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Growth and innovation: Brunel’s Engine Shed – a year of success

  • In its first year Engine Shed has already contributed to significant economic growth.
  • A unique collaboration between the University of Bristol, Bristol City Council and the  West of England Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) to stimulate economic growth in the region.

In just one year, Engine Shed has driven significant growth from Brunel’s original train station, once Bristol’s gateway to the world, having opened its doors, once again, as the city’s new enterprise hub to drive inward investment, create jobs and encourage a new generation of high growth businesses.

Engine Shed, a Grade I listed building built by the famous engineer in 1841, had a £1.7 million transformation thanks to a partnership between Bristol City Council, the University of Bristol and the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and was officially re-opened on 2 December by Greg Clark, the Minister for Cities, with Bristol’s Mayor George Ferguson and Professor Sir Eric Thomas, the Vice-Chancellor of Bristol University.

Its prime location makes it one of the world’s most connected enterprise hubs, acting as a ‘shopfront’ for potential investors in the region. Experts predict it will generate 5,000 high-value jobs in the next 15 years in the high-tech, creative and low carbon sectors.

The building is managed by the University of Bristol which has located its award-winning SETsquared business incubator, with a third of the space dedicated to premium serviced offices for its early-stage technology businesses. Other tenants are the LEP, Invest Bristol & Bath and WebStart Bristol.

Nick Sturge, Director of Engine Shed, said “The journey to opening Engine Shed was exciting, but not as exciting as the journey during our first year of operation. The level of activity within the building and the connectivity that has come about through the Business Lounge and hosted networks has been phenomenal. We have seen the city-region’s eco-system grow with us and that has been a privilege.”

A total of 20 SETsquared companies are based at Engine Shed already with a further 44 businesses using the business centre’s resources and facilities including hot desks, breakout spaces and meeting rooms. Bristol SETsquared members have raised over £33m of investment in 2014, and its members now employ 752 people, compared with 639 when SETsquared moved into Engine Shed.

Barbara Davies, Chief Executive of the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP)

Commented “Relocating our staff to the Engine Shed has been a great move for us. It’s a perfect location to meet our key stakeholders – Government representatives, business, local authorities and universities.  It is a welcoming building to visit with a hive of activity, and plenty of places for people to meet and do business.”

Matthew Cross, head of inward investment at Invest Bristol & Bath, added: “Engine Shed is a flexible, inspiring space for businesses in the high-tech, creative and digital, and low carbon sectors, offering a perfect environment within which to grow and work collaboratively. The success of this incubator has been a key factor in helping Invest Bristol & Bath to create more than 1,200 jobs in the region since its inception. The hub has housed major inward investment successes such as Somo, the world’s largest independent mobile solutions company, and leading online takeaway service, Just Eat, on their arrival in Bristol.”

WebStart Bristol, founded by Mike Jackson, has had a very busy first year of operations with twenty startup companies receiving £300K of initial investment from WebStart alongside a programme of intensive mentoring and practical assistance.  Subsequently many of the companies have gone on to raise further funding totaling £794K and begin to build out their teams adding to the 39 founders with a further 18 staff.  This rapid growth wouldn’t have been possible without the support, network and sense of place that the Engine Shed provided from day one.

Brunel’s boardroom suite of meeting rooms for hire have seen several networks base themselves here including BrisTech monthly meetups, TechSPARK Techie Breakies, weekly CodeHub Bristol hack nights and Low Carbon South West meetings. BrisTech are a group of technically-minded people meeting up once a month for beer, pizza and informative talks about new and interesting things that can be done in the world of computer programming. Their members said “The support of the Engine Shed and their resident companies has allowed BrisTech to reach even more people and showcase some of the region’s greatest tech speakers.”

Engine Shed has also hosted and facilitated two Silicon Gorge investment events, showcasing startups from across the region to angel and institutional investors from London, the North East and Bristol & Bath.

Members of the Business Lounge now include the four universities in Bristol and Bath, Bristol Media corporate members, Institute of Directors and have been pleased to welcome new members Business West Initiative. It’s a great collaboration space for academics, entrepreneurs, innovators, investors and business leaders to interact. One lounge member said “I’ve had several encounters…that could turn out to be useful investors or contacts. It’s usually because other people are meeting and then you get introduced or recognise someone from LinkedIn. Love the BL for this!”

A public lobby provides an information point and innovation showcase ‘Platform 14’ to highlight the enterprise activities taking place across the West of England and has so far hosted “Connecting..” an exhibition by MA Curation students at UWE and “Research Impact” from the University of Bristol. Next year’s schedule includes unveiling of the plans for the Temple Gate road system redevelopment, the Bespoked UK Handmade Bicycle Show and GrowBristol – an exciting experiment in aquaponics for urban growing. In line with its goals of inspiring the next generation of tech entrepreneurs, Engine Shed worked with My Future My Choice to host visits from 700 primary school children throughout the Summer.

The one year anniversary event on 3 December will include:

  • Alphasphere, a SETsquared company, who used the sphere as entertainment for the guests at the launch event last year. The Alphasphere has now taken on a new dimension, being used for VJ-ing a showreel of activities at Engine Shed in the past year.
  • Nth Screen, a Pervasive Media Studio company, where guests will get the chance to have ‘groupies’ taken at the event.
  • Guests will walk into the building through a demo of the SensaBubble technology from Bristol Interaction Graphics, a research group at the University of Bristol which produces a visual display projected onto a bubble which only endures until it bursts; and, a scent released upon the bursting of the bubble which slowly disperses and leaves a longer-lasting perceptible trace of the event.

Engine Shed forms part of the Bristol Temple Quarter Enterprise Zone, which spans 173 acres of land around Bristol Temple Meads train station and includes plans for a long-awaited indoor arena, new public spaces and a vibrant business, commercial and shopping district. Temple Meads station will also be completely redeveloped as part of a plan to grow and modernise the railway in Bristol by the end of the decade.

Engine Shed has ambitious plans for the future, including working with secondary schools, promoting IT Apprenticeships, stimulating the local investment eco-system and hosting a node on the £20m Gigabit Bristol and Terabit West networks, as part of the Open Programmable City Region project. Plans are being progressed for tripling the space available to Engine Shed to both accommodate, and accelerate, the growth already seen.

It’s anticipated that the new Enterprise Zone will create 17,000 new jobs in total and bring 400 new companies to the city over the next two decades – and Engine Shed is well on its way to contributing significantly to that.

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