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Inside The Bradfield Centre Podcast Episode 44: 5th Anniversary Special with Rory Landman

As part of the celebrations marking the 5th anniversary of The Bradfield Centre opening, James chats to Rory Landman, the former Senior Bursar of Trinity College, Cambridge who was the key driving force behind the creation of The Bradfield Centre. We cover the origin of The Bradfield Centre, how the idea took shape, the design principles and objectives of the Centre, how the Bradfield fits in the city's innovation offer, outsourcing the operation of the Centre, and a look back at the highlights of the first 5 years of The Centre.

James Parton:
Welcome to Inside The Bradfield Centre, where we tell the stories of the company's partners and staff that make The Bradfield Centre community so special. I'm James Parton, managing director of The Bradfield Centre. Today's episode celebrates the fifth anniversary of The Bradfield Centre, where I take a look back at the origin and the development of The Bradfield with former Trinity College senior bursar, Rory Landman.

James Parton:
So our fifth birthday celebrations present a fantastic opportunity to share the original concept of The Bradfield Centre, and how it fits within the Cambridge tech ecosystem, and of course, reflect back on our first five years. And what a fantastic five years it's been. It's been fabulous to partner with Trinity College to deliver on their vision for The Bradfield Centre. And I want to take this opportunity to thank all the current and former team members, our partners, and of course all the startups that have called The Bradfield home over the years.

James Parton:
So Rory, thanks so much for spending the time to come onto the podcast, very much appreciated. And this is a special episode marking the fifth year anniversary of The Bradfield Centre. So why don't we start with the original idea. Where did that come from and what was the inspiration for The Bradfield Centre?

Rory Landman:
Well, thank you, James, for having me on. As with all good ideas, I think the stars aligned with the requirements, from various sides. One catalyst was actually a speech that the master, so Gregory Winter, gave to alumni, and some came up to him at the end, this was in the autumn of 2013, saying that the college really should do something more about helping small businesses based on technology developed in Cambridge, to grow and prosper.

Rory Landman:
Two alumni came up to Gregory at the end of the speech and said that the college really should do something about translating all the research that was being done into business opportunities. And the college should be doing more to help support small businesses in Cambridge. And they pursued that with correspondence and papers to Greg and myself. At the same time, the college needed to build a new innovation centre because we were knocking one down on the science park to make way for new development.

Rory Landman:
And those two ideas came together. And at the same time, somebody from the cabinet office again approached college saying was there something that could be done in Cambridge to help small businesses? And that happened in the middle of 2014. So clearly there were a number of things all coming together to encourage the college to take the development of an innovation centre very seriously. And there was this cabinet office call for ideas, and we submitted a paper which we prepared over a weekend in June, I think it was, 2014. And then we heard nothing at all until we were approached again in January of 2015 with more developed ideas from BIS, as it turned out, the Department for Business Innovation and Skills. And they then became interested again in what we were planning.

Rory Landman:
But in the meantime, we'd already developed plans for an innovation centre, using this particular site. And it all came together in February 2015, when the prime minister was about to, David Cameron was about to visit Cambridge. And we were able to work with BIS to develop an announcement that The Bradfield Centre would be built. Clearly at that point, it was quite early stage. We had the concept and we had the site, but we didn't have the building, and we didn't exactly know how it'd work. Although we had the general idea of an innovation centre that we had been running for many years on various sites. But there were going to be some fairly special attributes of The Bradfield Centre, which hadn't existed in previous innovation centres. And that was the point at which we then went out to the wider Cambridge community, to help formulate exactly what The Bradfield Centre would do. And we did develop clarity of thought about exactly how The Bradfield Centre would operate.

James Parton:
Yeah, I think that's the really interesting part, because for someone that hadn't been within the Cambridge ecosystem, coming into it fresh, it was I guess, surprising, but quite enlightening that it was a very collaborative process with all the stakeholders in the city at that stage. I guess that's not unusual for Cambridge, but it may sound unusual for someone listening to the podcast that isn't based in Cambridge, just how close all of these organisations collaborate with each other.

