University Enterprise Zone Spotlight: Robotics Innovation Facility

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The Robotics Innovation Facility (RIFBristol) is one of five areas that make up UWE Bristol’s University Enterprise Zone. The below spotlight explains its purpose:

Located beside the UEZ café, which forms a central meeting place for the building’s companies, entrepreneurs and academics, is one of the most exciting parts of the University. Identifiable by the array of industrial robot arms and other cutting-edge hardware, visible through its window onto the café – the Robotics Innovation Facility (RIFBristol) is a high tech, inspiring and truly creative space. 

As UWE Bristol’s specialist industry-facing unit within the Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL) – a collaborative partnership between the city-region’s two universities and the UK’s most comprehensive academic centre for multi-disciplinary robotics research – RIFBristol provides training, research and consultancy services to a range of private and public sector clients.

Recognised as a Digital Innovation Hub by the European Union, it has been successfully delivering robotics workshops, prototyping and validating new products, demonstrating how automation can improve manufacturing processes, and supervising student-industry collaborations, since 2013.

“Our engineers help clients to trial various technical solutions, identifying the best options for their requirements,” says Farid Dailami, Director of RIFBristol and Associate Professor for Knowledge Exchange in Manufacturing.

“They can advise on capital purchases, support the deployment and integration of hardware, undertake research and proof-of-concept work, and deliver training.”

One of the unique strengths of RIFBristol is what it describes as its ‘brand agnostic’ approach. As part of BRL and UWE Bristol, it is not tied to a particular hardware manufacturer or supplier. It is, therefore, under no pressure to favour a particular brand or model and its advice is always honest, unbiased and wholly tailored to its customers’ needs.

This also means that its dedicated workspace in the UEZ is equipped with an impressive range of manufacturing equipment. ABB, KUKA and Universal robot arms sit alongside conveyers, sensors, cameras and laser measuring systems, all of which can be used to address clients’ research, CPD and product development challenges.  

“Our expertise is as diverse as our hardware”, says Dailami. “Our staff have knowledge of industrial robotics, cobotics, mechanical and electronics engineering, mechatronics, smart manufacturing, 3D printing and simulation. This diversity is our strength. We can help with robotics, but we can also bring knowledge and experience of related disciplines into play”

Alongside its private consultancy projects, RIFBristol leads several publicly funded research and business support programmes. The EU-funded TERRINet initiative, for example, enables researchers at all levels, from undergraduates, to PhD candidates and industry-based professionals, to access robotics infrastructure located across Europe. 

Since 2018, RIFBristol has also delivered the ERDF-funded SABRE Programme. This £1m project has enabled small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) from across the West of England to explore the benefits of robotics and automation.

From start-ups, micro-enterprises and sole traders, to larger and more established companies, its free and subsidised services have helped businesses to get the most from these important technologies.

“RIFBristol and the SABRE Programme played a vital role in the completion of our initial prototype. It enabled the company to undertake pilot studies with leading OEMs – and to safeguard the development of this exciting technology in the UK, securing 3 existing, and creating 4 new, jobs in the West of England.”

Dr Evangelos Zympeloudis, CEO, iCOMAT Ltd | www.icomat.co.uk


For more information about RIFBristol visit its website. The University Enterprise Zone is also made up of the Health Tech HubFuture SpaceLaunch Space and the Bristol Robotics Laboratory Hardware Incubator.

University Enterprise Zone Spotlight: Future Space

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Future Space is one of four areas that make up UWE Bristol’s University Enterprise Zone. The below spotlight explains a bit about them:

Who we are

Future Space is an innovation centre, based on UWE Bristol‘s Frenchay campus, within the University Enterprise Zone. The centre offers a range of office space, laboratories, workshops, and coworking facilities designed specifically for high-tech, science-based entrepreneurs and innovators. Future Space is managed by Oxford Innovation, the UK’s largest operator of innovation centres, and manages a growing network of over 25 innovation centres in the UK.

