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Inside The Bradfield Centre Episode 36 - Innovate UK Edge

In this episode, James chats to with Stuart Coyle of Innovate UK Edge to  learn about access to funding, investment readiness, impartial business advice, international partnering, and more!

Episode transcript

James Parton:

This episode is brought to you by the Cambridge Norwich Tech Corridor, which is home to the people and businesses tackling the grand challenges facing humanity and shaping the future of food, energy, medicine and mobility. Linking two of the UK's powerhouse cities, it is one of Europe's most exciting growth stories. They aim to improve the health as well as the wealth of this unique region by bringing together businesses and political leaders to amplify the region's existing collective strengths and create a place where people and businesses can thrive. To learn more, visit techcorridor.co.uk.

James Parton:

Welcome back to Inside The Bradfield Centre after our little summer break. I'm James Parton, managing director of The Bradfield Centre, and joining us on today's episode is Stuart Coyle, who is an innovation growth specialist at Innovate UK EDGE. So, Stuart, thanks for taking the time to come onto the show today. Very much appreciated.

Stuart Coyle:

It's a pleasure. Thank you for inviting me along.

James Parton:

Why don't we start off with you just explaining a little bit more about Innovate UK EDGE and how you're organized and how it fits?

Stuart Coyle:

Innovate UK EDGE is a government-funded organization specifically to help innovative SMEs around the UK to continue to grow. We work with companies across all sectors, and the background is that Innovate UK is the engine to help innovation in the UK to gain value, both domestically and internationally. Obviously there are various components to the support that Innovate UK provides. I'm sure a lot of companies are familiar with the funding side. But on the support side, obviously there is a lot that can be done to help companies first of all make that funding work as best they can, but even aside from that, there's a lot of the support across the board from Innovate UK EDGE, plus other organizations like the Knowledge Transfer Networks and the Catapults, which are helping companies large and small across sectors to really leverage that innovation.

James Parton:

Before we dive, I guess, into the specifics of the stuff that you offer, I'm guessing that the role of Innovate UK has probably never been more important in a post-Brexit world? Obviously the UK wants to drive innovation and be a knowledge-led economy. What's the government direction in that space? Have you seen an uptick in the kind of focus in your areas?

Stuart Coyle:

Absolutely. It's a clear government policy and particularly the innovation strategy that came out a couple of weeks ago and the new head of Innovate UK is very dynamic in this respect, that the UK is going to drive forward, strive its growth post-COVID, through innovation and through investment in innovation and the support for that innovation. So that filters right down to us innovation and growth specialists on the ground working day-to-day with companies to help the UK really grow in ... and particularly in strategic areas, but we do help companies across the board, as long as they're innovative and they've got the will and ambition to grow.

James Parton:

So you're effectively like the tip of the spear, then? Your role is to go find those companies and find out how you can deliver the most effective intervention?

Stuart Coyle:

Yeah, absolutely. And what we'll do is obviously we want companies to come to us but we'll actively go and seek those companies in our relationships with organizations like Mantle, The Bradfield Centre. That is a great way to help the kind of companies you work with to build on their innovation. And we will engage, we'll understand some of the challenges they're facing, some of the opportunities they can build on, and work with them to develop an action plan to address those challenges and opportunities and provide a series of coaching and mentoring and advisory services to address various aspects of that.

James Parton:

So why don't we delve a little bit deeper then into what that kind of business support looks like? I'm a founder of a startup. I'm figuring out how to drive growth and build my company. What does the support that you guys can offer look like, and how's that practical for me alongside everything else that's pulling my attention away from sitting down and having conversations with people?

Stuart Coyle:

Yeah, and this is always something that comes up. Of course, do you spend the time on the strategic side of your business and dealing with the challenges or the day-to-day? And there needs to be a balance, and this is where we come in because we're unbiased, we're a fully funded resource. The only commitment from your side is the time and the commitment to carry out the actions that we've agreed between us. But we're helping you with the longer term picture, and in terms of how that support works, once we've engaged and worked out that there are areas in which we can work with you, we'll make an application with you for the service. When that's approved then you're entitled to around five days in total of support, and that includes prep time and follow-up and everything else we're doing around that while you're running the day-to-day of your business.

Stuart Coyle:

Essentially it comes out to maybe 10 sessions of a couple of hours each time probably every couple of weeks. So we're talking four, five, six months of engagement. And in that time, we will work through the particular issues we've identified.

James Parton:

Right.

Stuart Coyle:

Now in terms of the specifics of what that could be. Of course, one of them I'll address first, the F-word, funding. Obviously funding comes in a variety of forms but we're obviously very tapped into the public funding ecosystem, and specifically that coming from Innovate UK. So if you trace a lineage from what Innovate UK does, I mentioned on the one side you've got the support from the likes of us, Innovate UK EDGE, Knowledge Transfer Networks, Catapults and other support organizations. But on the other side, you've got the funding. So that could be in the form of the more broadly focused smart grants or sector-specific challenges, or obviously challenges that are really focused on strategic objectives for the UK. As well as access to other schemes, which maybe I'll talk about in a minute.

