The recent launch of Engine Shed marks the beginning of something truly special happening in Bristol. With the Engine Shed comes the influx of early-stage businesses, an incubator, the Local Enterprise, business lounge, co-working spaces, meeting rooms – you get the picture.
This will also allow more opportunities to host meet-ups and other networking events which will further help in fostering the entrepreneurial community.
And today I had the pleasure of speaking with the man behind it all.
(Nick Sturge, George Ferguson - Mayor, Greg Clark MP - Minister for Cities.)
Nick, I’m absolutely thrilled to finally have you on YHP, how are you doing?
Very well. Relieved to have managed to get Engine Shed open just before Christmas, within a year of writing the Business Plan. We are now settling in to the exciting new opportunities that Engine Shed offers.
For those still unaware, can you tell us about SETsquared and Engine Shed?
Sure, SETsquared is an enterprise partnership of 5 universities in southern England (Bristol, Bath, Southampton, Exeter & Surrey) - and I run the Bristol SETsquared Centre which accelerates early-stage, high-tech, high-growth businesses, wherever they have come from or reside. We currently support over 60 companies of which just under 20 are physically housed in the Centre. The Bristol SETsquared Centre is a tenant of Engine Shed, which also has the WebStart Bristol incubator as a tenant, as well as the new Invest in Bristol & Bath and the Local Enterprise Partnership. Engine Shed also has a Business Lounge, some co-working space, meeting rooms for hire and a public Innovation Showcase space.
The success rate in SETsquared has been amazing, how do you go about finding the right entrepreneurs and start-ups? What do you look for?
We do specific PR to highlight the successful companies that we have supported and this then attracts others who aspire to achieve the same. We look for an idea that has potential for significant growth but most importantly we look for a founding team who have the vision, energy personal resources to get that idea past what we call the "first mile". Critically, we have to be able to work with the entrepreneur, to be able to add value.
Were you entrepreneurial growing up? Tell us a little more about your earlier entrepreneurial adventures?
I didn't necessarily feel entrepreneurial early on in my life. What I have always done, and always felt is important, is to work hard and try different things. When I was 18 I had about 5 part time jobs simultaneously as a way of finding out what I was good at what I enjoyed.
Hard work and experimentation (i.e. risk-taking) are important facets of an entrepreneur. At University I borrowed my Dad's recent redundancy payment in lieu of maintenance, to buy a house, which I then rented out to students and lived off the rental income - and then sold the house for a profit when I graduated. I then worked in a couple of startup businesses and after working for a multi-national for a few years, co-founded a tech startup in 1993 which we IPO'd in 1996 and took to the full London list in 2000. I think I only really felt comfortable about calling myself an entrepreneur until last year as it was clear how entrepreneurial we had been in creating Engine Shed.
With the introduction of Engine Shed and the continued success of SETsquared, Bristol looks like an excellent place for any start-up or entrepreneur to relocate for their business?
Couldn't agree more - though Engine Shed and SETsquared are simply enablers and cheer-leaders. Businesses grow themselves and talent swarms round exciting clusters. We have an exciting cluster, across multiple sectors, in Bristol & Bath, and hence a great talent pool. Therefore, a great place to relocate so you can tap into that talent, as well as the fertile eco-system of universities, professional services, incubators and high quality advisers.
It looks fantastic considering the influx of tech start-up who rush off to London understandably, is this something you are hoping to hear about Bristol very soon? Start-up moving to stay in Bristol?
Every businesses, or entrepreneur, needs to work out what's best for them, and where's best for them. London has a lot to offer - certainly in terms of density of start-ups, investors and customers - but other clusters around the UK have similarly useful environments - we just don't share that or promote that enough. It's only to get better here in Bristol & Bath.
What plans are you looking at to further foster an entrepreneurial community in Bristol?
Engine Shed - it's profile, location and facilities - has the potential, and I would say, the responsibility, to foster the entrepreneurial community here. Firstly we will be hosting and encouraging more Meetups and other networking events that nurture the community, but also run though-leadership events to stimulate the angel investment activity. An active investment environment is critical - and not hugely mature here yet. That will change rapidly. We will also, in due course, running activities to inspire young people - 12 year-olds - to look at science, technology and entrepreneurship as positive careers choices. We are in this for the long term.
How has it been running these two exciting projects simultaneously?
Bloody hard work. But hugely rewarding - the best bit has been the over-whelming support from people, groups and institutions in the City coming together to make stuff happen. Against the odds. As with any entrepreneurial start-up you need a few dollops of luck, a great team, dogged determination and impeccable timing. We've been fortunate to have all of those.
What would you say has been your most memorable moment so far?
The launch event - being able to announce "Welcome to Engine Shed". Without a doubt.
What are your plans for SETsquared and Engine Shed in the coming months?
For SETsquared, it's about keeping the momentum going, keeping doing the best for our member companies and finding better and innovative techniques to accelerate growth in tech startups.
For Engine Shed it's about consolidating what we have got: getting our systems and collateral in place so we can maintain the great start and work hard to get the communities - especially academics from the 4 universities and entrepreneurs from the incubators - to really take advantage of the Business Lounge to create a real (sustainable) buzz.
Lastly, what three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
1. Build, use and feed your network
2. Build effective partnerships - your team, investors, customers, advisers
3. If it feels right, do it!