A former head chef, a PhD in cancer genetics, and one of the region’s top 75 innovators; just some of the eclectic accolades of our Future Space Team. With a wealth of experience in business, and managing lab and workspace, we’re on hand to help entrepreneurs grow their businesses.

What we offer to business

There are many reasons why Future Space is a fantastic location for growing science and technology businesses: Purpose built laboratories; Customisable workshops; and a range of flexible offices and shared spaces. A distinct advantage is the positioning of the centre – on UWE Bristol campus and co-located with the Health Tech Hub and Bristol Robotics Laboratory.

We also have an onsite Innovation team to oversee all the business needs of our community and provide practical business support for our tech and life science residents. As well as running peer networks and 1:1 support, the team organises free expert advice for resident businesses, connects companies with the University, and designs and develops a varied support programme of workshops and Q&As.

An event held in the Hub Space of the University Enterprise Zone

How we work with UWE

Our Innovation team works closely with UWE Bristol to drive collaboration opportunities. If you are a small company in the early stages of development, it can be difficult to find the capacity to carry out all aspects of running the business as well as giving focus to building your product and services. The knowledge and expertise you have in-house is also likely to be limited. Universities can play a key role in helping SMEs grow, with access to skills training, student and graduate resource, academic expertise, and an abundance of practical advice.

Businesses based at Future Space have benefitted from more than 200 engagements with UWE Bristol, from the use of specialist equipment at the university, to funded business assist support through programmes such as the Health Technology Accelerator Programme and SABRE. This support has enabled companies to build new products and services, as well as giving access to valuable knowledge and technical expertise that is needed in the early stages of development.

You can read more in our recent article.

What’s new for 2021/2022

Student and graduate engagement with SMEs are a core focus in the centre, with residents offered fully funded UWE Bristol internships, as well as regular chances to pitch project briefs to degree and masters level students. This year we launched our new internship programme aimed at post-graduate students, as well as undergraduate students – more than 40 interns have been employed in the Future Space community over the years, and these internships bring in vital skills and talent to resident businesses. We will be developing this programme further in 2021/22.

This year, our team also got involved in UWE Bristol’s Digital Innovation Fund, delivering innovation training as part of the ‘Innovation & Bid-writing’ course, delivered to SMEs in the region. This was a great opportunity for SMEs and our Future Space community, and we are committed to working closely on future programmes.

Our strong affiliation with UWE Bristol brings a huge amount of opportunities for resident businesses, from student and graduate engagement, to innovation support, and funding opportunities. The impact of all of this work is seen in the great successes of our community, and you can read about some of these in our cases studies and blogs. We’re excited to see what’s next.

For further information about Future Space please contact info@futurespacebristol.co.uk

UWE Bristol’s Launch Space open for applications

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UWE Bristol’s Launch Space Incubator is now open for applications from aspiring entrepreneurs and early stage businesses. Based within the University Enterprise Zone (UEZ), Launch Space is home to high-tech, innovative start-ups with a strong focus on research and development. Applications are now open for the free business support, incubation, and acceleration services we provide for graduate entrepreneurs and early-stage businesses.

The Launch Space incubator and accelerator could be the place for you if:

  • you have a business idea you’d like to put into action
  • you’re a recent graduate, or in the early stages of developing your idea
  • you need support to validate and develop your business further.

With access to communal networking areas, use of professional meeting rooms, and on-site hot-desks, you can get ready to launch your business. Launch Space is home to existing graduate-led businesses at various stages on the start-up journey, so you’ll be working alongside others who have a common goal of making their vision a success.

Launch Space is open to graduate-led, or early stage, businesses with high-growth potential. We’re looking for those that are working on products and services across key themes:

  • Health and life science
  • Advanced engineering
  • Digital futures
  • Sustainability and climate change

Our new Launch Space programme will kick off with an exciting Induction day onsite in early October. Meet your peers, say hi to our Innovation team, and get your first glimpse of the science and tech community in our University Enterprise Zone.