Stuart Coyle:

Of course, the other side of that is the private funding side. We work with companies and we have some experts in our team who are specifically from a funding background, but we all have a decent knowledge of the space. And we work with you to get your company ready for private investment. That is through tools we have. We have access to some great tools to understand how investment-ready you are at this stage and then take you on the journey and then see how you've improved in terms of investment readiness. We help you work on your pitch. We help you join investor events.

Stuart Coyle:

There is a program called Pitchfest where we work with selected companies. We have dedicated investment advisors working with them to optimize their pitch, and ultimately they will get to pitch to a panel of investors at the end of that process. That's a great program. There's a blend of things available, and that's just the finance side. We will obviously make sure that you're getting the right support in that that you need. There's plenty of more services.

James Parton:

Well, a couple of quick supplementaries, then, on the finance before we move onto the other stuff. Am I right to assume then your network of investor relationships is both national and international? Are you connecting people at all stages of financing? So like angels through to VCs for Series A and beyond? What kind of scope do those connections look like?

Stuart Coyle:

Of course throughout the team and nationally across Innovate UK EDGE, we do have various levels of connections nationally and internationally. But the focus really isn't on that connection. It's on being ready for that connection. It's knowing how to proceed. Definitely when you come down towards more the angel networks, we have good spread and visibility within those. And especially within our region where we have, for example, Essex Angels and New Anglia Capital are organizations we work with quite often.

Stuart Coyle:

But the key is readiness. The one other thing we have in terms of tools is access to a platform that helps you to make very directed searches for the right types of investor for your company.

James Parton:

And then on the public funding side of things, I mean, I've had a lot of conversations with founders over the years and, rightly or wrongly, I pick up there's a bit of ... it could be a misconception, but there's a feeling that applying for public money can be quite onerous in terms of the grant writing, the pitch writing, the length of time it takes to get a response and then the reporting obligations that you might have if you're successful. It sounds like your team helps you through that process. Is that right? Do you make that a more painless experience for people?

Stuart Coyle:

Absolutely. There's not many people out there who like writing grants, whether it's at university level or when it comes to public funding for businesses, which is maybe marginally less onerous. But we endeavor to make it even less onerous. And what we-

James Parton:

And that's all free as part of the service?

Stuart Coyle:

This is all included as part of the service, yeah. This is an important thing we do and we will help you to identify not only the right funding opportunities for your business, but also to take you through that process, to help guide you on what assessors might be looking for. We can't be 100% because obviously it's a completely different part of the ecosystem that makes these decisions. But what we can do is guide you from experience and help you to write this and help you to review your applications before you submit them.

James Parton:

Okay, that's good to know.

James Parton:

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James Parton:

So we've talked a lot there about the financial side of things. What about the broader range of services, then, you guys provide?

Stuart Coyle:

I'm glad you asked because-

James Parton:

It's almost like we discussed this.

Stuart Coyle:

But this is a very important question because any funder is only going to want to fund you if you've got the right business model and the right strategy and you know where you're going with your business. And this is, I would say ... of course I would say, but I'm confident in saying that this is a essential part of what we do. And so in terms of the main areas in which I support, these are from the very high-level business model, working with you on your business model, your business plan, your strategy, applying a range of strategy tools, some of which you may be familiar with, some of which are pretty unique. And working with you on your organizational growth, training needs, et cetera, through to slightly more specific areas such as IP support. We have IP specialists on the team.

Stuart Coyle:

And also we help you to apply for partially funded IP audits from the IP Office of England and Wales. And marketing support, we will work with you on your marketing plan. We'll work with you on your business' value proposition to different customer segments, and help you test that. And I should also mention signposting to further support where you need very specific professional support in certain areas.

Stuart Coyle:

Through all of this, we are an advisor. We're helping to guide you. It's your business. It's your focus. But we are fortunately connected into the all of those resources that will be able to help you, and we're an unbiased outside view of how your business can continue to grow and innovate. And we use all those tools and all those connections and all those resources to help you to do that.

James Parton:

So it sounds like there's so much there that you're packing into the package-

Stuart Coyle:

The way it works out is 36 hours, but that would come to 10 sessions of around two hours each, and everything around that.

James Parton:

So what happens at the end of the that process?

Stuart Coyle:

Yeah. When we're reaching the end of the allocated time for support, we will have a close-out session with your team and talk about the impacts that have been made and the impacts to be expected in the next 12 months.

James Parton:

Right.

Stuart Coyle:

We will also plan in a catch-up in six months. But a lot of the time actually, we identify another source of support for you, maybe a similar program. We also have a Scaleup Programme. So when businesses have reached a certain turnover, I believe it's currently a million pounds, around about that mark, and are looking at 50% growth year-on-year, then that is a great time for the Scaleup team to come in.

Stuart Coyle:

What the Scaleup Programme is is a number of Scaleup directors across the UK. So whereas the previous support is very much regionally-based, you would have three Scaleup directors from all over the UK who will look at specific issues in your business and provide support that's not time-limited but it's about resolving that issue.

