SETsquared Blog

What makes SETsquared Europe’s top university business incubator?

It was a defining moment in SETsquared’s 11-year history.

On the 24th June, the University Business Incubation (UBI) Index, announced the results of their annual industry ranking and SETsquared were named as the number one university business incubator in Europe and number two in the World!

Since the announcement, many people have approached me to ask, what are SETsquared doing differently?

The figures do some of the talking – 1,000 companies incubated in 11 years, £1 billion investment raised and a well above national average 90% company survival rate - but they don’t tell the whole story…

So here are the top five reasons why I believe we’ve been judged to be the top university business incubator in Europe and number two in the World:

1.   When it comes to business incubation - one size doesn’t fit all

When we were being interviewed by the UBI, a colleague of mine said SETsquared isn’t a “sausage factory” and this term perfectly sums up our approach. We don’t have a set business support formula or a set methodology for helping start-ups access finance. Every entrepreneur and start-up is different and as such needs a very individual focus and plan. Of course we have events, training programmes and services which are defined and happen on annual basis but via business review panels we are able to hone in on the individual products/services, marketplace and challenges faced by each company we support. We can then build a team of mentors around them, advise on training and make introductions to investors, funding sources and other support organisations.

2.   Our five innovation rich locations

Whilst London is a hub for high-tech innovation, it’s not the only place in the UK that’s thriving. Our five incubators are based in Bath, Bristol, Exeter, Southampton and Surrey. Boosted by the world-class scientists and engineers from the research-intensive universities, each of these regions has it’s own particular strengths. Be it aerospace and 5G technology in Surrey, optoelectronics and high-value manufacturing in Southampton and the M4 microelectronics corridor in the West.

We now want to make SETsquared’s services available to many more entrepreneurs and start-ups across the South of England and are partnering with Local Economic Partnerships to make this happen.

Our ambition for growth in incubation members is still grounded in a desire to see more high-growth companies created in the UK. I know the difference these successful tech start-ups can make to local economies by bringing high value jobs and prosperity and hopefully we’ve laid fantastic foundations to build on.

Dhruv Bhatli, Co-founder of the UBI Index commented when the rankings were announced: “SETsquared is an outstanding business incubator that provides exceptional quality to its client companies and produces growth companies and high economic impact.”

3.   A team of experts

Our five centres are managed by a highly experienced team – all of whom have come from industry and most from a high-tech start-up environment. When it comes to starting a business – they’ve seen and done it all – including raising investment, hiring and firing and orchestrating business exits.

We also have a team of approx. 130 highly experienced business mentors, who provide their expertise pro bono. We build a team of mentors around each company to ensure they have the right expertise at the right time.

4.   It’s not what you know, it’s who you know

An old cliché that still rings true. The business support and funding landscapes are vast and hard to navigate. Entrepreneurs can often be so embroiled in developing their technology and laying the foundations of their business, that there is simply no time for anything else. SETsquared has such a highly established network, we can help new companies navigate the choppy waters of starting a business.

Our newest programme – Open Innovation – is a great example of this. Here we are offering start-ups the opportunity to pitch their technologies to large corporate organisations, seeking to bolster their own innovation. For a start-up going it alone, it would be incredibly difficult to navigate into these large organisations and they would fear compromising IP. So by facilitating these interactions, SETsquared are offering another value-add, unique service to the start-up ventures, which they would be unable to achieve on their own.

5.   Size matters

At any one time we can be supporting upwards of 250 companies through our incubation programme and it’s this critical mass, which attracts the attention of investors, mentors, experienced entrepreneurs and funding organisations.

It’s enabled us to gain momentum internationally, which benefits our companies hugely in helping them to access new overseas markets. For example, we were recently able to send two of our companies over to the US to take part in MIT’s prestigious e-teams incubator programme. We have also forged links with a number of high-tech companies in Italy through our three-year Entrepreneurship Programme relationship with Turin’s Fondazione CRT and have previously run a very successful US-UK Science Bridge with San Diego.

One of our entrepreneurs recently summed up the value of SETsquared’s support to his organisation:

“I can’t see why anyone would want to start a high tech business without the services of SETsquared. There’s the credibility of saying you’re a SETsquared company and the access to so many valuable contacts, as well as high quality advice.”

Peter Lilley, co-founder and CEO, iGeolise
(a Surrey SETsquared member)

Moving forward, there are many ways in which we can improve what we do and we look to the other incubators on the UBI Index for examples of good practice. Ultimately we want to support more high-tech companies, to see more jobs created and create more growth.

What do you think makes a good incubator? Can you share any examples of successful incubator programmes?

View our infographic packed with all of our latest facts, figures and statistics.