A weekly programme of pitch events, boardroom advisor sessions and coaching sessions will kick start your start-up journey and help bring your idea to life.

If you’re a graduate entrepreneur, you may also be able to benefit from a £6,000 bursary to support you, while you focus on your new business.

Interested businesses will need to complete a short application form before being invited to an interview. Find out more about the application process here.

Mark Corderoy, Entrepreneur in Residence UEZ, commented:

“We are excited to be able to accept new applications to Launch Space. Launch Space gives those starting out or recent graduates with a business idea the support to be able to really focus on their start-up. The 1-on-1 support and access to expertise and facilities is invaluable for any new business”.

Find out more here.

UWE Bristol and Future Space listed as top Innovators in region

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TechSPARK recently produced their list of top entrepreneurs, techies and innovators who they have named the Top Innovators in the region.

TechSPARK is a not-for-profit network dedicated to connecting, educating and strengthening the digi-tech cluster in the West. They work with tech and digital businesses from Startups to Scaleups, SME’s to Global Corporations based in the region to help them to grow.

In 2019 TechSPARK compiled a list of top innovators from across the region to celebrate and recognise their achievements. We were delighted that the 2021 list featured Aimee Skinner, Innovation Manager at Future Space and Mark Corderoy, Entrepreneur in Residence at UWE Bristol.

Aimee said:

“I am thrilled to have been named as one of the region’s top 75 innovators. The list is brimming with innovative thinkers, future leaders, and entrepreneurs, and I am proud to be considered amongst them.”

Aimee has background in Environmental Science and a decade of continuous improvement experience in regulated industries. She is currently Innovation Manager at Future Space, as well as co-managing Bristol Innovators’ Group. Future Space is part of the University Enterprise Zone, based on UWE Bristol Frenchay campus, and managed by Oxford Innovation. In her role she actively supports the growth of start-ups and SMEs within the South West, providing a range of business support and advisory services, as well as running University engagement opportunities, such as a dedicated Internship programme for resident businesses.

Mark said:

“It’s really pleasing that our work in the University Enterprise Zone is being recognised. Launching a start-up is an ambitious venture for anyone, and we are always trying to find new ways to help these companies succeed.”

With a background in engineering and technology in a variety of commercial settings, Mark is an experienced Technologist and Mentor. He has been at UWE Bristol for last four years as Incubation Manager for the Bristol Robotics Laboratory the leading and largest academic centre for multi-disciplinary robotics research in the UK and also Incubation Manager for Launch Space, a programme that provides business support and space to start-up businesses in UWE Bristol’s Enterprise Zone.

To contact Aimee email ASkinner@oxin.co.uk and to contact Mark email Mark.Corderoy@uwe.ac.uk .



Launch Space Business Bunk to receive funding from Nationwide

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A start-up funded by our alumni, that grew out of Launch Space within the University Enterprise Zone has received investment from Nationwide Building Society:

Nationwide Building Society yesterday announced its latest venturing fund investment in Bunk, a digital lettings agency. Bunk uses the latest technology, including Open Banking, to help improve the rental market for both landlords and renters – something the Society, which both represents landlords, as a major buy to let lender, and tenants with over two million members who themselves rent their home, has campaigned on. 

The investment is the latest deal from the £50 million Venturing Fund set up just over a year ago to create partnerships enabling the Society and start-ups to share knowledge and expertise. As part of the fund, Nationwide is making strategic investments in and partnering with early stage start-ups exploring innovative products and services that could provide real benefits for the Society’s members in the future.

Around half of all landlords choose to run their rental businesses on their own. In a market where regulations change frequently, landlords often need support in ensuring they comply with the rules. Bunk can automatically list a landlord’s property on reputable sites, verify tenants as well as providing peace of mind to tenants by verifying the landlord proof of ownership.

