What To Look For In Your First Office Space

With SMEs and entrepreneurship culture booming, finding the right home for your business can be crucial to its survival. From ensuring that the space for your business aligns with your company values, to surrounding yourself with inspiring business leaders, if you strike gold with where you lay your laptop, you’ll see the benefits roll in. If you’re ready to make that leap and find your first office, we’ve put together some tips on what to look for when finding office space. 


Look for: Agility

The culture of entrepreneurship is fast-paced and ever-changing, and renting office spaces should be able to keep up with that. Whether you’re a solo trader, entrepreneur, or a growing business, make sure to look for working environments that will be able to grow as you do, and that can offer flexible solutions in dynamic landscapes.  

When starting, the needs of your business may not fit the confines of a traditional 9-5. If this is the case, seek out spaces that you can access when you need to, whether that be for a late-night overseas business cal, for the early-risers among us, or to allow for flexibility for family commitments. 

Find an office space that empowers your business. In shared office spaces like the Plus X innovation hubs, the day-to-day maintenance of managing an office is taken off your hands. Things like recycling, water, internet, coffee, and cleaning are all managed for you so that you can focus on running your business. Fixed costs for workspace mean you can go at your own pace – and miss out on many surprise utility bills! 

Look for: Innovation

Creativity seeks creativity. By immersing yourself in an environment filled with talent and innovation, you’ll feel more motivated and galvanised with your projects. Plus, there’s a boundless opportunity for support and connection with likeminded people who know just what it’s like to run a business. 

When looking for your business space, you shouldn’t feel limited by its facilities. In our innovation hubs, you’ll gain access to our prototyping workshops and media suites without having to pay over the odds. So if you’ve been looking for a space where you can begin working on that life-changing product, grab photos on the go of your product or team, or want to make waves in the podcasting world, we can help you make that happen. 

Innovation comes in many forms. It’s not just the people, but also the environment itself that can inspire. Renting a space for your business that looks the part can do wonders for your employee morale. When your team is inspired by the design of their workspace, they can be up to 33% happier, which in turn can lead to a more productive team. 

Look for: Values

Ethical and sustainable values are fast becoming crucial for many small businesses, with a huge 86% of consumers saying that authenticity is a key factor when deciding what brands they like and buy into. When finding the right home for your business, look for an office space that aligns with your business’s ethos and outlook. 

By renting a space for your business, you can bypass the hefty expense of investing in certain credentials if the existing culture does this for you. At Plus X, we build our spaces with wellness, health and sustainability in mind, in line with the WELL Building Standard. 

Walking into a readymade culture that aligns with your ethos means that the difficulty in establishing kind practices and operations is taken off your shoulders. Look at the website and social media channels of your shortlisted workspaces to see if your values align – you’ll soon see if this is a place you’ll feel at home!

Look for: Progression

When choosing office space, ensure that the environment will encourage and nurture growth and development within your business. Find spaces that offer opportunity and knowledge to help you upskill, and immerse yourself around people you’re inspired by, who understand your business journey and can offer insights and support when you need them.

If you’re looking to disrupt your industry or be a pioneer in your field, find an office space that celebrates that. At Plus X, we offer a plethora of innovation programmes designed for businesses at every stage of their journey, to champion their strengths, encourage creativity and help them to grow. We also hold a number of events that help our community network, learn, and prioritise their health.

When starting out, it can be hard to accurately plan how much space you may need in one, three, or five years. Rather than getting locked into lengthy rental contracts, more and more small businesses are looking at shared office spaces. At Plus X, many of our members started out with just one or two hot desks, and over time, have made our dedicated office spaces their own – moving between the different sized studio offices as they grow! 

Could Central Research Laboratory in West London be the right fit for your first office? Book a tour to see us in the flesh! 

Start a Business Checklist: 11 Steps to Setting Up Your Small Business

Woman working at computer

You need a lot more than an idea to start a small business. Research, an online presence, funding and a workspace are just some of the areas to tackle.  

To help you get your new venture off the ground, discover the key steps to take in your early days as an entrepreneur with our in-depth business startup checklist.  

1. Do your research 

Research is very important when starting your own company. You need to understand if there’s a market for your idea, who your target customers are and whether there are any competitors you need to be aware of. Detailed research will help you identify if there is a need for your product or service, define your business proposition and work out what makes your offering unique.   

The British Library has a network of Business & IP Centres in libraries across the UK which provide free access to market research databases and global company data that can really help with the research process.  

You can also run market research surveys using tools like Survey Monkey and Typeform, conduct face-to-face interviews and run focus groups with your target customers to finesse your idea. 

2. Choose a name 

When selecting a name for your business, make sure it properly reflects what you do. A quirky or unusual name could help you to stand out, but bear in mind that some people might find it hard to pronounce, spell or remember.  

Difficult to spell names may affect how many people can find you in search results. You may also want to consider whether using a name with relevant keywords in could be useful for SEO purposes. 

You also need to check whether you can claim a website address and social media accounts that fit with your company name. 

If you’re setting up a limited company, you must register your company name with Companies House. It cannot be the same as another registered company’s name and it must not infringe on another company’s trademark. You can check company name availability here and existing trademarks here. 

If you’re a sole trader, you don’t need to register your business name but it’s worth checking that no one else is using the same one as it could cause confusion.  

3. Register a domain name 

While choosing your name, it’s worth checking that an appropriate website domain address is available. Even if you’re not ready to build your website, you should claim your domain as soon as you possibly can.  

The domain you select should be directly related to your business and be easy to remember. There are several domain extensions (the suffix at the end of a website address) to choose from but for UK businesses, the most popular are .com and .co.uk. There are many domain registrars you can use to register your domain, including GoDaddy, BlueHost, and FastHosts. Search on Google for the best deals.  

4. Claim your social media accounts 

Just like your website domain name, it’s worth claiming social media handles as soon as possible.  

Using social media channels such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn can be a highly effective and low cost way to promote your business and build relationships with customers. But remember, you don’t necessarily need to be on all social media platforms. Research the ones that your target customers use and look at what your competitors are doing – there’s no point having a TikTok account if your target audience isn’t looking here for your product or service.  

You also need to decide whether you’ll have personal accounts, accounts for your brand or both. 

5. Pick your business structure 

Choosing your business structure is very important when starting a small business. You could be a sole trader, partnership or limited company. The option you select depends on your personal circumstances and what you want to achieve with your business. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages.  

Find more information on the Companies House website and ask an accountant for advice. The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales and the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants have directories you can use to search for an accountant. 

6. Write a business plan 

A good business plan will help you to clarify your idea and focus on the steps needed for your business to succeed by defining your short and long-term objectives. It will also help you to identify any potential problems and secure funding. 

Key sections of a business plan include: 

  • Business objectives 
  • Target customers 
  • Competitors 
  • Sales and marketing plans 
  • Organisational structure, team and advisers 
  • Financials and cashflow forecast 

The government’s Start Up Loans scheme has a downloadable business plan template here 

7. Open a business bank account 

If you’re running a limited company, it is legally separate from you so you should open a business bank account. You don’t need a business bank account if you’re a sole trader or freelancer, but you may decide to set one up anyway to keep your personal and business finances separate. 

When selecting a business bank account, look out for any charges and what facilities are provided. Some banks offer perks such as cashback and discounts on goods and services.  

8. Decide if you need funding 

It’s possible to start a business with very little money and many new entrepreneurs use their personal finances to get going. You might require funding from other sources though so work out exactly how much you need taking into account all costs. Remember that you likely won’t make a profit for several months or even years so you’ll need enough money for your living costs. It is for this reason that many founders start a business alongside a full-time job.  

For advice on the various types of funding you can access when starting your own business, read our guide

9. Find a place to work 

With a phone and a laptop, modern entrepreneurs can run their business from pretty much anywhere. However, finding a dedicated space to work from brings many benefits. It can help you to focus, improve your mental health, boost your creativity, meet useful contacts, find a mentor and form collaborations. 

In the early days of running your business, you could opt for working from home most of the time and from a shared space a few times a week. As your business grows, you can expand to your own dedicated desk or office.  

Central Research Laboratory offers a range of options including flexible hot-desking for whenever you need it, a dedicated desk that you can call your own and private studio offices for growing teams.   

