Getting ready for launch
Two years ago, Teesside Launchpad was set up to provide support to entrepreneurs, and budding entrepreneurs, who formed part of the Teesside University community. Steve Dougan, head of graduate enterprise at the University, explains that it was designed to replace an older funded programme, and the idea was to deliver the best possible product to students. “The challenge given to me by the University was to start with a blank piece of paper: If Carlsberg did graduate enterprise programmes, what would it look like?
“So what we did was reference all the best projects we could find around the world and around the UK, and use them to design a new scheme on campus with a brand students could recognise and be excited by. We also made a space on campus that entrepreneurial students and graduates would gravitate to, that would stimulate enterprise activity.
“That programme was branded Teesside Launchpad, and we’ve now converted an old Victorian school, right in the heart of the campus, into a really exciting space for entrepreneurship and business start-up,” he says. “We allow a broad range of people to join Launchpad and use the facilities,” he says. “You could be a student or a graduate, predictably, but you could also be a business support specialist, a local entrepreneur, a retired business owner, or an ‘interesting person’ – someone who brings brains, experience, access to networks with them.”
So, it’s an open, inclusive programme that allows anyone to join who adds value.
Sense of community is important here. Dougan points out: “If you walk into the best start up incubators in the country, the first thing that strikes you is that they’re so much more than buildings; there is a sense of optimism and community. And we build these spaces sometimes,” he adds, referring to the country in general, “on the assumption that we can fill them with that culture, but it’s the wrong way around.”
Many of the workshops that happen are based on a reciprocal exchange of value. “We run workshops on law, taxation, digital marketing – we’re not paying for that course to happen here, it’s a swap. We give the trainers access to great facilities for their paying clients, and the swap is that Launchpad members and businesses get to attend for free,” he says.
That adds value to the Launchpad, but also to the deliverer’s workshop, because alongside their corporate clients they get a mix of founders, graduates and students coming in.
“Lots of relationships start in that mix, where people go on to become part of someone’s business. Where a Launchpad business has met a customer, or a supplier, or a potential partner. And where else might they have met those people?
“Graduates often find it difficult to take advantage of traditional networking events, because they often lack the confidence to do that naturally. But doing that in Launchpad, in their home, is more comfortable,” he adds.
Launchpad itself is a big co-working space, currently home to just more than twenty businesses. “We also have an ideas generation room; it has an Xbox One, virtual reality facilities, a ping-pong table… it’s a really cool space,” says Dougan, that is often used to encourage creative and free thinking in the community.
There are more than 20 businesses in the building in incubation, all in space that’s subsidised by the University. “We also have workshop spaces for businesses who are making things – we have a furniture workshop, we have three-dimensional 3D printing, we have a prop design company making movie props… the diversity of businesses in here is as diverse as the campus itself.”
Of the founders in the space itself, Dougan explains that they’re all graduates, having a stab at entrepreneurialism for the first time. “Ordinarily, they’d come in during their third year and spend some time in the co-working lab, and we can knock their ideas around, carry out some validation and customer testing activity, then when they graduate they can come bring their team here.”
And then, when they’re ready, they get to move “Upstairs”. That’s a big deal. “Upstairs” is a rite of passage. A graduation, to the Fishpond.
“To get to go ‘Upstairs’,” Dougan says, “your team has to be solid, you have a reasonably valid business model, and you’re not too many steps away from winning business and getting customers. It’s seen as a big thing because it triggers a lot of the additional support that Launchpad offers. It triggers mentoring, where we can bring in experts to come in and be their coaches.”
To get access to that next level of support, you have to earn it, Dougan says. “And even when you go make that move, you go into the Fishpond; a shared office space. It’s not new and shiny, it’s basic – the most basic office in the building. You’re upstairs, you’ve got your own space, it’s quieter, you have mentors coming in to help you – it’s time to earn your way out of the Fishpond.”
The next step is to get your own, freshly decorated, office – but that has to be earned. It’s Dougan’s team who monitor that; after establishing “what good looks like” for the Fishpond business, they measure their success to check they are continuing to swim in the right direction, so to speak.