The service allows landlords to list a property within minutes, which can then be viewed by potential tenants on their website and app as well as on major portals such as Rightmove and Zoopla. Bunk can make a landlord’s life easier by processing tenants’ references and completing the tenancy set up within the site. Once the properties are listed, landlords can view them on a dashboard, which also notifies them when a deposit and rent has been paid, saving the need to review their current account statements. Bunk also allows tenants and landlords to correspond within the site, so enquiries such as expressing an interest in renting a property and maintenance requests will go directly to them, providing transparency giving landlords and tenants peace of mind.

To ensure landlords are up to date with their responsibilities and able to comply with the latest regulation, Bunk offers prompts and smart insight. For example, landlords are unable to take more than five weeks’ rent as a deposit and the system will not progress if they try to take more than this. In addition, Bunk also offers support and advice for those who have become accidental landlords. Bunk have also partnered with Experian, so tenants who make regular rent payments on time will see this reflected in their credit file, something which starts to redress the balance between renters and homeowners, who’s regular mortgage payments already make up part of the credit file.

Tony Prestedge, Deputy Chief Executive at Nationwide Building Society, said: “Nationwide is one of the biggest Buy-to-Let lenders in the UK and we have long campaigned to improve standards within the rental sector for both tenants and landlords. Bunk is combining the latest digital technology backed up with human service to not only offer a seamless digital experience but also reduce friction in the rental market between tenants and landlords. Many landlords choose to manage their portfolio on their own, the service that Bunk offers could support them, ensuring they’re on top of their obligations and providing a better service to their tenants. They are a natural fit for our Venturing Fund investment, which seeks to fund start-ups that are focussed on making people’s lives easier through smart insights and fair practice.”

Tom Woollard, CEO at Bunk, said: “We want to build something the rental market has never seen before. Landlords are facing reduced margins coupled with increased regulation and there has never been a better time to make their lives easier through the use of technology. Bunk is there to make the process less stressful and more enjoyable for both renters and landlords. Bunk’s mission is to make renting work for everyone and we’re thrilled to have a partner like Nationwide backing our vision.” 

Mark Corderoy, Incubation Manager at Launch Space, said “Bunk is a great example of a business that has thrived through the support provided by UWE’s Launch Space incubator. During their time in Launch Space, Bunk grew from a team of 3 graduates to 11 staff, got through to the finals of Pitch@Palace, and successfully developed and executed their current funding round.”

Launch Space’s role is to provide support, guidance and experience for companies like Bunk as they embark on their entrepreneurial journeys. They provide free desk space and business support for graduate start-up businesses in the heart of the UWE Bristol University Enterprise Zone.

To find out more about Bunk visit their website.

Launch Space will receive up to £2,000,000 of funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) Growth Programme 2014-2020. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) is the programme’s Managing Authority. Established by the European Union, the ERDF helps local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects that support innovation, businesses, job creation and local community regeneration.

New Start-up visa for international students to develop businesses of the future

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​The government’s new Start-up visa has been launched which allows international graduates to apply for a two-year visa to remain in the UK and develop a start-up business.

As part of UWE Bristol’s ambition to support innovation and enterprise, we are now inviting applications from UWE Bristol international graduates who have a high-tech, high-growth business idea to apply for a Start-up visa and benefit from using the free desk space and business support available from Launch Space.

Set in the heart of the University’s Enterprise Zone, Launch Space has supported over 50 businesses who have raised funds of £1.8 million and employing more than 90 people.

With connections in the regional start up, academic, and business communities, it’s a great place to kick off a start-up.

Students coming to the end of their studies apply to Launch Space which assesses the business proposal and viability.

Approved start-ups are then supported by the Immigration Team to make a visa application.

The specific support for students is

  • 12 month free incubation space
  • Business support from experienced business advisors
  • Connections into the University community of academics and students, and the wider regional business community

After their first year of support people they will then have a further 12 months to develop their business further.