Being based at innovation hubs like Central Research Laboratory and Plus X also brings other advantages such as access to prototyping workshops and business support programmes, as well as the opportunity to connect and collaborative with other businesses in the same stage as yours. 

10. Create a website 

Most people search online for products and services these days and it’s beneficial to have an internet presence, even if it’s just a simple website with your contact information. Before you properly launch, a one-page site with a box for capturing email addresses is a good way to build buzz around your new business and start to build a mailing list.

Think carefully about search engine optimisation and the keywords people are using online when looking for products or services like yours. Google’s Keyword Planner is a useful tool.  

If you have the budget, you could pay a web designer to build your website but there are also plenty of low-cost website template services, including Squarespace, Wix and WordPress 

If you’re selling products online, you can integrate eCommerce solutions such as Shopify and WooCommerce or sell on marketplaces like Amazon, Etsy and Not On The High Street. 

11. Start building connections 

Effective networking can help you to build a successful startup. Look for events where you can make connections with people who could help your company. They might be experts in particular areas of business or fellow entrepreneurs who can share their experiences. Websites like Eventbrite and Meetup are good places to find business events.  

Joining innovation programmes or business accelerators is another way to make valuable connections. You can benefit from the advice of experts, and many schemes also provide grant funding and access to potential partners and manufacturers.  

Plus X and Central Research Laboratory run several innovation programmes, including the internationally-recognised programme for product makers, CRL Accelerator, which deliver knowledge, guidance, connections and structure to unlock the potential of a great idea.  

Ready to start your business journey? Book a tour of Central Research Laboratory to see how we could help your business succeed. 

CRL Accelerator: Join the 9th Cohort

Building, testing, and launching a physical product takes a great deal of time and complexity – not to mention the difficult journey of starting a company from scratch. The stakes are high, and mistakes can be costly. But, the solutions uncovered in this process play a vital role in solving major challenges and improving our world.  

Here at Central Research Laboratory, we work to develop and deliver programmes that respond to the key issues startups face. In the hardware space, the physical product itself can be a challenge. Our internationally-recognised 6-month CRL Accelerator programme helps hardware entrepreneurs succeed in bringing the right product to market in the right way. 

 

Since opening in 2015, the Central Research Laboratory has helped more than 200 startups build everything from the next generation of modular battery technology for sustainable energy storage; toys that help children suffering from chronic eczema; to new sustainable building materials made from potato waste, and autonomous asparagus harvesting robots created to combat the agricultural labour shortage. 

Explore what the latest cohort has gone on to achieve with a look at our Demo Day 2021 showcase.  

What Our Alumni Have To Say

“When they say the word “accelerator”, it is literally accelerated learning to the max. I learnt a lot more in my time on the accelerator than in my three years at university. You’re learning marketing, legal, product development, etc. Having access to experts has been invaluable!” 

Liam Murphy, Co-Founder of Stix Mindfulness, Cohort 7, 2021 

 

“CRL transformed our startup from a university project to an award-winning business. We were a group of engineers. We had no idea what we were doing when it came to running a business.”  

Carlton Cummins, CTO & Co-Founder at Aceleron, Cohort 2, 2016  

 

“CRL has contributed to our journey in many ways. Access to network, manufacturing, procurement services, workshop facilities. CRL enables us to feel like a slightly bigger company than we would otherwise be if left to our own devices. Being here at CRL as a cohort member, makes it feel a lot more real and plugged in into the ecosystem.” 

Florian Richter, Co-Founder & CEO at Muddy Machines, Cohort 8, 2021 

“After the CRL Accelerator programme, we went on to expand the business into the US, and got investment from the US (Silicon Valley) and UK channels spread across Venture Capital, Accelerator and Angel investment routes, as well as being awarded additional non-dilutive funding through government-led programmes.” 

Matt Hogbin, Co-Founder at Plexus, Cohort 1, 2015 

What is the CRL Accelerator?

The CRL Accelerator programme runs from June to December at the Central Research Laboratory in West London. Six startups receive 24/7 access to a dedicated workspace and our prototyping workshop for the entirety of the programme and become part of our brilliant community of startups and scaleups that are based at the Central Research Laboratory. 

The programme, partially funded by the European Regional Development Fund, provides makers with hands-on support focused on product and business development, investor readiness, and preparing for manufacture from a team of industry experts and mentors. Our in-house product development team plays a vital role in supporting startups in their product development, design and design for manufacturing matters. Startups on the CRL Accelerator also benefit from a £5,000 grant towards product development costs. 

By the end of the programme you will have:

–       Made significant progress on your product development, design and design for manufacture. 

–      Developed a solid and demonstrable understanding of your customers, market, social and environmental impact, business model and funding strategy.

–    Built a clearer understanding of how to approach the manufacture of your product, and developed a network of potential manufacturers in the UK and China.

–       Developed the confidence and skills to talk about your product to different audiences, including investors, potential partners, customers, technical experts and lay audiences.

–      Acquired the soft skills necessary to successfully run a business, including resilience, negotiation, managing teams and leveraging your network.

–      Created a professionally produced video pitch for your business.

–       Presented your product to a network peers, partners, business experts, product developers, designers and investors.

–       Be part of a vibrant community of CRL Accelerator alumni and current members, who will forever cheer you on and support you and your company!

Does the CRL Accelerator feel like a perfect fit for your product?  
Apply to join the next cohort of hardware innovators on the CRL Accelerator today.  
Find out more about the CRL Accelerator in this informational handbook.

8 Great Places to Start a Business in the UK

With a huge growth in new businesses registered on Companies House in 2021, and research from Tide finding that the UK is the cheapest place to start a business in Europe, the entrepreneurial and startup spirit is booming in the UK.

But, while many still consider central London to be the epicentre for business, some of the best cities to start a business in the UK are actually outside of the metropolis. 

In 2021, almost £9 billion of all Venture Capital investment went into startups and scaleups outside of London and the South East, and nine out of 29 unicorns were formed in these regions. And, 35% of futurecorns are also based outside of the capital, meaning there is even more opportunity to set up a business in regional towns and cities. 

Here’s a list of some of the locations that we think could be home to the next pioneering business – complete with all the information you’ll need if you’re considering starting your business in one of these locations.  


Glasgow

Scotland’s most populous city has a long history of being an economic powerhouse. Generating an estimated £19.3 billion per year, it is one of the fastest-growing major city economies in the UK. Home to a vibrant culture, Glasgow centres itself around creativity and innovation.

With a mission to become the most productive major city in the UK, Glasgow’s on an upward trajectory. The city boasts plenty of exciting opportunities for businesses to thrive, being the home to Interactive Investor, one of the nine unicorns outside of London. 

Start a business in Glasgow

Image by Ian Dick

Glasgow Fact File


Bristol

A city that cares deeply, Bristol has transformed from its maritime roots into a thriving cultural hub, with a particular focus on environmental and sustainable businesses. The city was recently awarded Gold Sustainable Food City status, recognising its positive work on the city’s food system. 47% of the city’s waste is recycled, according to the EG Sustainable cities index. 

Bristol is seeing more than 80 people a week relocate from London to Bristol and Bath, making it a fast-growing city with new talent joining it all the time. And, with 45.5% of the population walking or cycling to work over five times a week, it’s a great place for health-conscious startups to find talent. 

Start a business in Bristol

Bristol Fact File


Brighton and Hove

Also known as Silicon Beach, Brighton and Hove has had an exciting few years, experiencing a thriving economy and steady rise in entrepreneurship. Its reputation for quirkiness attracts new residents far and wide, and it welcomes thousands of students each year across its two universities, the University of Brighton and the University of Sussex.

Brighton has a strong business community, and its entrepreneurs, leaders and founders are well looked after when it comes to accelerators and funding programmes. The BRITE innovation project, run by Plus X Brighton in partnership with the University of Brighton provides innovation programmes to suit businesses and entrepreneurs at any stage. 

Start a business in Brighton

Brighton Fact File


Sheffield

Sheffield, or the ‘Steel City’, has a strong history in manufacturing. This is a city on the rise, with a dedicated innovation district, and receiving a multimillion investment as part of the Heart of the City development scheme. It’s also the headquarters of many large non-manufacturing companies, including HSBC, Royal Mail and Aviva. 

Sheffield’s relatively affordable rents and mortgages make it a great location for professionals that may not wish to pay London prices. Now is a great time to start a business in Sheffield, as the future is looking bright. 

