Ian Bell, director of Business West: Developing new space and forging partnerships is the key to helping start ups flourish and raising the profile of Bath

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Written by:   | Posted 03-September-2013 9:13

More great news was announced recently that the University of Bath is part of a consortium which has been judged as being the fourth best in the world. Yes, you read correctly, the best in Europe and beaten only by three Americans in a global competition.

And what has the consortium done? They have assisted in the formation of about a thousand new high-tech start up businesses since they started working together ten years ago and they have helped secure £34 million in funding this year alone.

It is an incredible achievement for the SETsquared group, which also includes the Universities of Bristol, Exeter, Southampton and Surrey. It offers some answers but also raises some questions.

The most obvious answer is the benefit to be had from partnership working. It’s a concept that is widely recognised, often talked about, but rarely does it work as well as it has in this case.

The trick is to find partners with similar interests, complementary skills and a shared vision. Bring those elements together and the sky is quite literally the limit. You don’t need to be part of a prestigious university.

Almost any business could look around and ask whether working co-operatively with another company could produce something greater than the sum of the parts.

The main problem that this brilliant news poses is where do these new businesses go? In Bath we have the university’s own Innovation Centre in Carpenter House about which Bath Chamber members received a recent update. It does a great job in providing a home for many, helping to reduce the risk of high growth companies failing and connecting them across the globe.

And the new coworking hub in the Guildhall will also offer welcome additional space. However, that’s not nearly enough and we very much need more accommodation for businesses of this type.

It would be nothing short of tragic if the university nurtures their students to the point where their business ideas are ready to fly and they can’t find the sort of affordable and flexible space they need from which to run them.

The second problem that a high number of new start ups brings is that at least some of them will quite rapidly outgrow their innovation space. Therefore, they need room to be able to grow and develop and we need to provide it or they will go elsewhere. It is great to have a reputation as being the nursery for new businesses and we must be proud of that.

But we also need to be the place where they can grow and move on to the next stage in which they can create valuable new jobs.

So how do we solve the problems? We work together to identify sites and we broadcast our story to attract developers who will be willing to take a risk and build the sort of premises that this sector needs. SETsquared has shown what is possible – the rest of us must now follow their example.

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