The University can put forward a maximum of 20 students per year although all business ideas are scrutinised in the Launch Space application process so not every applicant is accepted.

You can find out more about the opportunities available to international graduates by applying for a Start-up visa on the UWE Bristol website.

You can also contact the Immigration Advice Team, email immigrationadvice@uwe.ac.uk or visit the immigration hub in 2P4, Frenchay campus Monday to Thursday 10:30-12:00 / 14:00-15:30 and Friday 10:30-12:00.

Launch Space will receive up to £2,000,000 of funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) Growth Programme 2014-2020. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) is the programme’s Managing Authority. Established by the European Union, the ERDF helps local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects that support innovation, businesses, job creation and local community regeneration.

Scale Up 4 Growth Initiative wins national award

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Scale Up 4 Growth (S4G) has won best External Knowledge Exchange (KE) Initiative of the Year at the PraxisAuril KE Awards 2019.

The KE Awards, organised by PraxisAuril – the UK’s world-leading professional association for Knowledge Exchange (KE) practitioners – and sponsored by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), celebrate the contribution of KE professionals in enabling and facilitating the societal and economic impact of research.

S4G is an innovative, £2.7m programme, designed by the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol)’s Research, Business and Innovation (RBI) team and funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). The programme is delivered by the unique S4G Partnership of UWE Bristol (lead), NatWest’s Entrepreneur Accelerator and Corporate and Commercial Banking Teams, and Foot Anstey LLP

The S4G team beat the University of Manchester for their Manchester Law and Technology Initiative (MLaTI) and the University of Kent for their Employability Points Scheme to claim the prize.

Tracey John, Director of Research Business and Innovation (RBI) at UWE Bristol said:

“We are extremely proud of the S4G programme, the valued Partnership we have created with NatWest and Foot Anstey, and our impact on the West of England’s scaling businesses in the regional economy.”

Nathan Peacey, Partner at Foot Anstey commented:

“It’s fantastic to see Scale Up 4 Growth recognised as a standout example of university and business working in partnership. We have a huge amount to gain by working with exciting growth businesses and we have been delighted to support them on this journey through sharing our expertise and experience. This collaboration is another great example of how businesses are successfully working together to raise the South West’s profile as being at the forefront of tech and innovation and build the regional economy.”

Matt Hatcher, NatWest Director of Corporate and Commercial Coverage, South West, said:

“As a bank we’re hugely committed to supporting the growth of entrepreneurism in the region and helping more start-up and scale-up businesses achieve success. Collaboration and innovation is key, which is why we are delighted with the success of the S4G scheme. It is making a real impact and along with our Entrepreneur Accelerator Hub in Bristol, helping support the rich vein of talent we have in the West of England achieve national and international success.”

The S4G team collecting their award

Olly Reid, Scale Acceleration Manager at NatWest, added:

Through our accelerator programme we’re working with hundreds of exciting start-up and scale-up businesses from across the region in multiple sectors. The cross-team collaboration involved with working with the team at UWE and our corporate and commercial team at NatWest has allowed us to develop a real exciting programme that is crucially expanding the network of opportunities available to local businesses. This is where the success of the S4G programme lies and why we hope more local entrepreneurs will benefit in the years ahead.”

S4G is a 3-year, free programme of support for businesses in the West of England (WoE) that are looking to grow, expand and scale. It includes:

  • Two-day ‘business growth’ workshops, delivered across the WoE by leading Bristol Business School academics and industry experts from the S4G Partnership
  • Grants of £10k–40k for projects that help businesses address barriers to growth

S4G is an excellent example of an External KE Initiative that brings together the very best in university-business partnership working, sharing knowledge and expertise from academia and industry with growing businesses, to benefit the regional economy.

Since its launch in November 2018, over 300 businesses have registered to be part of the S4G network and benefit from the programme.