Start a business in Sheffield

Image by Tigerbww

Sheffield Fact File


Milton Keynes

Like some other places on this list, business owners in Milton Keynes can benefit from the reduced costs of an out-of-London location, whilst being a mere 32 minutes away by train from the capital. It’s a city on the rise, and a great place to set up a business in the UK, with an impressively high level of startups. 

It has also been at the forefront of trialling new technologies in recent years, including driverless pods. Milton Keynes is home to the Transport Systems Catapult, the UK’s technology and innovation centre for Intelligent Mobility.

Start a business in Milton Keynes

Image by Mattbuck

Milton Keynes Fact File


Birmingham

The entrepreneurial spirit is riding high among Birmingham’s young and lively population, returning to its position as a leader in innovation. It’s also famously one of the most centrally located cities in the country, meaning that it’s a four-hour drive away for 90% of the population. Its easy connections and bustling activity make Birmingham a great place to set up a business.

Start a business in Birmingham

Image by Bs0u10e0

Birmingham Fact File


West London

While many look to central London as the heart of big business, West London has established itself as a thriving epicentre for innovation and startup culture. Organisations including the West London Business create opportunities for networking and investment in this flourishing area. 

In Hayes, you’ll find the Central Research Laboratory, which brings opportunities for entrepreneurship and provides makers facilities outside of central London. It is home to the CRL Accelerator, the UK’s leading programme for product makers and hardware pioneers.

Start a business in West London

West London Fact File


Bournemouth

With its glorious sandy beaches and micro-climate, starting a business in Bournemouth isn’t exactly a hard sell… but its lesser-known reputation as a thriving sci-tech hub might be another reason to add to the list. 

Bournemouth University’s academic research has helped it to become one of the top-ranking universities in Business and Management, creating a steady stream of budding business leaders among its alumni.

Start a business in Bournemouth

Image by Jack Pease

Bournemouth Fact File

 


Plus X innovation hubs optimise opportunities for business, academics and communities to connect, collaborate and thrive.

Would your city or town benefit from the opening of a Plus X innovation hub? Let us know!


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How to Find Funding for Your Startup

Meeting in Plus X meeting room

Looking for finance for your startup business? This guide explains how to find it.

Finding business funding is one of the biggest challenges most startup founders face.

Whether it’s money to get your new venture off the ground, or finance to scale up and launch in a new market, it can be hard to understand how to fund a startup and know which type of finance is best for you.

In this article, we outline seven startup funding options for UK businesses to consider.

Grants

A grant is business funding that you don’t have to pay back so it can be an attractive option for small businesses.

There are a wide variety of schemes with varying eligibility rules. For example, there are grants for entrepreneurs looking to launch a new business and for more established small business owners wanting to expand their product range or export overseas.

Places to find grants include:

Grants can be complicated to apply for with lots of paperwork to complete. There will likely be restrictions on how you can use the money and you might be required to match fund the grant which means you have to provide some of the money yourself.

Start Up Loans

Many small businesses can secure a loan from a traditional high street bank, but they are tricky to access for new startups without a trading history.

For young businesses, the government’s Start Up Loans scheme might be more suitable. It provides unsecured personal loans of between £500 and £25,000 with a fixed annual interest rate of 6% and a one-to-five-year repayment term.

To apply, you must be:

  • Aged 18 or over
  • A resident of the UK with the right to work in the UK
  • Starting a UK-based business or have been trading for up to 24 months
  • Unable to secure funding from other sources

Personal credit checks will be carried out and you need to submit a cashflow forecast and business plan. Successful applicants receive 12 months of free mentoring as well as the loan.

Peer-to-peer business loans

Peer-to-peer (P2P) lending is another type of business loan.

Companies like Funding Circle and Iwoca connect borrowers with investors willing to lend money. They typically provide loans of between £5,000 and £500,000.

The application process is usually straightforward and you could get the money within a few days.

P2P loans aren’t suitable for very new startups as the business needs a trading history. Interest rates can be higher than for standard bank loans and you might need to pay an arrangement fee.

Crowdfunding

This popular form of startup funding involves uploading your pitch to a crowdfunding website and persuading members of the public or investors to give you money. As well as raising funding, it can be an effective way to get publicity and measure interest in your product or service.

There are two main types of crowdfunding:

  • Reward: You ask for money in return for a non-financial reward such as your product. Popular websites include Crowdfunder and Kickstarter.
  • Equity: You ask for money in return for an equity share in your business. Popular websites include Crowdcube and Seedrs.

Reward crowdfunding is most suited to product startups, while equity crowdfunding is particularly useful for non-product businesses or businesses seeking larger amounts of funding to grow.

If you already have customers, social media followers, email subscribers or investor contacts, ask them to contribute before you open the crowdfunding campaign to the wider public. If you then launch with funding already committed, others are more likely to invest.

It can take a lot of time and effort to make a success of crowdfunding. You’ll need to create an engaging video pitch and invest in plenty of promotion. You may not get any money if you fail to hit your target.

Accelerators and innovation programmes

Investing in the services of experts is a great way to grow your business, but they can be hard to find and expensive to access. By signing up to an accelerator or innovation programme, you can benefit from their expertise for free or at low cost. Many programmes also provide grant funding and connections to potential partners and manufacturers.

There are a range of different innovation programmes for UK small businesses so do your research to find the one that is right for you. Things to consider are the types of businesses the programme supports and if the accelerator takes an equity share in your business.

Plus X is home of the following programmes:

  • Better World Collective: An initiative bringing together the world’s most passionate entrepreneurs, academics, industry partners, policymakers, and corporates to reinvent the materials we use, and create new circular economy models to build a more sustainable future.
  • BOOST: A flexible support programme to help early-stage startups and SMEs through short workshops, mentoring, and in-depth consultations.
  • BRITE: A series of programmes to help businesses in Greater Brighton collaborate, explore new markets, and generate new customers. This includes Access to Expertise, a programme connecting businesses with academic support from the University of Brighton, and INSPIRE, a five-month one-to-one coaching programme.
  • CRL Accelerator: Providing businesses developing hardware products with access to experts in product design, manufacturing, customer testing, marketing and investment, a trip to China to meet manufacturing partners, and £5,000 in grant funding.

Business angels and venture capital

Many startups decide to secure finance from business angels or venture capitalists (VCs).

Angels are suitable for the seed stage, when a new product or service is being established, while VCs provide finance for series A, B and C funding rounds as a business grows.

You can attract investors using the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS) and the (EIS) Enterprise Investment Scheme which provide tax reliefs.

Business angels

Angel investors are high-net worth individuals who invest in early-stage startups in return for equity in the business. They are often successful entrepreneurs themselves so they bring expertise and contacts as well as their money.

Business angels typically invest between £5,000 and £500,000 in a single investment for between 15% and 25% equity.

Angels invest on their own or as part of a syndicate. They want to see a good return on their investment so your business needs to have good growth potential.

Business angels tend to focus on specific areas, sectors or business types.

Venture capital

Unlike business angels who are individuals, venture capital investing involves a firm of professional investors. They use money from a variety of sources including private and public pension funds.

VCs are usually not suitable for the seed stage as they look for businesses with very high growth potential. They rarely invest less than £1m and take a seat on the board of the businesses they back.

Winning over a VC can significantly fast track your business growth, but it’s a difficult process. You will probably need to pitch to several firms before you get a yes and the final deal can take several months to be signed off due to the due diligence required. You also need to be prepared to work with investors who have a say in how you run your business.

Ways to find business angels and venture capital investors include:

Through our innovation programmes and workspaces, Plus X provides knowledge, guidance, connections and structure to unlock the potential of a great idea. Find out more here.

Trailblazing for Change 2022: #MoreThanADay

Trailblazing Women - Plus X

Following the success of last year’s Trailblazing Women event series, this year we want to take Trailblazing Women one step further. Say hello to Trailblazing for Change.

Trailblazing for Change empowers underrepresented groups in business to make space for every bold thinker to flourish.

Starting with women and people from marginalised gender groups, we’re celebrating International Women’s Day by looking at how Plus X functions past today.

Today, we’re publishing our pledge on how we’ll continue to make equality a business priority for Plus X for #MoreThanADay – both for our team, and for members, and for the wider business community.We’ve published the full Plus X pledge over on the Trailblazing for Change hub. The Plus X team will be continually reviewing our progress to ensure we are keeping to our promises, and putting equality at the heart of every decision we make.

