busy so this programme allows us to tap into the right pool of talent without having to spend time scouring the market.”

Business Development Manager for Service Robotics Imogen Keane took the business through the B Corp application. She says: “Everyone is becoming a lot more aware of the businesses they work with or choose to buy from. B Corp gives us a framework for creating the business we want to be. By living our values, we create a business that is not only attractive to work for, but also attractive to potential customers as well.”

Parm knows all too well how integral this support is to the success of a business. “It’s a nice problem to have, but the support we offer is in such high demand that we need more space. The real highlight is when we see our customers develop their products and move on to a larger site – that’s when we know we’ve done our job”, she says.

“This paves the way for more start-ups and new talent to gain access to our services, develop their innovative businesses, collaborate, grow, and succeed. We have seen a 98% success rate so far, and we don’t expect the next five years to be any different.”

Future Space offers workspace, meeting rooms, labs, and workshops to innovative businesses in Bristol. Thanks to Hannah Beatrice, Digital Marketing Consultant, for this guest blog.