Week 28 – London. Welcome to a new feature of The Workplace Series and the story behind The Taylor Centre. The space is a part of the Royal Academy of Engineering, located next to St. James’s Park, and inspires great innovation with its support program for young technology startups and entrepreneurs in the UK. eOffice Founder Pier Paolo Mucelli met with Head of Enterprise, Ana Avaliani, to learn about the centre and the Enterprise Hub that it is home to.
Ana, can you start with a little introduction of the Royal Academy of Engineering?
The Royal Academy of Engineering was established in 1976 and brings together over 1500 Fellows, who are 50% academics and 50% leading business men and women who have created successful companies.
The Enterprise Hub was set up in 2013 to support outstanding technology entrepreneurs. Through this Hub we run competitive programs to support a select groups of technology entrepreneurs with the greatest potential to create wealth and deliver societal and economic benefits.
What type of support do you offer?
Our support has four different pillars. The first one is funding. We provide entrepreneurs with up to £60,000 in growth funding and we don’t take any equity in return.
The second part of our support is related to capacity building. This consists of training, looking at the needs of entrepreneurs, and then designing programmes which are delivered by external parties to address those needs. We also provide mentoring, which is arguably the most valuable element of the support package as it is delivered by the Fellows of the Academy, enabling entrepreneurs to tap into their wealth of experience and national and international networks. The Fellows who support the Enterprise Hub collectively and voluntarily dedicate in excess of 1500 hours per annum.
The third part of our support is PR and marketing. We work with a PR firm to support our entrepreneurs by raising awareness of the groundbreaking engineering technologies they create. This is a very important part of our work as it is has proven critical for client acquisition and investor relations.
The fourth and final part of our support is the Taylor Centre, which is a dedicated physical space based on the lower ground floor of Prince Philip House, the home of the Royal Academy of Engineering. Up until February 2017, the Hub functioned as a virtual entity, but now we have an inspiring space to offer our 72 Hub Members and the Hub community.
Are these 72 hub members individual people or companies?
We have 72 individuals across 52 startups that we are working with. As our Hub Members are based in different parts of the UK it is great to be able to offer touch down and meeting space to them in Central London.
Would you say that you are a kind of a vertical accelerator without taking equity?
I‘d say we are a growth booster. The Royal Academy of Engineering is a charity that works to advance and promote excellence in engineering and, as part of that, has an ambition to help make the UK the leading nation for engineering innovation. There is no financial motive behind what we do. Our main goal is to support the next generation of technology entrepreneurs, for greater public good. We support fantastic innovators that bring about groundbreaking technologies, which will have an incredible impact on the way we live our daily lives. We work with a wide range of tech startups and entrepreneurs developing health care solutions, education technologies, big data, artificial intelligence, and much more!
Can you describe the components of the space here in the Taylor Centre?
The physical space comprises of about 30 touch-down spaces that function as “desk” spaces. On the same floor, we also have 7 meeting rooms that are available for all Hub Members, ranging from our board room that can seat up to 24 people, to smaller rooms with 3-10 person capacity. All the meeting rooms are equipped with state of the art audio-visual equipment with high-speed internet connectivity available throughout the building.
We also provide access to printing facilities and a small kitchenette, with tea, coffee, and fruit. Our touch down facilities are open to any entrepreneur in London and the UK. All they have to do is turn up, self-identify, register, and start using all the facilities for free, except the meeting rooms as these are reserved for the Hub Members. The reason we do this is because we believe in the power of serendipity, and peer to peer learning, because we want our Hub Members to meet as many innovators, investors and stakeholders from the innovation ecosystem as possible.
And what is the size of the space?
The total space comes to 395m2 .
What would you do when the companies grow and get bigger? Would you limit their access to the space?
I hope we don’t have to do that. Because our Hub Members come from all over the UK, not all of them need to use the facility at once. Realistically, because of the geographical spread of the companies, I believe the demand will continue to be self-regulating.
When applying to the programme, do you have to have a prior connection to the Academy or can everyone apply?
We have a rigorous assessment process that is undertaken by the Fellows of the Academy. The process does not require any prior connection to the Academy and its Fellows. The main criteria is demonstrable excellence. We are looking for outstanding engineering entrepreneurs and products with a good market fit.
The actual application process is divided into three stages. The first is an online application form that is straight forward and simple. Here we ask for details about the products and services that the entrepreneur is looking to bring to the market.
The second stage is shortlisting. After the closing date, the eligible applications are sent to our assessment panel, which consists of Fellows of the Academy. The panel decides on the short list for the final stage of the application process, which is the interview stage. At this stage, the candidates present at a similar setup as Dragons’ Den, with 4 or 5 Fellows further probing the technology and the business model. Every year we support up to 15 entrepreneurs that are selected following this process
Do you have a certain number of available spaces?
We have a maximum number of awards that we can make in a year, depending on our budget. For instance, for 2017/2018 we have made 12 awards, but if we raise enough funding, we could support more candidates; we are not short of strong applicants.
Is this a yearly programme with a kind of graduation at the end? And do the Hub Members have to move out when they finish?
Yes, it’s an annual programme on a 12-month cycle, which ends with a graduation ceremony where the members become alumni. We also host an Annual Showcase in May, which is an opportunity to demonstrate Hub Member technologies to stakeholders and potential investors.
So, what happens to the alumni after the 12 months? We say that once a Hub Member, always a Hub Member, but the support package is slightly different. As alumni, they are still entitled to most of the components of the support package, except funding from the Academy. That means that they can continue to use the space and meeting rooms, keep their Mentor for 18 months, retain PR and marketing support, and continue to access the Academy’s international network.
Can you give us some examples of what type of marketing support you provide to the members?
At the moment, we are actually working on a launch for one the Hub Member’s technology. Their product has been developed in stages for the last 2 years and the company is now ready to engage with its audience and introduce the product to the market. The founder will be talking to the target market, and essentially making them aware of the benefits of the product and why they should buy.
In addition, we do a lot of work to profile Members to attract investment and contribute to getting as much funding as possible.
In terms of the community that you are creating with new entrepreneurs, can you give us an example of how you manage it?
First of all, we are working on a brand new website that is due to launch shortly. Through that website, we will offer a members-only area where they will have opportunities to talk to one another in forums and access to resources and training materials.
In terms of the community, there are a number of events that we run for the Enterprise Hub. A great example is the Innovators Network, which is a group of startups, SMEs and corporates that we get together on a quarterly basis to discuss innovation challenges. We normally pick a topic and then invite two speakers who have different views to present. Then, as a group, we have a discussion related to the presentations. Topics we have talked about range from innovation within the supply chain to different challenges and opportunities for companies of different sizes.
All of these sessions help us create a vibrant innovation and entrepreneurship community here, whereby organisations across the spectrum are thriving and meeting the right type of individuals, peers, Fellows of the Academy, investors, and learning from each other.