Over the coming months, we’ll be sharing information on upcoming events at Plus X Brighton and the Central Research Laboratory, as well as insights from brilliant female founders and leaders in our network.

If you’d like to be the first to hear about our upcoming schedule of Trailblazing events, sign up for our mailing list.

And, if you’d like to get involved in Trailblazing for Change – whether that’s through sharing a blog post on the Plus X website, appearing at one of events, or even hosting your own, we’d love to hear from you!

Making mental health a business priority in 2022

Wellbeing, happiness, and productivity go hand in hand, so it’s vital that leaders of businesses large and small make supporting their team’s mental health a priority. Explore our guide for inspiration on creating a supportive working environment where mental health is never taboo. 

Supporting employees’ mental health at work has never been more important. Almost 18 million working days were lost to work-related stress, depression or anxiety in Britain in 2019/20, while poor mental health costs employers up to £45bn each year. And with the effects of the pandemic on mental health, employees may need more support from their employers.

As well as the severe impact on the individuals concerned, employers can face increased staff turnover, a rise in sickness absence and a reduction in company productivity.

Many mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, can be triggered by an uncaring or stressful working situation. Other conditions, like postnatal depression, PTSD, and eating disorders, can be exacerbated by problems at work. A healthy workplace is in the best interests of everyone – no good business owner would want their employee suffering as a result of poor working practices.

Of course, there’s no way to fully prevent illness and mental health conditions among employees. Instead, it’s employers’ responsibility to ensure they are creating a supportive workplace that cares about team members’ health, and provides them with the tools needed to limit the impact of work on their wellbeing.

1. Create an open and connected culture

Open communication is crucial to a healthy workplace.

No one should be forced to talk about their personal issues at work, but employees should feel able to raise mental health concerns, and understand the routes to do so..

Founders and managers being open about their own mental health experiences can help create a positive and open culture. Effective communication processes should be set up with regular opportunities for staff to touch base with their manager and discuss their wellbeing. This will help you assess the employee’s workload and whether this could be negatively affecting their health.

Socialising is important too. Encouraging employees to get to know each other as people, rather than just as colleagues can boost team morale and productivity. Make time in the working week for staff to bond. This will not only help encourage trust among the team, but staff with mental health issues may also be more able to bring their whole selves to work if they feel like an accepted and valued member of the team.

2. Think about your working environment

The environment employees are based in can have an impact on their mental health at work.

Natural light, good ventilation, outdoor spaces and access to healthy food and drink have all been shown to be beneficial to employee satisfaction and productivity. If you have employees working from home, ensure that they have sufficient equipment such as a laptop, desk and comfortable chair. You could even send them a few plants!

You should take steps to create a healthy environment in your office or look for a workspace that provides these benefits.

Plus X Brighton was designed with health and wellness in mind, following the WELL Building Standard set by the International WELL Building Institute.

Floor-to-ceiling windows safeguard natural human circadian cycles (the internal clock that supports sleeping/waking patterns). The building contains lots of fresh greenery, which studies show improves happiness and productivity. We also continually monitor for VOCs, humidity, CO2 and dust for the best air quality.

3. Facilitate flexibility

If an employee is struggling with their mental health, having to come work at set times could make the situation worse.

Many employers recognise that as long as the job is done, staff don’t necessarily need to work a traditional 9-5 anymore. You could allow them to start and finish at different times, fit the required work into fewer days, or job share with a colleague.

This approach gives staff greater control over the hours they work and the ability to deal with situations such as medical appointments, taking children to school, and avoiding busy commuting times. All this can contribute to a better work/life balance and improved mental health.

Working hours are not the only way you can support mental health. Allowing employees to work away from the office on a part-time or full-time basis can also help. A change of environment such as working from home or in a shared workspace can reduce stress, improve wellbeing and boost productivity.

However, it can be harder to recognise the signs of mental illness in staff working remotely. To ensure your team stays connected, collaboration apps like Slack and Teams allow you to regularly check in. Regular face-to-face chats (either in real life or in a video call) can also help ensure you are aware of how your team is feeling, and encourage them to open up.

4. Encourage time out

No one should be spending too many hours sitting at their desk without a break so encourage your employees to take some time out regularly throughout the day.

Many companies have a policy of banning meetings at particular times to ensure staff take a lunch break or have uninterrupted time to focus on their work.

It’s also important that staff feel able to take their full holiday allowance. Lead by example by taking regular time off to recuperate, and ensure employees are regularly reminded to book their leave.

A short stroll in the open air can be beneficial to mental health. Consider if any meetings could be held outside too and join the growing trend of walking meetings. Such exercise is not just good for employee mental health; it’s good for business too. Studies have shown that walking boosts creativity and productivity.

For office-based employees, create spaces they can use away from their desks. That could be for a meeting or to take a quick break. 

5. Arrange wellbeing activities

Encouraging your staff to take physical exercise or improving their mindfulness can reduce stress and anxiety, boost confidence levels and improve sleep.

Consider offering yoga, pilates or fitness classes at your workplace or live-streamed online for remote employees. 

You could also offer staff a set amount of money to spend on a wellbeing activity of their choice, or encourage them to use mindfulness and meditation techniques which can generate feelings of calm, reduce stress and help to deal with difficult or unhelpful thoughts.

Promote mindfulness activities by sharing advice from organisations like Mind or by funding subscriptions to apps such as Calm and Headspace. Plus X members have discounted access to digital wellbeing services from Wellspace.

6. Consider mental health first aid training

Traditional first aiders who deal with accidents and illnesses have long been a feature of the British workplace, but the mental health equivalent is becoming increasingly popular for modern businesses.

Mental health first aiders are volunteers from your workforce who are trained to spot the signs and symptoms of mental ill health. They know how to have a non-judgmental conversation, help people in a crisis and guide them towards professional support.

Having mental aid first aiders on hand means staff have a point of contact if they need help or advice. All staff at Plus X innovation hubs and the Central Research Laboratory are trained in the MHFA (Mental Health First Aid) qualification to support members.


To find out more about how Plus X innovation hubs could help your team’s health, happiness and productivity, book your visit:

Central Research Laboratory, West London

Plus X Brighton

Radiant Matter, the biodegradable sequin sparking global corporate interest

‍Sequins… those tiny, shimmering disks of joy. They might bring glary images of festive party dresses or novelty items to mind, but after speaking to Elissa Brunato of Radiant Matter, our eyes have been left widened and gleaming at the sheer number of everyday appearances that little plastic sparkle makes.

There is an innate reason why humans are attracted to sparkle and shimmer, resembling water and linked to our will to survive. Covering oneself in shiny items was once evidence of prosperity.

Sequins developed from gold coins in Ancient times to beetle wings in the 19th century, edible sequins in the 1930s, to the modern plastic form we see today.

Sequins were a symbol of wealth until the product was commercialised – sparkle went from exclusive to democratised.

From the garment industry, to cosmetics, accessories, and home decor items, the sheer volume of sequins used is staggering.

A 2019 Oxfam report stated that in an eight-week Christmas and New Year festive season in the UK, 33 million new sequined garments are purchased and 7 million are dumped in landfill after only 5 wears.

Most sequins are made from made from mylar, PET and PVC. They do not biodegrade, meaning they will languish in landfill for years to come. These types of plastics are also linked to health risks such as stunted growth, reproductive issues, higher stress levels and inability to process stress.

“Sequins and sparkle won’t ever go away, we just need to do it more sustainably”

In comes Elissa, with ten years experience in the fashion industry and having worked with some of the big players. Her experience ranged from managing teams to production and product development and design. Throughout her career, particular interest and expertise in embroidery emerged.  

Elissa had the opportunity to travel to manufacturing sites in Italy, China, and India. She saw firsthand the effects of the production of embroidery components and garments on local communities and the environment. She witnessed the multiple waste streams created as well as the exposure and use of harsh chemicals.

From high-end couture gowns to high-street fast fashion pieces, our captivation with all things that shimmer is continuing to cost people and the planet.

“When you see the impact of the materials that the fashion industry employs and the reports and news that capture this impact, we have to wonder how these materials can still be in use.”

Five years ago, the conversation about sustainability or the circular economy was not widespread within the garment industry. The industry functioned very linearly with few options to do things differently. Under the given circumstances, Elissa wanted to take on a different role within the industry and decided to dedicate her time to material innovation.

