This February, Bristol-based SETSquared was named the best university incubator in the world at the World Incubation Summit in Toronto. To be fair, they’d won this prize already, back in 2015 – so for the Bristol startup scene, this was old news.
In a typically no fuss, all action style, Bristol has been quietly leading the way in industry/student innovation for years now, and the results are becoming harder and harder for other cities to ignore. World-leading robotics, 5G, Quantum are among the technologies that have attracted millions of pounds of investment and helped build an interconnected innovation culture that other cities are decades away from implementing. Wondering how Bristol university helps startups and new technology thrive?
These are the Bristol university initiatives that are producing some of the most exciting new startups in the world.
Having maintained its world-leading position since 2015, SETsquared has supported over 3500 hi-tech startups since its launch in 2002 and contributed over £8.6 billion to the UK economy. The partnership is a collaboration between Bristol, Bath, Southampton, Surrey and Exeter universities, with the sole focus of accelerating high-growth potential startups through office space, mentorship, investment support and access to numerous networks and programmes. Take, for example, the explosive Ultrahaptics (pioneers of ultrasound touch technology), founded by University of Bristol PhD student Tom Carter, who raised £18 million in investment after being carefully funnelled from the university lab to SETsquared. Similarly UltraSoc, again University of Bristol and SETSquared alumni, recently raised £5 million for its next-generation hard and software analysis technology. With twin offices in both Silicon Valley and, of course, Bristol, it’s a perfect example of what an amazing young entrepreneur, a brilliant city-wide support system and access to state of the art facilities can empower.
The Bristol Robotics Lab is a collaborative partnership between the University of the West of England and the University of Bristol. Heralded as the most comprehensive academic centre for robotics research in the UK, the lab is home to an impressive array of high-tech facilities including a flying arena, a 16,000-litre test pool and rapid prototyping facilities. The facilities are open to use for those accepted onto their Technology Business Incubator programme, which provides space, mentoring, guidance and connections for high-tech startups. The programme’s alumni includes games designers Reach Robotics who recently closed a $7.5m series-A investment round to further develop MekaMon – a multi-functional, connected battlebot.
Mark Ellingham and Natalia Jansz, the creators of Rough Guides, Edd Read who set-up Graze, Will Dean who co-founded the Tough Mudder events, and Sahar Hashemi, the co-founder of Coffee Republic – what do they all have in common? They’re all Bristol University alumni. Last year the university announced their new set of Innovation Programmes, designed after 30% of its students said they planned to become entrepreneurs after leaving university. The programmes allow students to twin their chosen academic subject with developing their own business ventures in their field. In their final year, they’re encouraged to create their own enterprise after industry-led training in design and entrepreneurship, bolstered by the university’s connections with SetSquared, the Bristol Robotics Lab, and the Engine Shed.
Another spin-off from the University of Bristol, the Smart Internet Lab is a hub for internet research that aims to address the limits and rapid changes in how we consume wireless technologies. Along with 5G experts from the University of Surrey and King’s College London, the lab has been awarded £16 million by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to develop a cutting-edge 5G test network, allowing leading experts and students to work together on creating the fastest mobile network to date.
The Quantum Technologies Innovation Centre is set to be one of the most exciting developments on the new campus at the University of Bristol. They recently announced a £43 million investment to build what’s set to be the world’s first open access centre dedicated to the development of quantum devices. Merging the talents of its students and experts, the research found will develop new technologies that will impact all major commercial sectors including, finance, defence, aerospace and energy. Businesses will be able to access office space and equipment as well as exciting ‘pay-as-you-go’ incubator labs. In its first 10 years alone, its estimated that the centre will lead to 9,000 new jobs and generate almost £300 million for the economy.
Ultimately, what drives all of this is a central, city-wide belief that innovation should be open, that great ideas should be shared and that a whole host of skill-sets, technologies and experience should be open for the brightest and best talent.
When you look at the tech hubs of Bristol, it’s clear that by working side by side with local creative studios, scientific programmes and University initiatives, they are creating a self-sustaining end-to-end system of innovation, implementation and growth. It’s a simple idea that is resulting in a truly innovative infrastructure: nurture young talent, give them access to complementary skill-sets, investment and support, and watch them fly.
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