James Parton:

So there's a kind of warm hand-off to those teams and that additional support?

Stuart Coyle:

There are. And there are a variety of flavors of support we can provide. Again, most of it funded but certainly we can signpost to other areas of support where relevant.

James Parton:

That all sounds really impressive. Have you got some examples of some local companies that have benefited from these services?

Stuart Coyle:

Yeah, we've helped a lot of companies in a lot of different ways, many with the finance. For example, we have AgPlus Diagnostics where, following our support, they saw a 53% increase in revenue and a couple of new customers. And also Kaptivo, and that was more of a holistic approach. We helped them to pivot their marketing focus to exploit opportunities during the recent COVID situation.

James Parton:

Right, okay.

Stuart Coyle:

And maybe a more detailed example would be Ablatus Therapeutics from Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, and they pioneered a new procedure for destroying tumors without invasive surgery. We supported them by helping them to hone their investment pitch, which resulted in raising £500,000 in matched funding and securing a Smart Grant, which is an Innovate UK funding scheme. Smart Grant of 1.42 million pounds.

Stuart Coyle:

Similarly we worked with Textpert.io, which is a Cambridge firm using AI to search the web for leading experts in any field. And we provided them with support, and later on they ended up raising 3.75 million and growing at more than 150% annually.

James Parton:

Right.

Stuart Coyle:

But that's not to say it's all about finance. I mean, with Textpert, it also resulted in growth in staff, 30 extra staff in the first year. With a lot of the companies we've worked with, we've helped them in ways that will feed through to their business for the next few years. For example, a number of companies complete IP audits and through that that is an underpin for them being able to internationalize and protect their IP and also trade confidently abroad.

Stuart Coyle:

Similarly, we've helped companies to pivot and to identify new customer segments and how to sell into those customer segments when the current business model is not working. So a lot of the impact is actually quite qualitative.

James Parton:

You touched on international there, because I also believe there's some programs around helping people branch out from the UK and go international. Is that right?

Stuart Coyle:

Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. I think a lot of companies will be aware of the Department for International Trade and the kind of support they offer, and we're certainly connected into that ecosystem. And actually, our own organization, Exemplas, which is part of the University of Hertfordshire, delivers services for both Innovate UK EDGE and the Department for International Trade in the East of England and elsewhere.

Stuart Coyle:

But in terms of what we can do as an Innovate UK EDGE advisor, we can get you ready for that internationalization. We can work with you to help you understand what markets you should be looking at and approaches to those markets, resources on the ground. And actually Innovate UK EDGE's history is coming from Enterprise Europe Network, which is an organization which is still going, but obviously our position in the UK has changed in that. We are still an associate member. And through that network, we have access to 65 countries, so not just Europe. Countries as far afield as Peru, Taiwan, China. And access to partnering opportunities within those countries, so we can help you to find the right partners for collaboration, for R&D collaboration or commercial collaboration in those markets.

James Parton:

Okay. So it sounds like you're offering a really comprehensive range of support there. So if I'm interested, I guess two questions. How do I apply, and is there any kind of qualifying criteria that I need to meet to be eligible for the support?

Stuart Coyle:

Yeah. So in terms of the companies we can support, any SME that is innovative and can demonstrate innovation and has growth ambitions, come and talk to us. And if you want to reach out to us ... I mean, for companies across the UK, you can find contact details very clearly on innovateukedge.ukri.org. Specifically for companies in the East of England, you can reach us through our LinkedIn at Innovate UK EDGE East, or reach out through The Bradfield Centre.

James Parton:

We're more than happy to connect people that are interested to you guys, and we've already discussed that you guys are going to be spending time in the building as well. So we'll promote in advance when the team's going to be onsite, and we'd encourage people just to grab a coffee and have a conversation. You've literally got nothing to lose.

Stuart Coyle:

Absolutely. Yeah, we're looking forward to meeting some of you at drop-in clinics when they happen, so we'll let you know about that.

James Parton:

Perfect. Well, thanks so much for taking the time. It's been really enlightening. Just hadn't appreciated just how broad the range of support was, and the fact it's free of charge, it's pretty impressive.

Stuart Coyle:

Well, yeah. And thank you for inviting me back here. It's always good to be back at The Bradfield Centre, and I look forward to visiting many more times.

James Parton:

Fantastic. So thanks once again to Stuart for spending the time with us today. Very much appreciated. I've certainly learnt a lot. I was actually genuinely surprised just how broad the support offer is from Innovate UK EDGE, and the fact that it's free of charge, it just means I'd really encourage you to come over to The Bradfield Centre when the team is in residence and have a cup of coffee and just explore what's possible. Certainly, I think, a load of support resources there that's probably too good not to take advantage of.

James Parton:

Thank you to Carl Homer with Cambridge TV for producing today's show. You can listen to previous episodes by searching for Inside The Bradfield Centre on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, SoundCloud, Stitcher, Amazon Music or bradfieldcentre.com. If you have the time, please give us a five-star review. It will really help other people discover the show.

 

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