Going on to study at Central Saint Martins and while also being mentored by Claire Bergkamp who was at the time, the World Wide Sustainability & Innovation Director at Stella McCartney, alongside material scientists at Research Institutes in Sweden, Elissa developed a biodegradable sequin using cellulose derived from wood.

A biodegradable sequin, to a garment industry outsider, may look like an extremely niche product. Still, it seems that this new product has caught the eye of many.

Astonished with the response that she has been getting since launching Radiant Matter, Elissa has been approached by some big names in the fashion industry, and to throw an unexpected curveball in there, by luxury automobile brands too.

“The fashion industry is willing to change and there is so much demand for sustainable material solutions, there is just not enough supply.”

There is a considerable shift in the textile industry right now. We see solutions that transition away from petroleum as a resource, materials and systems designed to improve soil health, the introduction of chemical fibre recycling and brands showcasing transparent and ethical supply chains.

“More support is needed for new companies creating positive change. There is no shortage of demand, the challenges lie in funding and scaling quickly to meet this demand.”

When asked about her thoughts on partnerships with big brands, Elissa says, “Partnerships enable large scale impact. We need to collaborate across the industry in order to drive the change needed”.

From a startup’s perspective, she says it can be daunting speaking to giant companies. “Our edge is being agile; being a new company, we can design the rulebook for ourselves. But when speaking to large corporates with decades of experience, we want to make sure we step into these conversations prepared and have the right strategies. That’s why working with the CRL Accelerator has been so important”.

Over the last 6 months, Radiant Matter has been part of the CRL Accelerator programme, the UK’s leading programme for product makers and hardware pioneers, offering support for early stage businesses developing hardware products.

Alongside the product development support, the CRL Accelerator has offered business and commercial readiness support but Elissa says the more training a startup can receive around commercial partnerships the better so they are prepared when dealing with a corporate with complicated processes and large budgets.

Photo credits to Sara Hibbert.

 

ABOUT A BETTER WORLD COLLECTIVE

Better World Collective supports both startups and corporates through the challenges of sustainable material innovation collaborations so that solutions can make a more immediate impact. From workshopping what a collaboration project looks like, supporting implementing a project effectively, and inviting policymakers into the conversation. We believe that a more sustainable, better world is possible. It just takes effective and streamlined collaboration between the startups with solutions and the corporates that can scale them. 

Interested in joining? Get in touch with the team. 

 

ABOUT CRL

Central Research Laboratory (CRL)

Central Research Laboratory is the UK’s leading accelerator and co-working space for hardware startups and product pioneers. Partially funded by the European Regional Development Fund, the CRL has supported hundreds of entrepreneurs to realise and scale their companies through product development, commercial strategy, 24/7 prototyping facilities, mentorship and access to a network of investors, mentors and partners.

Gearing up for the 2021 CRL Accelerator Demo Day

CRL Accelerator cohort 2021

Meet the entrepreneurs building a better world through the CRL Accelerator. Want to be inspired by some of the UK’s most talented hardware startups? Join us online on 23rd November for CRL Demo Day. Book your free seat now.

Central Research Laboratory (CRL) helps ambitious entrepreneurs build businesses and products that not only have huge growth potential, but have a lasting impact on society. A handpicked set of innovative startups will soon complete their time on the CRL Accelerator, a six-month purpose-built programme designed to fast-track innovation.

Sponsored for the second year in a row by Mouser Electronics and part-funded through the European Regional Development Fund, CRL’s accelerator programme celebrates six years supporting early growth product pioneers. We’re proud that our world-class programme, workshop facilities, and expert support have led to the creation of 58 new to the market products, 46 new jobs, and over £4 million in funding and awards.

MEET COHORT 2021: THE MAKERS OF A BETTER WORLD

Having begun their journey in May, the startups are now on a straight path to the finish line. On 23rd November each business in the cohort will showcase their ground-breaking products to investors, partners, and the community in CRL Demo Day, an online event presented by Plus X.

The six companies in phase two of the CRL Accelerator programme have received financial, manufacturing, and business support from our expert mentors. Our in-house product development team has worked with them on customer discovery, business model development, testing and prototyping of products, with hands-on, iterative prototyping in our workshops at the Central Research Laboratory in Hayes, West London.

This year’s programme has seen a continued trend in startups creating products and services that enhance human life and our environment. This includes ventures focused on sustainable fashion, water consumption, agritech and robotics.

Ahead of Demo Day, find out more about the startups graduating from this year’s cohort, and find out how their innovations could change the world for the better.


ARMAROS

“Ride safe, with comfort like never before”

Founder: Esmeralda Bright

Esmeralda Bright, founder of Armaros

Armaros is the creator of the Guardian Angel, the future of body protection for horse riders.

The body protector was designed with complete movement, flexibility, and additional support for the spine  and is unlike anything else on the market.

Esmeralda started Armaros after suffering a rotational fall during a show jumping event in 2007. Since the company’s inception, Esmeralda has dedicated her time to making riding a safer and more comfortable sport for all.

LYLO

“Ready to join the water revolution?”

Founders: Joanna Power and Paramveer Bhachu

Joanna Power and Paramveer Bhachu, Lylo

Lylo created Aqua X, a washing machine designed to help students save water (and time!) It works by collecting wasted water from the shower, and filtering this so it can be used for washing clothes.

The water tank is placed on the shower floor like a mat, and can collect up to 8 litres of water. After showering, students simply reattach the tank to the machine’s base, and the water is filtered. The clothes drum washes 2.5kg of clothes in 12 minutes using the excess water.

Lylo believes that if every student in London were to use Aqua X, enough water would be saved to fill 700 Olympic size swimming pools each year.

MUDDY MACHINES

“Robots that help farms grow”

Founders: Florian Richter and Christopher Chavasse

Muddy Machines is bringing the latest in robot innovation to the world of agriculture.

Co-founders Florian and Christopher met in 2020 and discovered a shared passion for bringing modern technologies to agriculture.

Together, they are developing a new generation of field robots that help growers manage labour-intensive crops by conducting fieldwork. Their machines will help ensure food is fresher, more sustainable, and resilient to disruption in trade and labour.

“CRL has contributed to our journey in many ways. Access to network, manufacturing, procurement services, workshop facilities. CRL enables us to feel like a slightly bigger company than we would otherwise be if left to our own devices. Being here at CRL as a cohort member makes it feel a lot more real and plugged in to the ecosystem.”

Florian Richter, Co-Founder & CEO, Muddy Machines 

O-INNOVATIONS

“Helping apartment dwellers generate their own energy and participate in the energy revolution”

Founders: Nicolas Orellana Olguin and Dominic Chippendale

O-Innovations Founders, Nicholas and Dom

O-INNOVATIONS‘s patented omni-directional technology could help people living in apartments sustainably generate electricity.

Using this innovative technology, co-founders Nicholas and Dominic created O-WIND, the first omnidirectional wind turbine. It generates clean energy from winds in every direction, making it particularly suitable for cities.

RADIANT MATTER

“Biomaterial innovation for a circular and sustainable fashion industry”

Founder: Elissa Brunato

Elissa Brunato, founder of Radiant Matter

Radiant Matter is on a mission to reduce microplastic pollution by replacing harmful petrochemicals used in textiles, fashion components and colourants with naturally degradable marine-safe materials.

Beads and sequins are rarely recycled from clothing. Designer Elissa Brunato created the bio iridescent sequin to limit the environmental damage from fashion. The compostable material is strong and lightweight, and can refract light. This means the Bio Iridescent Sequin can shimmer beautifully, without a knock-on effect on the environment.

YAWBOARD

“The future of e-transport”

Founder: Ray Reynolds

Ray Reynolds, Yawboard founder

The Yawboard All-Terrain is a dual motor electric scooter-skateboard. The world’s first carving e-scooter can reach speeds up to 22 MPH, climb hills up to 30°, and ride up to 20 miles.

The team set out to create a personal electric vehicle that was more fun to ride than anything else on the market. Through multiple prototypes and many hours of testing, the Yawboard All-Terrain was born.


SIGN UP FOR DEMO DAY 2021

With just weeks to go until Demo Day, the entrepreneurs are hard at work preparing their pitches and putting the finishing touches on their products.