Rory Landman:
Indeed. So we started the consultation. We designed the outline of the building and going with the building and we got financial support from BIS, who put up about a quarter of the funding, of course of the initial funding that was required. But we then, in order to really work out how we were going to operate the centre, we went out on this consultation and we spoke to private equity providers, we spoke to angels, we spoke to local business people, we spoke to academics. I think we had four round table discussions, which involved 30 contributors. And from that we worked out some dos and don't about The Bradfield Centre. And we also worked out that we weren't going to fix anything in stone, we were going to have a living document. Objectives which could change over time as and when we got greater and better insights. And the document had a lot of square brackets in it. But I think that was a very good way of kicking off The Bradfield Centre.

James Parton:
Yeah. I'll come back and we'll talk about have we fulfilled those objectives or that vision in a second, but why don't we just touch on, based on all of those conversations and the the original idea emanating from the college, how would you describe the vision for the building, both in terms of its physical design, but also its ideology in terms of how it should operate?

Rory Landman:
Well, first of all, the actual objective of The Bradfield Centre was to develop a pipeline of Cambridge-based businesses with high growth potential. So that's really the ultimate objective of it. But there were a number of secondary objectives. One of them was to provide a heart, as I would put it, to the science park. So a centre for the science park could congregate around, and that would allow us to attract and retain businesses on the science park, to retain scientific and entrepreneurial talent in Cambridge, and also provide a focal point for entrepreneurial activity and inward investment. So those were the primary objective, and those were the secondary support objectives.

Rory Landman:
And in terms of the ethos, as you've already mentioned, Cambridge is a very collaborative and supportive environment. It's quite a small city, where most actors know each other, at least one or two removes. And so the idea of the building was that it would be a very collaborative and supportive environment for the businesses that established themselves there, that their members who worked in the building would essentially have the run of a 40,000 square foot building. So even though they have their own space, they would feel as though they were part of a much larger enterprise. And there would be a culture of excellence, of strong marketing and, essentially, of under-promising and over-delivering. So those were the key cultural objectives that we had. And these really came out of the collaborative discussions that we had with all these various people.

James Parton:
I think I'm right in saying that was quite innovative, I think, in terms of the existing startup spaces in Cambridge. Because, like many places, the existing places tend to be member-only. And you have to have either a membership of the university or membership of a company, et cetera, to gain entry to certain buildings around the city. So it seems like, right from day one, the thinking behind The Bradfield, was to have a very open building, and act as that heart for not only the science park, but to support the wider tech community. So that openness and collaboration was built in right from day one.

Rory Landman:
Indeed it was. And we visited a number of other similar and slightly dissimilar operations of particularly in London to see how they worked and how they didn't work. And hopefully we distilled the best of those and brought them back to Cambridge. An innovation centre is, I suppose, all things to all people. And we wanted to be a bit more focused than that. So we decided we wanted especially to cater for scale-up businesses.

Rory Landman:
We didn't want to compete with other centres in Cambridge, because there are others. And so we wanted to be complimentary to spaces such as St. John's Innovation Centre and The Idea Space. And we wanted to be flexible and evolve over time. And I think we saw with that, that some centres could get fairly static in their... And if it's just a property business, just an idea of renting out as much space as you could, then the membership could be very static and we wanted it to be more dynamic, and celebrate those companies that grew out of The Bradfield Center, and have a constant inflow and new blood into the centre.

James Parton:
Return to the office with confidence. At The Bradfield Centre, we offer a range of flexible membership packages, which put you in control of your office and home working mix. We have a range of high-quality meeting and collaboration spaces for hire. And for event organisers, our auditorium, lakeside pavilion and atrium spaces are all back to full capacity, and dates are filling up fast.

James Parton:
If you are looking to run an event, get in touch to discuss requirements, including live video recording and live video streaming options. Visit bradfieldcentre.com for more information or call 01223919600.

James Parton:
That leads onto a question about the physical design of the space you touch there on available space for companies. A lot of visitors to The Bradfield comment on the amount of open space and collaboration space. So the building isn't trying to sweat every square foot available to maximise the yield on desk rentals, it has been designed to be very collaborative. So again, I think obviously a very deliberate decision that you guys were working with the architects to achieve.