S4G is the latest in a series of projects led by UWE Bristol to support innovative high growth businesses in the West of England. These projects have supported 100’s of businesses across the region and created over 1,000 new jobs. NatWest’s Entrepreneur Accelerator Programme has supported nearly 900 businesses from the South West since it opened in Bristol in 2015. Applications are now open for its latest intake.

Congratulations to the Scale Up 4 Growth team. You can find out more about S4G here

Universities Minister Chris Skidmore attends the official launch of the Foundry Technology Affinity Space at UWE Bristol

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Chris Skidmore MP, Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, attended the official launch of the Foundry Technology Affinity Space at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol).

The Minister, who is also MP for Kingswood, met a number of university and digital industry representatives during the visit, including Professor Jane Harrington, UWE Bristol Deputy Vice-Chancellor; co-chairs of the Institute of Coding Jacqueline de Rojas, President of techUK and Professor Bernie Morley, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bath; and Dr Rachid Hourizi, Director of the Institute of Coding. The purpose of the visit was to hear more about this new facility, which is funded by the Institute of Coding and will equip students with vital digital skills and ensure they are ready for the workplace. This is a key part of the objectives of the Institute of Coding, a £40million project funded by the Office for Students and led by the University of Bath.

Developed through a research-led design process led by UWE Bristol Associate Professor Andy King, the industry-themed Foundry at UWE Bristol is intended as an ‘other space’ on campus, where students can build their professional identity through working with industry partners on paid projects that fit around their studies. Aside from being home to UWE Bristol’s Enterprise Studios, the Foundry will also be a digital event space, hosting a high-profile calendar of technology outreach and engagement events across cybersecurity, computer science, creative technologies and STEM subjects designed to widen participation around coding and digital skills.

Science and Innovation Minister Chris Skidmore said: “As we rely more on new technologies and cyber threats become more sophisticated, the Foundry Technology Affinity Space will provide the vital skills needed to meet the opportunities and address the challenges of the future. The impressive state-of-the-art facility with its cutting edge technology will introduce a range of innovative new courses for students, enabling them to go on and compete successfully in the global digital economy.

“This builds on our commitment to tackle this issue, and this government is funding projects to design out many forms of cyber threats to online and digitally enabled products and services through our modern Industrial Strategy.”

Professor Harrington said: “We were delighted to welcome Minister Skidmore to this fantastic new facility on our Frenchay campus alongside the Institute of Coding. The Foundry is a major investment that will connect our students with globally-renowned industry partners, and will give them invaluable insight into what digital skills and innovation the future workforce will need. Deep and meaningful collaboration with industry and the world of professional practice will hugely benefit our students not just during their degrees, but in their futures as they progress into the digital industry. I look forward to seeing what our students will create in this innovative new space.”

Dr Hourizi said: “The Institute of Coding is pleased to launch and support a new Foundry Technology Affinity Space, which will serve as a gateway for students to gain critical on-the-job experience through paid work with industry without disrupting their academic studies. With employers crying out for new candidates who are workplace-ready, and students seeking valuable experiences to bolster their CVs, this new facility will enable thousands of young people to begin the first step in their career.”

The Institute of Coding is a national consortium announced by the Prime Minister in January 2018 and UWE Bristol is a full member. To help fund its contribution to the Institute of Coding, UWE Bristol was awarded £1 million from a £20 million funding pot allocated by the Office for Students (formerly known as the Higher Education Funding Council for England -HEFCE) to improve the way universities train people for digital careers.

Network for Creative Enterprise: a few highlights of achievements, challenges, learning and what next.

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In this blog post, Network Producer Vanessa Bellaar Spruijt shares an update on one of UWE Bristol’s ERDF funded programmes -Network for Creative Enterprise (NfCE).

NfCE is made up of four hubs across Bristol and Bath: Watershed, The Guild (Coworking Bath), Knowle West Media Centre and Spike Island.

