A prominent player in the South’s technology and innovation arena, Southampton Science Park has sponsored the South Coast Tech Awards since their inception. Here we speak to CEO, Robin Chave.
Robin, you’re a staunch supporter of our awards scheme – why is this? Yes, we’re delighted to be involved, and this year, we are delighted to sponsor two award categories: Tech Start Up and High Growth Tech Company, reflecting our understanding of the specific needs of businesses at all growth stages.
Southampton Science Park has never been about just giving businesses a prestigious physical base. A big part of what we do here is to support the growth of innovative businesses and the wider regional tech economy. One way that we can do this is by partnering with the South Coast Tech Awards to shine a light on the successes of ambitious businesses in our area that are achieving remarkable things. In technology specifically, it can be quite a challenge to be noticed, it’s so incredibly competitive.
In what other ways does the Science Park support business growth? Pretty much everything we do is geared towards helping businesses to flourish because this growth generates jobs and wealth across the area.
The first thing we do is to provide space without boundaries. It’s quite unusual to have a place that accommodates start-ups and multinational organisations but that’s what we have at the Science Park. Often restrictive leases throttle company growth and that shouldn’t be the case. Technology companies have to act fast when opportunities strike, and this usually means they need the flexibility to expand their teams and space to accommodate them.
As a one-person business you can be a member and enjoy the facilities of our Incubation Centre shared working space. Larger companies often progress through to having their own offices or even sole occupancy of a building. Ultimately, companies have the option to build bespoke premises if they so wish.
The second key thing we do is to encourage networking and knowledge share. Either informally in our coffee shops or at our SO Social events, through our website and biannual magazine SO, or more formally through our varied events programme, we encourage everyone who works here to get involved – it’s a key benefit of being here.
Last, but by no means least, we put a lot of energy into structured business support programmes. Catalyst, our business accelerator, runs annually giving successful applicants the benefit of six months of world-class mentoring and workshops aimed at giving them the best chance of success. Eighty percent of the early-stage businesses that go through this programme are still trading after five years compared to the national average of just forty percent.
We are also home to SETsquared Southampton. The SETsquared Partnership is regarded as the most successful university business growth incubator in the world. Often, major challenges occur when companies have matured beyond the start-up phase and need to secure growth finance, put executive board and governance structures in place, and take their sales and marketing machine to the next level. These challenges can easily become blockages to growth. SETsquared provides help to navigate efficiently past these, and other, roadblocks.
What challenges are affecting the tech sector at the moment? The most significant challenge for the majority of businesses at the moment is around talent – both recruitment and retention. There’s high wage inflation across the board and this is really tough for businesses when their margins are already under pressure from general inflation and supply chain issues arising from Brexit, the pandemic and wider geopolitical events.
While we can’t solve this one entirely, we do add value to businesses that are trying to recruit through our unique setting – a peaceful conservation area yet easy to commute to - with childcare, gym, parking, coffee shops and social club all on-site. We know that the people that work here enjoy working here and that’s half the challenge when leading a team to success.
Of course, we are closely linked to the University of Southampton too, so can put business leaders in touch with the University’s considerable graduate and post-graduate talent pool.
What’s next for the Science Park? As ever, we have a lot going on! We continue to focus on remaining flexible to respond to the changing accommodation needs of tech companies as new ways of working develop. We are also part-way through developing a new Engineering Centre which will co-house the Future Towns Innovation Hub – a really exciting initiative that will benefit the sustainable economic growth of the whole region – while also continuing to invest in our own sustainable infrastructure such as renewable energy through solar panels.
More immediately, we have just opened up applications for our next Catalyst business accelerator programme starting in September 2022 and I am really looking forward to meeting the people behind the innovative companies looking to grow and prosper over the next year.