Nick Sturge, Director of the Engine Shed
In a city that rivals Silicon Valley for enabling up and coming low carbon, creative, digital technology, and science focussed businesses, all roads lead to Bristol's Engine Shed
Engine Shed attracts entrepreneurs, academics and business leaders to a space where collaboration and innovation take centre stage. Simon Quinn, Moon Consulting's Senior Executive Search Consultant meets Nick Sturge, Director of Bristol's Engine Shed and former Centre Manager at SETsquared Centre, to learn more about his thoughts on the role of business accelerators in the technology and other fast growing sectors.
As the Director of the Engine Shed, Nick appreciates that there are significant market advantages to companies that commercialise their intellectual property rapidly, as technological change favours rapid market entrants and early adopters of disruptive change. Nick comments, 'The Bristol SETsquared Centre is now encompassed within the Engine Shed and we cater for businesses entering their second stage of growth. This is the point where they will scale up their activities, increase production capabilities and establish routes to market. This dramatically accelerates the growth of the start-ups located here.' The range of facilities at the Engine Shed, such as the Business Lounge, Brunel's Boardroom and the café and break out areas, - has made it a hive of activity since it opened its doors in 2013. Engine Shed is also the home of Invest in Bristol & Bath , the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and internet incubator WebStart Bristol.
As growth is a major business priority, Simon asks how the businesses located at, or connected to, the Engine Shed use the expertise of the Director and his advisors. '60% of what we do,' explained Nick 'is to develop Boards. We do this through a number of activities. For example, through SETsquared Centre, we can introduce members to our in-house business advisors or assist them in identifying non-executive directors that can bring their experience of work in the sector to benefit the business.' Simon finds himself agreeing with Nick on how the right skills in the boardroom can save time and money during this crucial growth phase. 'Getting a business to take off from a sound footing is central to our activities and the Engine Shed provides a great environment in this respect. Put simply, we want to reduce the failure rate of new businesses and markedly increase the numbers of entrepreneurs that build high performing companies'.
The conversation moves on to the role of the Chairperson, with Nick underlining how pivotal he believes this role really is to early stage growth, 'We encourage entrepreneurs to put a Chairperson on board from day one. The founder of an enterprise will benefit from a knowledgeable and guiding hand to assist with embedding governance and a critical friend that can recognise the areas where the business may need additional skills and expertise. A good Chairperson can add perspective and assist with succession planning.' While the team and network at SETsquared Centre provides an informal resource for budding entrepreneurs, Nick also works closely with Moon Consulting in identifying formal non-executive directors and chairperson roles as the need arises.
Simon (pictured on the right), is interested to know more about the success of Engine Shed: Nick explains, 'It is a genuine collaboration between partners at the University of Bristol, the Unitary Authorities of Bristol, Bath and Northeast Somerset, South Gloucestershire and North Somerset Council, as well as the West of England LEP, IoD, RSA, Business West and others concerned with business growth and the economy. Currently, we are supporting 68 companies employing 1,000 people. Since we were established seven years ago, we have supported over 180 companies and our success rate is enviable. We have robust criteria for accepting an enterprise into SETsquared. Sadly, we reject over 60% of applicants. This may seem harsh, but of the companies we have supported, only 24% have not progressed to either trading or taking on investment and only 2% have gone bust. When examining statistics for small businesses, on average 50% fail within the first year! This fact alone demonstrates why SETsquared, with its partner universities of Bath, Surrey, Exeter and Southampton is globally ranked the number one business incubator.'
Given such an impressive achievement, Simon was keen to understand how Nick is developing and utilising his own skills. 'I am the Vice-Chair for the West of England LEP's High-Tech Sector Group where my hands-on knowledge of the sector is very beneficial in putting forward our case for investment. Likewise, the SETsquared Centre and my role within Engine Shed are enshrined in my appointment as an Executive Director of Bristol University's Science Research Foundation. Here we are developing and implementing a growth strategy to maximise the impact of both the SETsquared Centre and Engine Shed. Currently we host around 100 staff from the universities of Bristol, Bath, Bath Spa and the West of England per month in order to enable them to identify potential entrepreneurs capable of commercialising their ideas. Further along the food chain, we also host around 1,200 school pupils a year to promote STE(A)M careers and entrepreneurship. We want them to realise that they too may have the ability to create a new and exciting technological application.'
Given the success of Engine Shed as a growth hub for entrepreneurs, Simon asks Nick what the plans are for the next development of the facility. 'We need to continue to add value to the economy. With this in mind, it is important for us to provide incubator space, alongside other providers such as the Bristol Robotics Centre, (a collaboration between the Universities of Bristol and of the West of England) and E-Spark . Additionally, at SETsquared Centre, we have appointed a new Centre Director, Monika Radclyffe (nee Gierszewska)). This appointment will enable me to focus more on leadership and growth challenges. For example, the development of Engine Shed 2 will enable us to increase our scope as well as our size.'
Nick's obvious talents as an advisor to entrepreneurs and start-ups also suit him in his new role as South West Regional Chairman of the Institute of Directors , the professional body for directors and senior managers in public, private and third sector businesses. Here Nick heads a team of six branch chairs covering Devon & Cornwall, Dorset, Bath & Wiltshire, Somerset, Gloucestershire and Bristol. Lastly, Simon asks Nick about his recent inclusion in the Maserati100 List for 2016. 'In February 2016 the Maserati Centre for Entrepreneurs published its second annual list of Britain's most successful mentors, investors, advisors and philanthropists supporting the next generation of young entrepreneurs. To be among this list was a fantastic honour,' Nick concludes.
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