Learn about their developing founder journeys and ground-breaking new products by signing up to ‘CRL Demo Day – Making a Better World’ live-streamed on Tuesday 23rd November at 1 PM GMT.

For more information on the CRL Accelerator journey so far, check out the media coverage from Startups Magazine:

ABOUT CRL

Central Research Laboratory (CRL)

Central Research Laboratory is the UK’s leading accelerator and co-working space for hardware startups and product pioneers. Partially funded by the European Regional Development Fund, the CRL has supported hundreds of entrepreneurs to realise and scale their companies through product development, commercial strategy, 24/7 prototyping facilities, mentorship and access to a network of investors, mentors and partners.

Future of Air Mobility Accelerator

Repost: original article from Connected Places Catapult

We are delighted to announce the launch of our new Future of Air Mobility Accelerator, in partnership with the Future Flight Challenge from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). 

Connected Places Catapult launches its latest Accelerator, to develop and scale new solutions and technologies for the aviation sector.  

In partnership with UKRI’s Future Flight Challenge, the accelerator will be selecting 12 SMEs to join a 6-month programme, where they will receive support from a consortium of industry, academic and regulatory partners on the trial and testing of disruptive innovations. 

The programme is looking for SMEs of TRL6+, though is open to receiving applications from earlier stage businesses that are aligned with the key challenges set out below: 

  • Data Driven Aviation – how we can better capture and utilise data to increase operational and commercial efficiency within the aviation industry. Whether this is with the collection of on-aircraft, airside operations or customer data, we would like to see how data gathered can enhance decision-making. 
  • Smart Airports – how we can integrate the next generation of autonomous solutions into airport management and security operations, alongside exploring disruptive technologies that will support the aviation industry in reaching Net Zero targets. 
  • Advanced Air Mobility – how we can accelerate the development of Advanced Air Mobility by exploring the systems, infrastructure technologies and modelling and simulation tools required for commercialisation. 

Connected Places Catapult will be delivering the programme in partnership with Plus X who will support the SMEs through a bespoke programme roadmap tailored to their requirements, including investment readiness, technology and product development support, alongside introductions to aviation stakeholders and potential customers. These activities will be co-designed with SMEs in order to grow their businesses and adapt propositions to programme partner requirements. 

Alex Weedon, Director of SME and Academic Engagement, Connected Places Catapult said: “I am so pleased that Connected Places Catapult is once again providing SMEs with a pioneering accelerator programme in a new and growing market, helping to make the UK and its innovative SMEs leaders in the Future of Air Mobility.” 

Simon Masters, Deputy Challenge Director of the Future Flight challenge, at UKRI said: “The Future Flight challenge is actively looking to push the boundaries of aviation technology and encourage new players into the market. We are delighted to be working with Connected Places Catapult to deliver this accelerator programme, providing SMEs a great opportunity to trial and test their disruptive innovations. 

Toby Kress, Programme Director, Plus X said: “This is an incredibly exciting time for innovation in air mobility. New technologies and approaches are emerging and rapidly transforming the way we move people and goods around the world and within our cities. Plus X is thrilled to be working with Connected Places Catapult and our leading industry partners to deliver an accelerator programme that champions the innovators at the cutting edge of this change – helping to speed up the development, adoption and commercialisation of impactful new solutions.” 

Applications are open and will close on Sunday 26th September at 11.59 pm. You can find out more and apply here.

The CRL and Mouser cohort, with a twist

Repost: original article from E&T Magazine

Written by Mark Patrick

The brightest product makers and hardware pioneers at the Central Research Laboratory have formed a partnership with Mouser Electronics to turn exciting concepts into reality.

Just to the west of London, on the site of the old EMI vinyl record factory, lies a unique facility that is bringing the spirit of innovation to life. 

The Central Research Laboratory (CRL) in Hayes is the UK’s first purpose-built hardware accelerator and coworking space – where the brightest startups come together under one roof to design, build, collaborate and create.

While EMI’s scientists and engineers at the location once helped develop audio systems such as stereo sound, the CRL cohort focuses on a remarkably diverse range of technologies – from next-generation agricultural field robots to new sustainable building materials made from potato waste.

For each of these early-stage companies, acceptance on to CRL’s accelerator means they benefit from an intensive, six-month programme of hands-on support. This process includes assistance in taking a product idea and turning it into a viable business, guidance on funding and achieving scalable growth. It also provides advice on areas such as how to work through the process of design for manufacture.

Whatever the requirement, the accelerator amounts to an unrivalled package of services to help the next generation of product makers and hardware pioneers achieve their aims.

Collaboration is critical

But none of this activity can take place in isolation. The CRL accelerator is based upon a collaborative ethos, with the startups encouraged to form links with larger organisations that can help them on their journey. One such partner is Mouser, the global electronics distributor, which sponsors the accelerator programme and helps play a vital role in the product development process.

“CRL is a fantastic facility that has a proven track record of growing and encouraging product innovation,” says Mark Patrick, Head of Technical Marketing, EMEA, at Mouser. “That is why we are proud to be a partner on the accelerator programme. As a global distribution company focused on empowering innovation, we have a long history of helping hardware entrepreneurs and inventors reach commercial success.”

Mouser’s support manifests itself in several ways. Firstly, it provides the startups with design tools and resources, enabling them to access the latest technology such as semiconductors and embedded solutions that are crucial to the development of their prototypes and products. Many of these systems and components are brand new to the market and represent the latest in cutting-edge technology.

Secondly, Mouser connects the startups with an extensive network of experts from within its ecosystem of suppliers, who can help them overcome any challenges they might face. This resource represents a talented pool of technically qualified people with a vast depth of experience, providing valuable insight.

And finally, Mouser also provides specific input through open events and workshops, including CRL’s Demo Day, which offers an opportunity for applicants in each cohort to pitch and demonstrate their inventions to potential investors and partners.

Bringing ideas to life

So how does the relationship between the startups and Mouser play out in practice? WarnerPatch – one of last year’s CRL accelerator cohorts – provides an excellent example of the value that can be derived. 

The company has developed a medical device that predicts disease evolution. Focusing on diabetic foot and wound care, its hardware comprises a wearable wireless sensor that continuously measures symptoms and predicts disease progression, notifying the clinician when the patient is at high risk.

Initially, Mouser engaged with WarnerPatch on product development, helping them identify the right components and suppliers. “As an engineer myself, I was delighted to provide technical support,” says Mark Patrick. “Then it was about relationship-building – helping WarnerPatch connect with the right companies from within our ecosystem of suppliers.”

This resulted in WarnerPatch forming a relationship with Molex, the connector and interconnect manufacturer, to supply connectors suited to medical applications. WarnerPatch then needed help with a PCB design review, so Mouser facilitated a meeting with MicroChip Technology, which could provide such a service. Now, WarnerPatch is talking to another of Mouser’s partners, TTI, assisting with manufacturability and supply chain management.

“WarnerPatch is developing a fantastic product, and together we have forged a successful partnership,” says Mark Patrick. “Mouser has provided a gateway into a world of technology and support that WarnerPatch did not know existed. It has proved highly beneficial.”

Introducing the latest cohort

This year marks the eighth CRL accelerator, with the latest cohort working on an incredibly diverse mix of technologies. Muddy Machines, for example, has produced a new generation of agricultural robots that could help growers manage labour-intensive crops. Starting with some types of field vegetables, such as asparagus, the robots could help automate fieldwork at a time when the farming industry is suffering from chronic labour shortages.

And then there is Yawboard, creating the next generation of personal electric vehicles. Yawboard has put enormous effort into engineering fun into their vehicle, more in line with a snowboard than a scooter, whilst providing the user with practical and sustainable personal transport. Throughout 2021, they’ll be working with CRL to further develop their drive train.

“The accelerator programme always delivers an incredible diversity of technology,” says Mark Patrick. “We look forward to working with these start-ups to help bring their innovations to life.”

In addition to the accelerator, Mouser participates in other CRL-led initiatives. These include Boost sessions and workshops run over several days. These events cover various topics, including hardware development and component choices, funding and finance, formulating a Bill of Materials, and design for manufacturability.

“Again, it is about making connections and building relationships, bringing together the start-ups with members of our partner ecosystem,” he says. The 2020 Boost event included contributions from Analog Devices, Molex, Mouser’s parent company TTI, and a UK-based contract manufacturer, WPS. Mark is hopeful the 2021 event will add even more value from additional contributors.

