Lit­tle acorn, mighty oak

To move from start-up to suc­cess needs nur­tur­ing know-how, finds Dominic Ryan

The Herald Business - - Commercial Report: Incubators -

WHILE many en­trepreneurs and early-stage com­pa­nies sit around con­tem­plat­ing what should come first in busi­ness, the chicken or the egg, oth­ers are al­ready busy in­cu­bat­ing ideas that will hatch into strong and healthy en­ter­prises.

As di­rec­tor and head of op­er­a­tions at In­no­va­tion Cen­tres Scot­land Ltd (ICS), Mar­ian Gar­diner is at the fore­front of help­ing th­ese young ideas grow up into suc­cess­ful or­gan­i­sa­tions.

Fun­da­men­tal to her work is the idea of busi­ness in­cu­ba­tion, best de­fined as a highly flex­i­ble com­bi­na­tion of busi­ness de­vel­op­ment pro­cesses, i nfras­truc­ture and peo­ple – all de­signed to nur­ture and grow new and small busi­nesses, prod­ucts and ideas by sup­port­ing them through the early stages of de­vel­op­ment and change.

Gar­diner says: “Our aim at ICS is to sup­port early-stage tech­nol­ogy busi­nesses to en­able them to fully com­mer­cialise their prod­uct and ser­vice, to take them to mar­ket and achieve busi­ness g rowth, and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment that ben­e­fits the econ­omy of the re­gion and the coun­try as a whole.”

She points out the stark re­al­ity that, on their own, young busi­nesses are too small to es­tab­lish strong re­la­tion­ships with banks, an­gels, ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists, busi­ness con­sul­tants or other busi­ness de­vel­op­ment re­sources.

“The in­cu­ba­tor com­mu­nity, phys­i­cal or vir­tual, al­lows th­ese en­trepreneurs to be­come part of some­thing larger with­out sac­ri­fic­ing their in­de­pen­dence, giv­ing them ac­cess to busi­ness sup­port re­sources,” Gar­diner ex­plains.

“And, if ap­pro­pri­ate, pro­vid­ing flex­i­ble work space un­der terms and con­di­tions that are de­signed to min­imise long-term fi­nan­cial pres­sures and fa­cil­i­tate rapid growth.

“Im­por­tantly, we can pro­vide

‘THE COM­PA­NIES WE WISH TO SUP­PORT ARE DRIVEN BY A BE­LIEF IN AN IDEA’ – Mar­ian Gar­diner, ICS

them with ac­cess to a busi­ness net­work en­com­pass­ing a full range of pro­fes­sional and busi­ness sup­port ser­vices, a knowl­edge of and re­la­tion­ship with both pub­lic (Scot­tish En­ter­prise and oth­ers) and pri­vate sup­port agen­cies and prod­ucts.”

This sup­port is best pro­vided in an en­tre­pre­neur­ial busi­ness en­vi­ron­ment – one that fos­ters col­lab­o­ra­tion and shar­ing among young com­pa­nies, while re­spect­ing the in­de­pen­dence and self-re­liance that mo­ti­vates th­ese en­trepreneurs. At ICS the be­lief is this should be a com­mu­nity with a cul­ture that sup­ports risk tak­ing, in­no­va­tion, in­ven­tion and the cre­ation of wealth.

Gar­diner says: “We pro­vide this through our in­no­va­tion cen­tres at Hilling­ton Park, Alba in Liv­ingston and Atrium in La­nark­shire. Mod­ern com­mu­ni­ca­tion sys­tems and me­dia do now, how­ever, pro­vide al­ter­na­tive ways to be part of a com­mu­nity, a net­work or a group with shared in­ter­ests and com­mon goals which the de­liv­er­ers of in­cu­ba­tion sup­port can tap into – and thereby pro­vide this ben­e­fit to a greater num­ber of young busi­nesses or en­trepreneurs who are more ge­o­graph­i­cally dis­persed.”

She points to typ­i­cal mile­stones achieved in the in­cu­ba­tor en­vi­ron­ment: de­vel­op­ment or ex­pan­sion of a busi­ness plan, mar­ket re­search, cre­at­ing a core man­age­ment team, es­tab­lish­ing a cus­tomer base, iden­ti­fy­ing routes to mar­ket, de­vel­op­ing a prod­uct or ser­vice, rais­ing seed or first-round cap­i­tal, es­tab­lish­ing a net­work of pro­fes­sional ser­vice providers, and skills se­cured through peo­ple de­vel­op­ment or re­cruit­ment.

She says: “In­cu­ba­tion cen­tres are hot­beds of ideas and in­no­va­tive think­ing. By def­i­ni­tion the com­pa­nies we wish to sup­port through the in­cu­ba­tion ser­vice are ‘nat­u­ral in­no­va­tors’.

“They are driven by a be­lief in an idea and need sup­port – the re­moval of bar­ri­ers and mar­ket fail­ure – to be able to turn their idea, tech­nol­ogy, prod­uct or ser­vice into a re­al­ity, a com­mer­cial re­al­ity, and achieve busi­ness suc­cess and sus­tain­abil­ity.”

This sup­port is ev­i­dent at the Alba In­no­va­tion Cen­tre in Liv­ings t on. Here, cen­tre man­ager Peter An­drew ex­plains how the fa­cil­ity works with new-start and early-stage tech­nol­ogy and in­no­va­tion busi­nesses through­out Scotl and, as­sist­ing busi­nesses i n com­mer­cial­is­ing new tech­nolo­gies, cre­at­ing jobs and fos­ter­ing eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment.

He says: “I fo­cus on sup­port­ing dy­namic, creative and in­no­va­tive busi­nesses through­out Scot­land as they de­velop and grow their new busi­nesses. Key to this is build­ing net­works, de­vel­op­ing busi­ness skills and cre­at­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for the busi­nesses I work with.”

As part of this net­work build­ing and de­vel­op­ment, Alba In­no­va­tion Cen­tre of­fers in­no­va­tive tech­nol­ogy busi­nesses a place to in­cu­bate and grow.

“If you are run­ning a tech­nol­ogy busi­ness with a great idea, prod­uct or ser­vice and are look­ing for a lo­ca­tion to base your busi­ness where you can tap into spe­cial­ist sup­port and a com­mu­nity of like-minded in­di­vid­u­als,” says An­drew, “we have a team ex­pe­ri­enced in the area of grow­ing in­no­va­tive tech­nol­ogy busi­nesses, who will work with your busi­ness to achieve your goals.”

The cen­tre it­self pro­vides flex­i­ble and fully ser­viced of­fice fa­cil­i­ties – the per­fect space in which to meet like-minded busi­nesses. It pro­vides a range of bespoke pack­ages, from month-to-month hot de­sk­ing to eight-per­son of­fices – all of which ben­e­fit from high-speed 50Mb broad­band con­nec­tiv­ity.

An­drew points out: “We have an ex­cel­lent mix of tech­nolo­gies and ideas – sev­eral have al­ready taken off and are do­ing well.”

In fact, the Alba In­no­va­tion Cen­tre num­bers more than speak for them­selves 47 com­pa­nies sup­ported Turnover up 80% to £7.8m Em­ploy­ment up from 31 to 120 peo­ple 60 t ech star t - ups t hrough its doors Two new clients per month As well as pro­vid­ing of­fice fa­cil­i­ties, the cen­tre runs reg­u­lar events and en­cour­ages i ts clients to net­work, and share ideas and sup­port. An­drew says: “We have a very strong col­lab­o­ra­tive and ap­proach­able cul­ture in the cen­tre where ev­ery­one is open and friendly.”

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