Each hub has offered residency opportunities with free space and a package of business development support. By bringing together expertise from fine art to fabrication to creative technology, the network has been better equipped to share resources and provide business development opportunities to the creative sector.

Network for Creative Enterprise has enabled the partners to offer tailored events, workshops and mentoring for individuals and small enterprises to support their business development from the idea stage through to start-up and on to growth.
Over the duration of the project 138 creatives have worked at the hubs and have engaged in 35 creative development workshops and other learning opportunities.

The NfCE partnership and supported programme finishes at the end of June 2019 with an Exhibition called ‘Another Way Works: an exhibition of creative business journeys. Find out more about the exhibiton and how to get involved here.

I am the Network Producer for NfCE at Watershed in Bristol and presented recently to producers of similar projects and the Department for Culture, Digital, Media and Sport as part of Arts Council England’s Creative Local Growth Fund away day. I talked about some of our achievements and learnings and thought it would be good to also share them here (although turning a talk into a blog post is a much harder task than I imagined).

NfCE is a network working in partnership between the UWE Bristol and four West of England hubs: The Guild co-working space in Bath and three Bristol hubs: Spike Island, KWMC The Factory and Watershed. NfCE is funded by Arts Council England and the European Regional Development Fund.

The partnership finishes at the end of June 2019. To explain a little about how we work: each hub has a producer and offers business support for creative individuals and micro companies to develop their creative idea into an economically sustainable enterprise, they are also offered free space for the duration of the programme.

Our support is shaped in two ways:
1) a pre-planned programme, including business mentoring sessions, law and tax clinics, business development bursaries and producer support.
2) a highly flexible and evolving strand of activity consisting of workshops, intensive courses and bespoke support which is responsive to residents’ needs.

Just like most worthwhile experiences in life, the success of this programme has people at the heart of it. As this resident at KWMC The Factory who has recently cut down her salaried days in order to build her own jewellery and exhibition business reflects:

“NfCE has been more to me than access to amazing facilities, information and funding. It has helped me connect with like-minded people and it’s really changed my working life being able to bounce ideas around and get inspired! I’m very proud to be part of a network with such talented and supportive residents and staff alike!”

Network for Creative Enterprise has all sorts of impact, but I think the two key achievements are:
1) Establishing a network of organisations who are all working towards a common talent development programme with the ability to share learning in real time.

Some of the hubs we are working with didn’t have mature residency programmes and the programme has enabled a more robust offering with good sharing and co-working practices thereby strengthening the talent support capacity in the region (which is the West of England). By bringing together expertise from fine art to fabrication and creative technology, we are better equipped to share resources and provide business development opportunities to the growing freelance and micro-enterprise ecology within the cultural and creative sector.

2) Creating a network of peers to support each other that will outlast the project.

We currently have 138 active residents across the hubs and over 900 people participating in wider activity. They are increasingly active in forging peer to peer relationships as our activities invite residents to the different hubs, allowing for more cohesion between the physical locations and the opportunities we each have to offer. Peer support networks are a strong focus area for our final activity on the programme.

Naturally, this complex project has a series of challenges, but I think the two main challenges are:

1) Metrics

Although, reasonably, we are asked to measure impact (in this case in the form of progress against targets) in order to justify our funding, this can be hard in our sector. Most notably, the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) defines a job as nothing less than a year long, full time contract (or two part-time posts equivalent) which is difficult to reconcile with the broader economic realities in the cultural and creative sector.

34% of the creative industry workforce is made up of freelancers. A snapshot of a part of our community shows that the majority of people are working upwards of 20 hours per week on their own business and are paying themselves a base salary in most cases, but not enough to be recognised as a job by ERDF. A smaller group have PAYE staff but typically for two or three days per week on a six-month contract which, again, does not count. Moreover, during this project most residents, businesses or sole traders, are hiring or have hired temporary freelancers amounting to hundreds of days of work but zero ‘jobs’ by the official definition.

