Campuses – the ideal environment for high-tech innovation

Inspirational science providing real impact for industry

Harwell Campus campus
(Credit: STFC)

STFC is one of the world’s leading multi-disciplinary science organisations with a goal to deliver economic, societal, scientific and international benefits to the UK and its people, and more broadly to the world. We are involved in some of the most challenging research programmes in the physical sciences; strategically manage and operate the UK’s large-scale research facilities, and fund the UK’s involvement in international facilities such as CERN. This puts us right at the heart of scientific thought and experimental innovation, with our scientists and engineers constantly challenging the boundaries of what is possible in the pursuit of knowledge.


Sci-Tech Daresbury campus
(Credit: STFC)

This inspirational science and technology has both planned and serendipitous benefits for business. At our Harwell Campus and Sci-Tech Daresbury campuses, high-tech businesses of all sizes – from entrepreneurs with an idea, to established transnational companies such as Unilever looking for inspiration or to reduce costs and their time to market with new products – can harness STFC’s facilities, expertise and resources, and those of our partners and other research-based or commercial organisations. This cultivates a thriving innovation eco-system which supports the UK’s knowledge economy, creates jobs, develops skills and helps companies grow.



Campuses, companies and collaboration

Our campuses, both run as joint ventures between the public sector and private sector property development partners, currently host over 300 organisations and support more than 6,000 jobs. The highest barrier to innovation for early stage businesses is finding the right climate to support and accelerate the company. Sources of funding are scarce, accessing equipment or expertise can be expensive and out of reach, and it can be challenging to identify like-minded individuals who share your dreams and goals.

At Harwell Campus and Sci-Tech Daresbury, companies experience low failure rates, strong growth, high value job creation and high levels of commercial innovation. The closeness to STFC’s facilities and expertise, together with the provision of first-rate accommodation and business support services provided on both sites, has attracted the full spectrum of businesses from spin-outs, SMEs and large blue chip industries alike.

Through the strong investment networks built around both campuses, early stage businesses are able to gain easy access to a range of angel networks and venture capital organisations looking to invest in the earliest, and riskiest, stages of technology companies. STFC is a lead partner in the UK Innovation & Science Seed Fund (formerly Rainbow Seed Fund), run by private sector fund manager Midven, which enables SMEs on campus to pursue investment. The Fund aims to fill the gap between start-up and the point at which a company can sustain itself through the sales of products and services – the so-called ‘Valley of Death’. In 10 years Rainbow has invested around £7 million in nearly 70 ventures.

Companies also get regular opportunities to attend valuable networking events through a programme of business breakfasts, knowledge sharing and professional development events. Being active members of the campus communities enables SMEs to make and leverage new connections. In fact, many companies are actively collaborating with STFC, universities or other companies. At Sci-Tech Daresbury, for example, around 57% companies are working together on projects.

Exploiting innovation through business incubation

STFC has a strong track record in supporting early stage businesses. We’ve set up nearly 20 of our own spin-out companies from the intellectual property arising from our national laboratories and we run three incubators which offer unique propositions to the high-tech SME market.

Most business incubators provide affordable office space, some business support and an environment where start-ups can network. Tailored to the needs of the individual start-up, our model of incubation takes this a step further, also enabling access to funding, technologies, intellectual property and ‘real-life’ technical experts that can solve innovation challenges.

Our business incubators are turning world-class science and technologies into ground-breaking products and services with real-life applications. The Innovations Technology Access Centre (I-TAC) is located across both of our campuses and provides flexible, affordable access to laboratory and office space, equipment and facilities. I-TAC supports companies in a variety of sectors including healthcare, environment, energy and materials sectors.

In partnership with the European Space Agency (ESA) we manage the UK ESA Business Incubation Centre (ESA BIC) at Harwell Campus and since its creation in 2010, we have incubated over 50 start-ups transforming space technology into non-space products.

At Sci-Tech Daresbury we established a partnership with CERN to introduce the STFC CERN Business Incubation Centre (STFC CERN BIC), it was the first incubator of its kind and has now been extended to the Harwell Campus.

Both the ESA BIC and STFC CERN BIC look to exploit the technologies and intellectual property (IP) arising from each organisations’ research programmes for economic benefit through intensive incubation packages. These include £40,000 of funding, dedicated business support with business plans, marketing and technology development, office space and access to multiple networking and collaborative opportunities.

Following from the success of STFC’s Business Incubation, the Campus Technology Hub (CTH) has recently been opened at Sci-Tech Daresbury.  The CTH is a purpose-built engineering facility which provides access to an array of technologies, equipment and expertise.

Building critical mass through high-tech clusters

Co-locating the right mix of academic and commercial partners on the campuses has presented SMEs at Harwell and Daresbury with exciting opportunities to join fast-growing themed clusters which offer support networks and collaborations, ingredients that catalyse successful innovation.

Both campuses are home to clusters that are acting as significant attractors of funding from Government and other organisations. The Harwell Space Cluster is cultivating the growing UK space industry, which is expected to be worth £40 billion by 2030, and is attracting an increasing number of international space organisations to Harwell including ESA’s Centre for Space Applications and Telecommunications (ECSAT), the ESA Business Incubation Centre and companies such as Aero Sekur, Magellium, VEGA and MDA Space and Robotics.

Innovate UK established the Satellite Applications Catapult at Harwell to support UK industry and become a world-class centre for the development and commercial exploitation of space and satellite-based products, services and applications. This was strengthened further by Innovate UK’s £1 million Harwell Space Launchpad funding competition programme which supported SMEs working in this sector.

Up in Cheshire, SMEs at Sci-Tech Daresbury (and the nearby Runcorn Heath Business and Technical Park) also received a boost through up to £2 million from Innovate UK’s Materials and Manufacturing North West Launchpad programme.

Ingredients for success

Our campuses offer a dynamic environment for innovation. To succeed SMEs need the right mix of ingredients – money, expertise, facilities, connections and location. This makes Harwell Campus and Sci-Tech Daresbury vital catalysts in the journey of taking innovative ideas and turning them into marketable products. By locating at one of the national science and innovation campuses, SMEs can be amongst peers and organisations committed to the same aims.

Through our joint venture partnerships, we will continue growing and developing the campuses to expand the facilities small companies can access. At Daresbury this will see the creation of Techspace (an office and specialist laboratory complex) which is due to open in 2016. At Harwell, there are ambitious plans to deliver a new innovation centre and larger office space to accommodate the great number of companies looking to locate on campus.


To find out more about the national science and innovation campuses please contact:

Last updated: 23 February 2018


Science and Technology Facilities Council
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