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(Image shows: Cineon Training at our SETsquared@20 Investment Showcase, an immersive technology company at the forefront of the creative technologies sector described below)
In December 2022, moving from my role heading up SETsquared Bristol and the Engine Shed, I was honoured to take up the position of the SETsquared Partnership’s Interim Executive Director. Broadening my focus to span across the whole Partnership, I’m incredibly excited about the sheer scale and potential for positive impact from our communities.
Our recently published Impact Report showed that SETsquared-backed companies have collectively raised nearly £4bn since 2002 and, perhaps more importantly, generated a wider economic impact of over £15bn.
While it’s not all about the money, these statistics are a great validation of the ongoing potential and scalability of the innovations being developed across our partnership, particularly when the funding is directly connected to the development of talent and capabilities that are needed most. Whether that’s addressing the cost of living or energy crisis we’re currently facing, the health crisis of the last few years or finding solutions to mitigate the climate emergency – across our university partners and regions, there are individuals, research groups and start-ups – creating ambitious, scalable solutions.
SETsquared and our partner universities are uniquely placed to be able to bring together deep place-based innovation – enabling focused clusters of diverse talent, research communities, and anchor companies – connected at scale across the regions of our six universities. From specialist programmes to support entrepreneurial students and researchers through to start-up and scale-up initiatives – we have interventions for innovative founders at every stage of their business journey – and the fact that we’re not a commercial company means that we can do this in a trusted way.
It’s clear, however, that the innovation sector is feeling the effect of the current economic downturn. It’s already more difficult for ventures to raise capital than it was a year ago, and this is even more acute for founding teams from diverse backgrounds who have been traditionally underserved. In order to support our community and the UK’s wider innovation economy, SETsquared has a responsibility to continue working to support investors in finding the right opportunities, stimulating new investor communities and working with UK Government and other institutions in finding alternative funding sources.
The creative tech sector is at an exciting intersection between different research disciplines and industry sectors as science and technology collide with the UK’s incredible cultural and creative sector. These areas are particularly thriving across the regions in the South and South West of the UK where SETsquared and our partner Universities are building on their world-class strengths with programmes bringing different disciplines together.
The buzzword of 2022 was the metaverse, and it gets a bit of mixed coverage because of how it’s been portrayed by some of the traditional big tech companies, but if we look at the innovative businesses emerging across the SETsquared community things are really exciting. We are seeing new approaches embedding data science and automation in video capture and post-production, far more immersive control systems using haptics and hand tracking, new ways to measure audience engagement and next-gen robotics in physical installations.
Together, these innovations will have a huge impact on everything from the future of entertainment, gaming and film production, to education and training and education or even remote surgery. We’re just scratching the surface of what that new market is going to be, and we’ve got such incredible pockets of capabilities, companies and researchers coming through who are building the architecture for what the metaverse will be in the future.
The pandemic catalysed the uptake of health innovation in ways we had never seen before, and this trend is showing no signs of slowing down. Technologies such as AI and machine learning, biomaterials and biosensing have been key to accelerating the discovery and development of new treatments, rapid diagnostics, and patient monitoring across both physical and mental health applications.
There are so many exciting health tech companies across the partnership. 30% of the pitching companies at our recent SETsquared@20 Investment Showcase were health-related – which speaks volumes about the growth in this sector. It’s also an area demonstrating the importance of collaboration, for example, we work alongside the Academic Health Science networks in our Health Innovation Programme to deliver focused support in helping ventures understand their business model alongside the requirements of the NHS and health sector.
The UK has always had a strong leadership role in the telecommunications sector. It’s an underpinning technology for a lot of the exciting ambitions we see coming from other sectors, such as industry automation, sustainable transport and the creative technologies described above. Alongside Cambridge Wireless, we’re really excited to be playing a role in the UK Telecoms Innovation Network (UK TIN) to ensure UK-based telecoms companies – both those innovating with 5G+ infrastructure as well as applications – can access the investment and innovation support needed to grow and become globally competitive.
Cybersecurity is another critical sector. Most people probably understand a lot about the harder edge of cybersecurity – protecting networks through hardware and software and how critically important it is for the rise of scams for personal individuals, companies, and UK Government. But where we’re seeing some really exciting innovation is in the behavioural science area, particularly where it meets data science to develop new types of education and approaches to learning which are absolutely needed to protect people’s data. This is an area where I’m really looking forward to seeing how we can further apply our experience of our Scale-Up Programme in stimulating collaborative R&D between industry and academia to find some really exciting new companies.
Finally, an overarching requirement of innovation clusters across the UK is to continue the focus on developing the next generation of transformative technologies to address the climate crisis. This feels like an area with too much to explore within a closing paragraph, so instead, I’ll commit to a dedicated look at the area in a future piece and just highlight one area that is really ramping up in 2023. There have already been some ambitious announcements around the development of the Hydrogen Ecosystem across the South and South West, but lots more to come – watch this space!
Kelpi is a material innovation company that is replacing single-use plastics with premium performance bioplastics that harness the novel properties and environmental benefits of seaweed.
“Working closely with SETsquared again in 2023 will be one of the ways in which we can embed success in our growth plan as we look to develop clients, build our collaboration network and grow our team. Having recently closed our seed funding round, we’re increasingly able to play a central role at the heart of this area’s ecosystem. Kelpi is determined to play a key role in growing this region’s reputation in sustainability tech. Attracting and retaining the right talent in this area is one way in which start-ups and scale-ups can continue to compete on the world stage. The key advantage of working with six world-class universities in SETsquared is not just the quality of the start-ups, but of the graduates, post-docs and other people who can help us scale.”
Neil Morris, Co-Founder & CEO, Kelpi
Brain in Hand is a digital self-management support system for people who need help remembering things, making decisions, planning, or managing anxiety. It’s not condition-specific but is often used by people who are autistic or managing anxiety-related mental health challenges. Combining practical human support and digital self-management technology, Brain in Hand helps people live more independently.
“We are starting 2023 with a bang. We are armed with strong independent evidence of the positive impact for autistic users of our product, a major investment, and a cutting-edge research study looking at the impact of Brain in Hand on health care inequalities. Plus, we’ve just been approved as meeting the standard for the Digital Technology Assessment Criteria. We know the new Integrated Care Boards (ICBs) are struggling. With over 100,000 people sitting on a waiting list for an autism assessment and many more waiting for support, we plan to be working closely with the ICBs to show them that an investment in Brain in Hand can tackle not only health inequality but also catalyse digital transformation.”
Louise Morpeth, Chief Executive, Brain in Hand
Lifelight is a digital healthcare platform that measures a person’s vital signs for use in critical healthcare areas, including infectious disease detection and control, long-term condition monitoring and remote primary care consultations. Lifelight allows healthcare providers to get accurate vital signs in one 40-second reading, just by the patient or user looking into a smartphone or tablet device, with no additional hardware needed.
“Having gained CE Class I regulation and completed six clinical studies, Lifelight can today provide indicative vital signs. Currently, Lifelight is being deployed to address health inequalities by detecting patients at risk of CVD early, allowing access to the right care pathway.”
“But this is just the beginning, we’re on track to achieve Series A funding and further market approvals for our blood pressure and pulse measures, reflecting our relentless focus on the clinically validated, regulated path, to ensure we provide the greatest impact to patients, pharmaceuticals and health systems globally.”
Laurence Pearce, CEO & Founder, Lifelight
The SETsquared Partnership is always growing, and there’s never been a better time to join our ecosystem.
For founders of tech-based start-ups from the sectors above and beyond, check out our range of fully funded innovation and business support programmes
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