Not being able to count the economic activity of the eco-system is unrepresentative and therefore a risk for the future funding of similar projects. We no longer live in an industrialised world, where linear rapid growth metrics apply. The creative sector with its high proportion of freelancers, so called ‘life style businesses’, cross sector collaborations and disruptive innovation is a complex mixed bag that deserves the right support at the right time to flourish.

2) Budget Inflexibility

To meet ERDF requirements the budgets for this project were very precisely created at the onset with specific activity and spend allocations. As explained, we structure the majority of our programme to be responsive to the needs and demands of our resident communities and hence some of the ideas we had at the beginning have needed to change to support development of the individual residents.

The inflexibility around budget categories and procurement thresholds means that we are regularly re-inventing the wheel around types of support as well as struggling to find capacity to produce new programmes that we would like to pay for.

We have not successfully overcome these challenges, but we have mostly found a compromise. We have shaped our programme to reach the targets we need, while working hard to protect the ability to create meaningful support. Despite the constraints we are over target on a range of categories, which is great for reporting purposes. In our world many of the residents have accelerated their businesses but it remains frustrating that this is not recognised by ERDF at present.

Clearly it is incredible and important that we have been given funding to create a programme like this and both ACE and ERDF teams have been nothing but brilliant in accommodating our programme needs, and working with a mixture of funders in collaboration is progressive. However, I also think it is important to highlight when some of the mechanisms around the funding criteria themselves do not work as well as they could do – for the sake of all of us working in the creative sector.

What is the most important lesson for us?

We are trying to support a complex ecosystem with diverse economic communities and hugely varying needs. Funding needs to be more flexible and more time needs to be built in to develop formats with participants.
We are working with people who are worried about registering with HMRC for taxes on one end of the scale, and people who need to set up a board because they have expanded their business so much on the other.
There are no linear pathways and hence we need to be as flexible as possible to allow us to offer the right support at the right time. That way we can really help businesses accelerate and grow.

The strength of the cultural sector is its diversity and therefore flexibility is vital.

What next?

On 6 June 2019 we will launch an exhibition ‘Another Way Works’ showcasing the unique maps of a selection of 12 creative business journeys that have taken place with support from Network for Creative Enterprise. This will be a chance to reflect on the programme and interrogate some of the business development stories in depth.

For most of June, the exhibition space at KWMC will become a place to share key learnings and insights from the NfCE programme, in the form of visual display and through a series of live events, including workshops. There will be activity for producers on these types of programmes as well as residents who enrol on these types of programmes. We will also focus on peer networks and signpost to other business support opportunities in the West of England.

The more we actively seek to recognise and celebrate difference, the more chance we have to create long-lasting and meaningful impact, networks and a vibrant creative ecosystem that is recognised for its economic worth as well as everything else.


Launch Space graduate incubator recruiting now

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Have you graduated in the last three years in the UK and have a business idea you’d like to put into action?

Launch Space provides free desk space and business support for graduate-led, innovative and high-tech businesses at various stages on the start-up journey.

Launch Space is part of a wider entrepreneurial community based on our Frenchay Campus, housing the Future Space incubation facility and the Bristol Robotics Laboratory – making it a great environment for graduate start-ups to flourish.

In just 18 months, Launch Space has supported over 50 businesses, with over £1.8 million funds raised by its residents and employment created for more than 90 people.

Launch Space is now well established in the regional start-up community, and is recognised for its unique ability to connect start-ups with the support and collaboration of the wider university and business communities.

Find out more and apply today to grow your start-up business. Launch Space is supported by the ERDF.

If you have any questions, please get in touch via email: launchspace@uwe.ac.uk or call +44 (0)117 3286168.

Launch Space will receive up to £2,000,000 of funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) Growth Programme 2014-2020. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) is the programme’s Managing Authority. Established by the European Union, the ERDF helps local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects that support innovation, businesses, job creation and local community regeneration.