Deriving mutual benefit

Mouser also benefits from the sorts of partnerships developed with the cohort at CRL. It is a symbiotic relationship, says Mark Patrick, where small and large organisations work together to good effect. “We have a history of supporting innovation with groups such as Hardware Pioneers, the CLIK Innovation lab (Turin, Italy) at Politecnico di Torino, the NXP Cup (Germany), plus a host of other smaller sponsorships of individual projects and student teams.

“In each case, we meet some of the brightest young engineers and get a glimpse into where technology is progressing. This aligns with our strategy of being the first to market with the newest components and technologies. We view these relationships as a win-win.”

At CRL, specifically, the future is very bright. The organisation has plans to expand into a 20,000 sq. ft. converted Victorian power station, a stone’s throw from the historic EMI site. This move will treble the number of companies it can support in its programmes and workspace.

“It is an exciting time,” adds Mark Patrick, “We look forward to continue working with CRL in our ongoing support of the innovators of tomorrow.”

Our brand new mission to support digital startups

 New facilities & expert services will drive digital innovation in West London district 

When the Central Research Laboratory was first launched as part of EMI’s department for invention in the 1960s, few people could have imagined how its legacy would inspire a future generation of innovators. 

Now 70 years later, a brand new chapter of digital innovation support, fuelled by a £1.6m fund from the Research England Develop Fund (RED) will further propel a future  of brave invention and bold innovation. 

Since its inception in 2015, the newly formed Central Research Laboratory (CRL), located within EMI’s original factory estate and part of the Plus X network of innovation hubs, has helped 100s of hardware pioneers transform early stage product concepts into viable businesses.  

Through its world class accelerator programme, workshop facilities and expert support, CRL’s track record of support includes 55 market ready products, £4million in funding and awards and the creation of over 60 new jobs. More than 2,100 businesses have interacted with the Central Research Laboratory with 343 start-ups and early-stage businesses using the facilities. 

Now it’s time to reveal a brand new chapter in the story. The RED fund which is part of the Making The Future Digital project in partnership with Brunel University London and regeneration property specialists, U+I plc, will help launch a wide range of new expert services and specialist maker facilities for digital startups. The support includes a focus on business concepts being planned by graduates and staff from universities in West London. 

Access to virtual prototyping and a new immersive space will allow multiple users to collaborate on design through 3D sharing and innovation showcasing. The virtual prototyping laboratory will enable entrepreneurs to perform virtual engineering modelling, build digital twins, creative content, physical products, services and immersive experiences.  

Currently in early construction, Plus X Powerhouse will become the new hub for Making the Future Digital. With a capacity for 300 entrepreneurial minds, Plus X Powerhouse will triple the size of the Central Research Laboratory. Using sustainable building materials and light infused space, the new innovation hub will offer the best digital connectivity in the region with world class work space designed to enhance health and wellbeing. 

“Making the Future Digital will draw on the experience and networks we have developed during the original project and will create a community of the brightest and the best digital minds in the nationally significant economy of West London,” said Prof Geoff Rodgers, Vice-Provost of Research at Brunel. 

“By extending into the digital arena, Brunel and our partners will boost our impact on this economy through nurturing digital innovation, facilitating the development of new digital products and services, and creating new jobs. I look forward to seeing Brunel students and alumni as part of future success stories.” 

“This is a truly exciting new phase in our support for a new generation of digital innovators” says Mat Hunter, Co-CEO, Plus X. “The team at Brunel have been an incredible partner to work with, helping us design a world class range of support services and facilities that have turned founder concepts into successful global businesses. We look forward to working together over the next 4 years, supporting Brunel students, partner university students and entrepreneurial talent both locally and UK wide.” 

Among the many business accelerator success stories to have emerged from CRL is Aceleron. The battery re-purposing business was co-founded in 2016 by Brunel graduate and Shell Entrepreneur of the Year, Carlton Cummins. Aceleron has recently secured £2 million of equity investment to further expand its operations. Cosicare is another recent accelerator success story. Led by female founder and Brunel design graduate, Lauren Bell, the eczema relief company has secured a raft of funding, investment and awards, with an imminent global launch planned this year. 

University partners joining Brunel in Making the Future Digital are City, Imperial College London, Royal Holloway, UCL and the University of West London. The project has support and endorsements from a host of local, regional and national businesses, including Heathrow Airports, Hillingdon Chamber of Commerce, West London Business and Innovate UK. 

We’re so excited to commence an exciting new journey of support for digital innovators. We hope you can join us!  

To find out more, contact us at hello@centralresearchlaboratory.com 

The Central Research Laboratory Accelerator formula for success

The UK’s leading hardware accelerator at the Central Research Laboratory has been supporting startups to thrive since 2015. With cohort 7 graduated and making their way in the world, the programme is now seeking to recruit startups creating unique innovations impacting everyday life.  

The CRL accelerator programme has supported a range of successful award-winning new businesses that have raised a combined £10m+ investment over the past few years. Notable alumni include, Aceleron, creating sustainable lithium batteries, who were amongst the top 10 shortlisted for the 2019 Telegraph Tech 4 Good Pioneers. CosiCare, a female-led tech startup focused on alleviating the symptoms of Eczema and winning the 2019 Mayor of London’s Award for Innovation, Tata Varsity Pitch 2019 and Santander Entrepreneur of the Year 2019. And Chip[s]Board, a company creating bioplastics for the design sector globally. 

The Central Research Laboratory Accelerator success formula is crafted by experts and specialists. It encompasses intensive mentorship, access to an award-winning workspace, a focus on customer discovery and investment readiness, engineer support, a trip to China and a £5,000 grant towards testing and product development costs. 

A team of experts at CRL will be helping to guide and support the 8th cohort, including CRL Programmes Director, Toby Kress, Accelerator Programme Manager, Anneza Pitsialis, and Product Development Director, Jim Reeves. 

The cohort receives hands-on product development support from the in-house CRL engineers and product design team. With a particular focus on manufacturing, such as getting your product manufactured at the right cost and setting up supply chains for scale. 

“Having so many experts in their fields, giving attention to your hardware development really helped us to progress our design. We got a lot of support in making our product more DFMA (designed for manufacture assembly) to make it a more viable and profitable product.” 

– Eli Heath, Co-Founder of Enayball and The Soapstone and cohort 7 alumni

“Product development was the key thing. When we came to CRL, really, we had an engineering product in the sense that, you know, it was all about engineering and reliability. Whereas CRL really helped in developing the perspective of the product with usability and product design. Which made a massive difference when we came to the next phase of the commercialisation of the product.”

Melissa, Founder of WarnerPatch and cohort 7 alumni 

Beyond product development, the programme utilises experts from diverse fields to focus on core areas such as investment readiness, commercial strategy, and customer discovery. Mentors help the cohort understand what their customers want and what value their product brings, and paths to successful revenue models and sales strategies. Mentors also support the cohort in gaining hardware-specific funding from grants and crowdfunding to angel investors and venture capital. 

“I’m still working with a lot of the people that we met, in terms of the advisors, so everything from digital marketing, to brand, to finance to legal, it really helped. I can’t think of an area of our business that we didn’t meet someone who’s helped us grow in some aspect. And that’s from a kind of full 360 business growth perspective. So, I think that’s a wicked thing – the network and the experts that you get to meet.”

­Lottie, Co-Founder of Myomaster and cohort 7 alumni 

“When they say the word “accelerator”, it is literally accelerated learning to the max. I learnt a lot more in my time on the accelerator than in three years at university. You’re learning marketing, branding, product development… the learning is angled from everywhere. Having access to experts has been invaluable. You can just message someone and ask: “can you help with our online advertising, branding campaigns” and they’ll give you 15 minutes of time because they know you’re from CRL. Having those connections has been amazing.” 

Liam, Co-Founder of Stix Mindfulness

The Central Research Laboratory is proud to have won the West London Business Award for best coworking space and accelerator for the fourth time. The workspace is a thriving entrepreneur community featuring desk space, meeting rooms, specialist workshops, prototyping facilities, and collaborative spaces. The cohort receives 24/7 access to this space for the duration of their time on the programme to work alongside other cohort members and a network of product startups and specialists. 