Rory Landman:
Yes. And I think, I hope, and I'm fairly sure that most people think that Auckett Swanky, who are the architects, that they really achieved that objective. And at quite an early stage, we found an operator for the building. Again, that was a decision that we took, that college may be many things but it's not an operator of innovation and business centres. So we made an early decision, we'd bring professionals in to, it's more than the building, to run the whole operation. And Central Working had a significant input into how the building would be designed and fitted out and how it would be run.

James Parton:
Yeah, absolutely. And I guess that's where we entered the story. So obviously originally our team was part of Central working, and now, as people will know, that's transition to Mantle Space. So again, along the lines of that very open, collaborative approach from day one, I think quite a refreshing decision in terms of you do see many innovation centres being run by university staff around the country. So I think, clearly a brave decision to outsource the operation of that to an external company. But I guess you felt like that was the right move to make sure that you brought in people with the right skill sets and experiences of supporting startups in other roles.

Rory Landman:
Absolutely. So, I mean, one of the skills that Central Working had, is that... It's all very well providing office space, that's one thing, but providing an environment where companies can be nurtured, where there's an element of mentoring and support and interest from others in the building about what people are doing, if they want that level of support and interest. For example, to a limited extent there is external mentoring, but we came, I think, pretty rapidly to the conclusion, certainly in terms of our objectives, that it's likely that peer-to-peer mentoring within the centre would likely to be a very fruitful way of helping mutual assistance within the centre.

Rory Landman:
We wanted to create that supportive and collaborative community with peer-to-peer support. And you need specialists, people who are very focused on that, rather than simply on providing office space and making sure there's coffee every morning. So there's much more to it than that.

James Parton:
Absolutely, yeah. That whole community building is a skill set in its own right.

Rory Landman:
The provision of flexibility as well, which sometimes clashes with certainly short-term business objectives, but the college, with our encouragement, our partners are in a position to take a longer-term perspective than that.

Rory Landman:
So we're not looking to maximise short-term income, but we are commercial in our approach. So what we hope that will do is optimise longterm income. But we're not looking for a short-term financial return. But we are clearly worried about longterm financial return, but we think that that will come from a collaborative and flexible approach. And certainly that's our marketing, that's how we present ourselves. And that's one of the ways in which we have, I think, a very strong, competitive advantage.

James Parton:
Absolutely. Yeah. So just jumping back then to some of the comments you made as you went through that round table process with various stakeholders around the city. You were talking about creating a pipeline of high growth opportunity companies, being a hub at the heart of the science park, attracting and retaining talent to Cambridge and the science park. So I had the pleasure of working with you for the first four years, I think, of the five years at the Brookfield Centre. How would you look back on those four years against those criteria going into the opening of the centre? Do you think that was achieved, or what have been some of your highlights, some of your low lights? How would you sum up those years?

Rory Landman:
What I particularly enjoy, is literally the buzz as you go into the building. So there's a hive of activity. You can hear that humming. And so I think that alone is a good achievement. I think there's that feeling of a shared endeavour, even though everybody's beavering away at their own activities, but there is that collaborative feeling when you go into the building. And I think that's probably one of its key features.

Rory Landman:
The whole idea was that we would be enablers, we wouldn't dictate. And so things no doubt have evolved away from our original concept, but it was important to have a framework to start with, and then you could work off that. For example we thought about it, but we decided deliberately not to create any technology clusters. We thought that the best way, if they were going to happen, was to allow them to evolve, driven by demand, by the market. In fact it's how the science park has itself has evolved over time, is there are many different activities on the science park, and each of those have been driven by market demand, and have responded to market demand rather than being driven by any sort of central planning. So we wanted to facilitate activity, but not be hands in, as it were.

James Parton:
Absolutely. And I think that that stance has been very much appreciated in terms of operating the building on a day-to-day basis, because there's always that fine balance between making it commercially viable as well as delivering on the vision and the mission of the building. And I think having that flexibility and freedom to take operational decisions has really contributed to the success of the building.

Rory Landman:
Another area which we thought about, was having biotech, particularly wet labs in the building. The top floor is designed potentially to have wet labs. But during our consultation and probably quite rapidly once we started to get into the nitty gritty, but you can see that we really did start off with a concept that originally it could have been a mixed building, but we quite quickly came to the conclusion that wet labs were completely impractical. It's a specialist activity, and other places on the science park have developed to cater for that demand. As part of that consultation, it clarified thought that we shouldn't have wet labs in The Bradfield Centre.

