In just four years, The MedBIC Business Innovation Centre has helped dozens of young enterprises in the medical and engineering sectors to grow.
The MedBIC opened on our Chelmsford campus in 2014, and within a few months six small companies were based there. Four years later, the numbers have soared. Today, it has a full complement of almost 40 small and medium enterprises (SMEs) on site, and a wider network of 1,300 members.
As work begins on a new Innovation Centre in Harlow, MedBIC Manager Aideen McCambridge explains how it has created an ideal partnership between the University and entrepreneurs – with benefits for everyone involved: "The companies get a lot out of being in such a professional sectoral environment on campus and by having access to students and specialist staff,” says Aideen. “At the same time, the University also gains.”
By supporting enterprises in the medical and advanced engineering sectors, The MedBIC is capitalising on the University’s strengths, as well as Chelmsford’s proud tradition as a centre of industry and technology. Working in partnership with both the county and city councils, The MedBIC aims to develop the next generation of companies that will enable the local economy to thrive.
Its clients are extremely diverse, and include medtech companies, digital modelling companies, software engineers, consulting engineers and innovative consumer goods suppliers. New joiners range from freshly-hatched start-ups through to small firms with a handful of staff. “What unites them is that they need access to people who understand what they are trying to do and can help them get to the next stage,” Aideen says.
Companies can rent office space and access workshops, labs and other facilities. The MedBIC also supports a number of other SMEs through virtual packages. Each can avail themselves of a level of expert mentoring and support, as well as access to a wider business network; the Centre’s advisory group includes representatives of several major firms, including BAE Systems and Leonardo.
Businesses get additional exposure through wider innovation activities, such as sector-specific hackathons and innovation sandpits, where their work has the potential to be picked up by financial backers. The MedBIC also runs sectoral business seminars and opens doors to numerous supply chains and business events that might otherwise be inaccessible, especially to SMEs.
This, in turn, has created opportunities for our researchers, for example by enabling them to apply for funding streams that demand an element of industry collaboration. The presence of on-site companies has also given our students a wealth of work experience and employment opportunities.
Several success stories have already emerged from The MedBIC.
One is FutureNova, one of The MedBIC's earliest occupants, which makes a medical-grade case for iPads called a FlipPad. This protects tablet computers from the bacteria that cause infections such as MRSA, so that they can be used safely in hospitals.
With help, FutureNova was able to secure funding grants and acquire business connections. FlipPads are now being adopted by hospitals in Texas and Georgia in the United States, among others.
FutureNova was founded by Mike Casey, who was working alone when he arrived at the MedBIC, but now has more offices and a small team. “He’s a perfect example of how one person with a great idea can benefit from being on campus,” Aideen says.
A newer arrival is Hedkayse, which is developing a cycle helmet that can be folded up when not in use, made from a new material called Enkayse that gives wearers better protection than traditional helmets through the new tough material. Through The MedBIC, the company not only acquired an office, but by working with ARU's Faculty of Science & Technology, they have specialist support to help test their product’s durability.
“I think part of the success is because we are such a business-friendly university,” Aideen reflects. “Many of our academics already have a business background. As a community we are ready to find ways to help other entrepreneurs, even if it involves doing something we haven’t tried before.”
The collaborative philosophy that defines The MedBIC will similarly characterise our new Business Innovation Centre in Harlow, which opens in 2019 and will support high-tech businesses in the life sciences, information technology and advanced manufacturing sectors.
Like The MedBIC, this new centre will give new and emerging companies the professional support they need to develop, and also, through the University, direct access to research expertise, funding support and emerging talent.