Leeds aiming to become 'MIT of UK'
The director of Leeds University’s £40 million Nexus innovation hub says it can become the ‘MIT of the UK’.
Dr Martin Stow is leading the trailblazing facility which seeks to connect start-ups and SMEs to the university and help them to access commercial business advice from partner KPMG and funding support from NorthInvest mentors and investors.
Speaking to BusinessCloud ahead of the launch today, Dr Stow suggested the world-renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States was the model it is aiming to replicate.
“The vision goes far beyond the building. It's about making it easy for businesses to connect to the University of Leeds: to access knowledge, experience, facilities, equipment, skills and talent,” he said.
“The vision is to become the benchmark as being the UK university which can work really effectively with businesses – in the same way as MIT in Boston is known for that.
“I would love to get that reputation. I think we've got all the elements to drive towards that.”
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Dr Stow has led start-up businesses and also spent 17 years at multinational Johnson & Johnson, where he led global teams including R&D.
He believes his unique mix of experience enables him to understand both the corporate and start-up mentalities.
“The other part of my vision is we become proactive and approach companies and sectors because we have solutions for them,” he explained. “At the moment people are coming to us, but if we were to actively go out and market ourselves, that would really differentiate Leeds and put it on the map, certainly in the UK.”
Nexus, which is situated on Discovery Way in central Leeds and boasts office, lab and exhibition space, collaboration areas and meeting rooms, employs a team of relationship managers with deep and practical sector experience.
It has space for 65-70 businesses and is 50 per cent occupied. It is looking for fast-growth or high-potential businesses that could feed into the university’s particular areas of expertise: HealthTech, engineering, environment and climate, and data and analytics.
Dr Stow is also seeing a “big influx” of digital creative companies following Channel 4’s decision to relocate its HQ to the city, in much the same way that the BBC’s move to MediaCityUK ramped up the creative industry in Salford and nearby Manchester.
“Since we've been up and running we've had over 300 new enquiries come into the university through Nexus. It’s a portal,” said Dr Stow. “We could have filled the space several times over [but we want to be selective].
“We ask them not only what can they gain from being part of our community, but what can they give back to it?”
The University of Leeds has a proven track record of commercialisation, creating over 110 companies in the last 20 years, six of which are AIM market-listed with a combined value in excess of £500m.
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One spin-out which is 'coming home' is transportation software company Tracsis, which has spent over 15 years’ developing technological expertise at the Leeds Innovation Centre.
“Tracsis was keen to re-establish and strengthen its links with the university and Nexus is a great way of doing that,” said Dr Stow. “It is very much an anchor tenant for us; very much an exception. But it makes sense based on what its requirements are for the future.”
Brain-tracking start-up Thought Beanie has relocated from Bristol while other companies have moved to Nexus from the South of England, Dr Stow says.
“I was also speaking to someone recently from Boston, a medical diagnostic company interested in setting up a base of access to the UK market and NHS. They are talking about using Nexus to do that,” he said.
Dr Stow and his team are also looking at “grow-on” space where successful tenants can flourish outside Nexus while maintaining a connection to it, thus maintaining a healthy turnover of businesses.