“If that’s happening,” Dougan says, “and if mentors feed that back, we help them to move into their own space where they can stay for 6-12 months, before we fledge them out to other places.”
Continuing with the theme of diversity, the Launchpad team have worked hard to mix up the types of businesses that are working with them. “There would have been a time where this building was mainly digital businesses. We still have those businesses, but we’ve made a conscious effort to get the platform to reflect both the campus, and the regional economy, more than it did in the past.”
And on top of that, there’s also financial support. “Every year we run Launchpad FUEL, our top tier programme that allows them to pitch for grant funding. Not a loan, a grant of between £2,000 and £19,000 per team, which comes from a Trust.”
The most recent round of FUEL saw £37,000 of funding distributed, predominantly to social enterprises, and with an active bias to female founders. “We actively sought them out to try to balance the platform a little more. That’s great for us, because we get a much more colourful space.”
And a £650,000 refurbishment project in 2018 will mean more workshop space is available to micro-manufacturing businesses, with facilities like sinks and industrial flooring. “We’re finding more and more graduates wanting to use laser cutters, 3D printers; things that weren’t accessible 15 years ago, but that you can now put on a desk for under £1,000.”
So the entrepreneurial community being built at the Launchpad is continuing to thrive, and Steve is bullish about its future: “It has to be led by entrepreneurs; it’s an entrepreneurial community. Sharing their stories and lessons learned, in exchange for an exciting space, people who could become their suppliers or customers, and space on a campus that’s really going places.
“You can build buildings, but here, on the campus, you really get a feel that something special’s happening.”
Live It and Get Active
Gurmeet Singh and Matty Jenkinson set up their company, Live It and Get Active, after being inspired by a graduate internship arranged by the University with Tees Valley Sport.
The business offers a holistic approach to keeping healthy and, as well as the fitness sessions, Matty and Gurmeet work with catering staff to address nutritional needs.
The pair are rolling out their high-intensity interval training (HIIT) programmes for children and staff members, to schools and young people’s organisations across the Tees Valley.
Gurmeet, a food and nutrition graduate, and Matty, a sports studies graduate, both undertook a three-month work placement with Tees Valley Sport earlier in the year.
As part of their placement they helped deliver fitness training to primary school children and teachers, and saw the potential for a business which offered structured training and healthy eating advice to both pupils and staff members.
Jenkinson said: “We’re both passionate about fitness and saw that there was a gap for a company which provides high-intensity training to school children.”
Circle Cloud was launched in 2014 from Teesside University’s startup incubator Launchpad, and has since gone on to work with a raft of clients and secured Microsoft recognised partner status.
Circle Cloud specialises in implementing, migrating and managing client’s IT infrastructures in Microsoft Azure and Office 365.
Microsoft approached Circle Cloud to become one of its managed cloud partners. The status means the team will host talks in Fusion Hive, the University-managed business innovation centre in Stockton, by cloud specialists, have the opportunity to attend Microsoft’s Tech Summit in Washington DC, and sit regular tests to ensure their cloud knowledge is up to date.
In the past year the firm – led by 26-year-old Tomas Roberton and 44-year-old Michael Povey – has increased turnover from £120,000 to £440,000.
Roberton, who met Povey when they both worked at Darlington based Northgate Vehicle Hire, explain: “This year has been our year of gaining traction on work completed in previous years.
“Part of our strategy this year was to bring more large companies into our portfolio.”
Kraken IM was founded by Geoff Cornwell and Jordan Holland, before Cornwell’s brother Ian joined them.
Kraken has developed a software tool, Halcyon, which captures information throughout the project lifecycle to create a digital asset.
Halycon captures all the data from the teams working on the project by providing a collaboration platform, collecting not just the data that the teams produce but also the communications that the teams make.
This rich data environment allows them to create predictive models on project performance and risk as well as give an audit trail of all of the decisions that have been made along the way.
Since late 2016 the team has gone from strength to strength, from pitching to Prince Andrew, selection in the prestigious
Thinking Digital Startup competition and DigitalDNA in Belfast, and international recognition as one of the top 500 most promising tech start-ups in 2017 for the Pioneers 500 festival in Vienna.
Published: 02 January 2018