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365 days with SETsquared: Cardiff’s journey so far

365 days with SETsquared: Cardiff’s journey so far

In September 2021, Cardiff became the sixth piece in the carefully crafted SETsquared puzzle. Over the last 365 days, the newly adopted centre has strengthened the wider SETsquared community with its entrepreneurial credentials, facilities, and team firmly placing Wales on the map as an innovative hub for research and development


Joining the universities of Bristol, Bath, Surrey, Southampton and Exeter, the partnership grew in not only a geographical sense, but an impactive one too. Whilst Cardiff had been collaborating with SETsquared since 2018 as part of the Scale Up Programme, its direct involvement gave way to widening the scope of what the partnership as a whole could achieve. From helping research teams to take their innovations to market, through to the opening of their state-of-the-art innovation hub, Cardiff has had a busy first year. Let’s take a look back at some of the centre’s highlights over the last 12 months.



The opening of the SBARC | SPARK Centre on St David’s Day this year was a major milestone for the Cardiff Team. This innovation centre, located in the beating heart of Cardiff University’s Innovation Campus, is an expansive 12,000-square-foot hub that unites researchers, student start-ups, entrepreneurs, and academic spinouts under one impressive roof. Spanning six storeys with lab spaces, commercial units, collaborative workspaces, and a full-sized lecture auditorium, it is the largest and most impressive of its kind in Wales. Upon its opening back in March, President and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Colin Riordan said:

“SBARC | SPARK will be a magnet for talented researchers, graduated, entrepreneurs and funders, bringing together stakeholders from all sectors to establish Cardiff University as a powerful engine for growth.”

And in the short time that the centre has been open, it has proven invaluable to researchers, innovators and founders, facilitating research undertaken through some of SETsquared’s tailored support programmes.


Supporting spin-outs

The university has supported successful applications to the Innovation to Commercialisation of University Research (ICURe) programme, funded by Innovate UK and delivered by SETsquared. This programme allows university researchers to undertake a rigorous research process to determine whether there is a viable market for their novel innovation. And, at the end of the three-month programme, if the project creates a spinout, they can apply to receive follow on funding from Innovate UK to aid in taking their innovation to the commercial market.

This was the story for Empowering Energy Solutions, a Cardiff University spin-out born from the ‘Low Carbon Energy Solutions for Local-Energy Systems’ project. Headed up by early career researcher, Muditha Abeysekera, it developed decision support software tools for energy managers in public sector organisations. With the Government’s net zero policy continuing to be pushed towards businesses across the board, the demand for renewable alternatives has never been greater.

Through their research, it had been found that there was a significant deficit in the knowledge, skills and tools required by energy managers to undertake the mammoth task of shifting the UK’s reliance from fossil fuels to renewables. Putting their decision-making tools into practice demonstrated energy bill savings of around 13% at their case study sites, equating to around £100,000 per year. Their successful involvement in the ICURe programme allowed them to secure an additional £292k through Innovate UK’s Follow-On Funding scheme, which is financing the translation of software and tools into a commercially available product, expected to be market ready in 2023.

Another of Cardiff’s ICURe projects was Wipe Warriors, headed up by Michael Pascoe as the Entrepreneurial Lead. Increased awareness of plastic pollution has sparked wider discussion around the environmental sustainability of single-use disinfectant wipes. Cellulose-based wipe materials can be desirable options since they are derived from plant sources and are biodegradable. Unlike plastics, many of the most popular biocides stick to cellulose and are not efficiently deposited onto surfaces when wiped. This reduces the wipe’s ability to kill germs and means many medical-grade wipes are still primarily composed of plastics.

Through the Biofilms ICURe SPRINT, Michael and the team from Cardiff University validated the market for alternative materials with enhanced biocide compatibility, improving performance whilst maintaining the ecological benefits of cellulose. Their findings were guided towards the second phase of the programme funded by Innovate UK and National Biofilms Innovation Centre, allowing them to explore licensing agreements and collaboration opportunities with companies from the hygiene sector.


Scaling South Wales

Cardiff University has been working with SETsquared to support businesses looking to explore research and development opportunities since 2018.

In 2021, a multi-centre effort between the Universities of Southampton and Cardiff supported Oxford Brain Diagnostics on a successful funding bid to the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). The Scale-Up programme aided in preparing the med-tech company to go for the bid, through introductions to research teams at both university institutions and supplying grant writing resources to ensure their bid’s success.

Software developers Simply Do also sought Cardiff’s academic expertise when looking to develop the next phase of their blockchain technology. Pulling in resources from the University, they were able to develop a user-friendly front-end interface, training for staff in web scraping and unearth valuable market research in innovation, supply chain diversity, and some of the current tech solutions already available to businesses. As a result, the project was able to turn out an academic report beneficial not only to Simply Do but to other technology businesses also.


As we look to the future, Cardiff University’s involvement in the SETsquared Partnership remains a strong weapon in our armoury. Now in our twentieth year, the scope of what we can help businesses achieve is bigger and better than ever.

On Cardiff’s involvement in the partnership over the last year, Karen Brooks, Programme Director, SETsquared said: “This new, bigger partnership has set its sights on an ambitious future for the companies, entrepreneurs, innovators and investors that join our ecosystem. With Cardiff onboard, we set ourselves a mission to accelerate the growth of the SETsquared ecosystem of support infrastructure for high-tech, high-growth enterprises.”

David Bembo, Cardiff’s Director of Research & Innovation Services remarked, “One year in, working with our SETsquared partners has already enabled us to grow our R&D ecosystem and extend our innovation horizon across SW England and beyond. We are particularly excited about the huge opportunities for Cardiff’s start-ups and spin-out companies which are already emerging as we develop the partnership’s capacity to invest in growth activities.”

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