James Parton:
Yeah. And as you say, that's now been catered for very close by on the park. So we have a number of companies that have their data scientists and software engineers at The Bradfield, but also hire lab space on the park as well.

Rory Landman:
We also thought about whether we should subsidise, or provide below-market rate accommodation in order to encourage people to come into the centre. But again, we rapidly came to the conclusion that wasn't the right thing to do, that companies needed to stand on their own two feet. And also that we didn't want to be competitive in that way, on price, with others. We needed to be competitive on the environment that we provided, and the services that we provided, rather than on price where we would be in line with the market.

James Parton:
Yeah. And I think again, that decision is paid back. Because it means that we have to be very tuned to the local market as competitors change their offers, as new providers move into the city. Because we are competing in a commercial market, we have to adapt and innovate with our offer as well. And we've seen that coming through the back of COVID, we've changed the kind of memberships that we offer to be more flexible, and other steps that we've taken to adjust to those market conditions. So again, I think that's a really wise decision.

Rory Landman:
There's one particular area which we may want to think about, which is what I would call financial support. Because again, some thought about whether the college should invest in the companies that came into The Bradfield Center, and that's... We haven't completely closed the door on that, but obviously, as you know, I'm not in the loop anymore. But certainly the idea at the beginning was that we would enable venture capital, but we wouldn't provide it ourselves, for a number of reasons. One, because it's a specialist activity, but secondly, we didn't want to create any conflicts of interest with our tenants, or indeed with the other providers of capital who wanted access to the companies that are in The, Bradfield Center. So it felt like the right decision initially, to stay out of that area, even though it might have been an obvious way to create investment opportunities for the college, but we didn't want to mix the two.

James Parton:
So we've brought in partners like Cambridge Angels at the seed level. At the series A and beyond, we are working with IQ Capital, CIC, Amadeus and others locally and also nationally. So we've certainly worked within those parameters, I think.

Rory Landman:
And then finally we have made some efforts to reach out to the university, in particular to entrepreneurial talent within the university, both with summer studentships for students to come and work and get work experience with Bradfield Centre companies, but also with The Bradfield Prize, to attract teams with links to the university, to come and compete for the prize, which would give the winners space in The Bradfield Centre.

Rory Landman:
And I think that's help promote both The Bradfield Centre, but also a sense of entrepreneurialism in the university, which is one of the objectives of The Bradfield Centre.

James Parton:
Yeah, absolutely. I'd certainly put the prize up there as one of my personal highlights over the last five years. I think, well, we're very shortly going to be opening the 2022 edition of the prize, and we've had nearly 300 teams apply over its previous three editions. So it's proved very popular. And as you say, it's great to see those early stage teams working on their ideas, working with the mentors that we arranged for them to get coaching from, and benefiting from the cash prizes and the membership of The Bradfield. So yeah, that's been really satisfying to see that mature.

Rory Landman:
Finally, I think one of the ingredients, we like to have our feet held to the fire. We wanted to make sure we didn't deviate from our original objectives. And we set up an advisory committee for The Bradfield Centre, which has largely operated behind the scenes. But it happened that three of our alumni were Cambridge Angels, and they volunteered, or we volunteered them to join the advisory committee. And they've been very helpful in just taking the original objectives and making sure that we stuck to them, or if we didn't, we had good reasons for not sticking to them. So we are very grateful to the advisory committee who helped make sure we stayed on the straight and narrow to the extent we could.

James Parton:
That's been fantastic. And Rory, very much appreciate your time, and reflecting back over those first four or so years of The Bradfield and the original idea going all the way back to, I think you said 2013, 2014, something like that. So this has been a long time in the making, and just wanted to thank you as well for making my job easy for the time we worked together as well. It was a real pleasure working with you.

Rory Landman:
Well, thank you, James. And that's very much reciprocated.

James Parton:
Thank you again to Rory for coming onto this show. The show was produced by Cole Homer of Cambridge TV, and you can listen to previous episodes by searching for Inside The Bradfield Centre on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, SoundCloud, Stitcher, and Amazon Music, or by visiting bradfieldcentre.com. If you have two spare seconds, please give us a five star review as it will really help other people discover the show.

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