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Oxford Innovation at Westminster Business Forum Conference for Oxford-Cambridge Arc Economy

During her speech at Westminster Business Forum, Oxford Innovation’s managing director Jo Stevens shared valuable insights on innovation growth and ways of supporting SMEs across the Oxford-Cambridge Arc.

According to the latest European Research Council (ERC) report on the UK’s Local Growth Dashboard, the number of start-ups in the UK has fallen by nearly 13% in recent years. Compounding this, the number of start-ups that have grown and reached £1 million turnover only account for 2% and in select locations across the Arc, this figure is even lower. For example, in Buckinghamshire  where only 1.3% have reached this level of turnover.

The challenge is finding ways to encourage more SMEs to start up and then to grow. One such activity is connecting with universities to spark businesses into life. There are lots of ways that SMEs can benefit from collaborating with universities, however, they can often be difficult for SMEs to navigate and work with. There are several reasons why this is the case, but the two most common are;

  1. People - universities are large organisations and it is difficult to find the right people.
  2. Speed - universities tend to respond slowly and not in a way that SMEs would like them to.

Despite this, universities can support SMEs by providing access to facilities, research and much needed skills, through work placements and Master or MBA projects.

There are 9 centres across the Arc that OI currently manage, including centres on major research sites in Harwell and Culham. Over time these centres have seen many notable graduations and have supported companies that have added significant value to Oxfordshire and UK’s economy. Examples include Reaction Engines, Kaspersky Labs, Frontier Smart Technologies (previously known as Toumaz Technology) and Tokamak Energy.

Commenting on the strength of OI’s cluster of innovation centres across the Arc and their impact on the economy, Jo said: “Across that network, we have about 300 companies that we are incubating across a range of sectors. That breadth of sectors is one of the things that is actually one of the strengths.  It’s that connectivity between those sectors that will really add the value.”

Enabling business to start-up and grow is all about creating the right environment and support package that adds value. Innovation centres bring these two essentials together connecting entrepreneurs to collaborate and support each other.

Oxford Innovation realises that innovation does not happen in isolation. There is a significant opportunity to create an offering that delivers real value and supports the continuous growth of start-ups and scale-ups across the Oxford-Cambridge Arc.

In her concluding comments, Jo said: “What we’ve seen over our 30-year history is that innovation doesn’t happen in isolation.  We have a significant opportunity here with the Oxford-Cambridge Arc to create real value, to provide value and a real bedrock, so that within our region those start-ups and scale-ups can continue to grow.”

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