Little acorn, mighty oak
To move from start-up to success needs nurturing know-how, finds Dominic Ryan
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.”