“It’s amazing to continue successfully supporting product makers and hardware pioneers and reflecting on the achievements of our diverse cohort members over the past few years makes me very proud. Our accelerator programme is truly unique, offering over six months of intense support blending product design expertise, customer research, manufacturing and market understanding. We look forward to meeting the next cohort, which we’re sure will be another exciting collective of talent who are working to creating amazing innovations impacting everyday life.”

Toby Kress, Programmes Director

The programme runs in two phases, with the first phase focusing on customer discovery, and no more than twenty startups will be selected to join the stage. Six startups will then receive an invitation to join phase two, focusing on product development, commercial and fundraising strategy. 

The second phase features a trip to Shenzhen to gain an insight into the manufacturing process, Investor Day for the opportunity to receive feedback from potential investors, and Demo Day, an end of programme opportunity to showcase their product to a network of potential customers, commercial partners and investors. You can watch Demo Day 2020 here

So, what do you need to apply for the UK’s leading hardware accelerator at the Central Research Laboratory? 

  • A Prototype (it doesn’t have to be pretty)
  • Technical knowledge relevant to your hardware development
  • Desire to build a scalable product-based business
  • A product or business model displaying genuine innovation
  • Two or more team members are desirable but not essential
  • Ability to attend the programme (The programme requires a full-time commitment. On average, you will be onsite 2-days p/week with progress made in between)
  • Business registered in the UK

You can find out more about the programme here, and you can apply here

Got a question? Don’t hesitate to get in touch

How to Secure Early Stage Investment

Insight from Anneza Pitsialis – Accelerator Programme Lead at Central Research Laboratory.

Venture Capitalists are your customers.

Steve Blank’s mantra “get out of the building” and Eric Reis’ Lean Startup are gospel  for early stage startups seeking product market fit. It is widely accepted that understanding your customers is key to any startup success. However, it’s less common for startups to apply this same principle to getting their investment strategy right.

When seeking investment (i.e.selling equity) VCs and investors are a startups customer. Understanding their process and perspectives gives founders a better chance of success. 

“If you are unable to understand the cause of a problem, it is impossible to solve it.”

Naoto Kan

In July, we ran our second online programme “How to secure early equity investment” delivered in partnership with KPMG Emerging Giants and ERDF.  22 Founders and 10 investors came together to share insights and best practices on how to meet investors, build a relationship and get that deal. One insight was echoed across every session and by every expert – prepare, prepare, prepare! 

We have summarised their top tips and practical advice to help founders navigate the investment journey.

1. Finding and connecting with investors.

This is not a numbers game.

Sam Heilds, OpenOcean
  • Do your research. Establish if and how your company is relevant to the fund. Check their fund size and strategy to make sure your company and financial ask is aligned. 
  • Get to know investors. Understand what piques the interest of individual analysts and investors. Read the teams’ bios, follow them on Twitter, LinkedIn, read their blogs, see what events they go to and which investments they have lead. 
  • Research their portfolio. Have they invested in similar companies, competitors? 

Warm intros are much better, but not the only way.

Reece Chowdhry, RLC ventures 
  • Search LinkedIn for connections in common and ask for introductions.
  • Reach out to recent portfolio companies. It’s an opportunity to do your due diligence on the VC and to ask for that introduction. 
  • Attend events. VCs spend lots of money and time on events where their sole focus is deal flow. Take advantage by researching who’ll be there, join the matchmaking app, try to set up meetings in advance – tailor what you want to say to each investor so you don’t sound like you are spamming them like a robot – be personal, human but have your messaging clear and concise.
  • Try to stand out. This could be as simple as approaching an investor via LinkedIn rather than email, where inbound traffic is less and your message will be noticed. Or by sending you deck/ pitch in a video format 

2. Nailing your comms and getting investors interested.

[The Email] 

Don’t be spammy!

Sam Heilds, OpenOcean
  • Write as you would talk. Be human. Be you. 
  • Don’t use bold, underlined capitals and highlights in your email or mail merged emails. VCs get so many emails they can immediately identify it’s not personalised and will delete it. 
  • Find a personal connection. Research the investor and try to relate to their interests, past investments and event they have spoken at or blog they’ve written
  • Keep emails short and concise. In a couple of sentences you should demonstrate that you’ve done your research and have explained why your startup is relevant. 

[The meeting/ The pitch] 

Don’t tell people ‘it’s complicated’.

Carlton, Aceleron
  • Make sure you are aligned. Start the meeting by clarifying what you want to get out of it and recapping what you’ve understood their aims are. Close by recapping the next steps to manage expectations on both sides.
  • Work on your narrative and getting key messages across. 
  • Explain what you do simply and concisely. Practice this before you get in-front of investors – especially if your product is super technical.
  • Using language techniques like ‘FOAM’ (Facts, Opinions, Anecdotes, Metaphors). These will help you tell a captivating story about what you do and why it matters.
  • Don’t BS. Always tell the truth. Lying or keeping important information from the investor will damage the relationship and your chances of investment. 

Present [information] for the perspective of an investor.

Susannah McClintock, Sustainable Ventures
  • Know how much investment you want and what it will be for. 
  • VCs will want to understand your ‘Development Pathway’. You should identify milestones that have/will create commercial value for the business.
  • There is always competition. Don’t avoid talking about the competitors or say that there are none. Highlight what they have done well and how you position your business against it.
  • Traction and team are a big deal. The fact that your previous startup had a unicorn exit or you’ve a paid pilot with Amazon should not be a casual comment or an afterthought.

[The deck] 

Start with the story you want to tell… not the slides.

Richard Potter, KPMG

Tailor your deck for the right situation, to compliment your narrative.

  • Business Plan (appx >50pp): Fully detailed plan of your business. It is meant to be read and understood on its own and demonstrates diligence.
  • Investor Deck ( appx >20pp): This should stand on its own and can be understood without a voice over. It provides a potential investor with further information that demonstrates the vision, credibility and opportunity of the business. It is salesy and should be a deductive approach (claim something and justify it) rather than inductive (putting hypothesis and analysis first).
  • Leave-Behind (<10pp): Send to a VC after your initial meeting or in preparation for the initial meeting that enables them to remember your pitch. Shorter than the Investor Deck. Includes an executive summary. High level information that captures the key messages and can be understood on it’s own. 
  • Pitch Deck: This can be any number. The slides should support your narrative and not distract from what you are saying. Each slide should summarise one point you are making. Use imagery to provoke emotion and support your story. 

Slide science

  • Limit the number of key points you are making per slide so you don’t overload your audience or lose the impact of your messages.
  • Consistency is key. Using the same fonts and sizes throughout.
  • The Golden Ratio. (Width of blocks = 1:1.618) Grid lines will help you align positioning and composition of your slides making them easier to depict. . 
  • Hierarchy of Emphasis. Sizing your text so people know what is important to read first, next, and next. Blank spaces are good and also help to draw focus to important text.
  • F Logic. Compose your slides so the content flows from top left to bottom right.

3. Managing the process and being prepared 

Approach it as a sales process.

Susannah McClintock, Sustainable Ventures
  • Don’t bypass the Analyst/ Associate. VC’s will have an internal process for scouting startups and that often begins with an Analyst or Associate and develops towards a Partner meeting as the prospect of investment grows. Respect the process, target the right people and build positive relationships throughout.
  • Be organised. Have your admin in order so you are ready to follow-up with relevant information when needed. Make sure you stick to timelines, respond quickly and complete tasks when you say you will.
  • Think from a VCs perspective. You want it to be simple and stress free for them to access and review your information so having a thought out, well structured Data Room with consistent naming conventions, folders, etc is important. 

Find other VCs to test and practice your proposal.

Andrei, BotsAndUs
  • Identify your top 5 VC’s but set up meetings with other investors first. Each time you deliver your investor pitch you’ll gather vital feedback from investors and build your confidence before you get in front of those top VCs!

Choose your investor wisely – it will be a long lasting relationship.

Reece Chowdhry, RLC Ventures
  • Founders should do their due diligence too. Reach out to the previous startup(s) the fund has invested in to find out their experience of working with the VC.
  • Maintain relationships. If an investor shows interest in your business but says the timing isn’t right keep them updated as you progress. Setting up an investor email group is an easy way to manage comms. 
  • The VC network in the UK and Europe is fairly close-knit. Any reply, conversation, meeting should be seen as a win as it gets you into the network and on the investor CRM!
  • And finally, remember to be yourself and natural in the way you communicate. People buy people not ideas. 

“It’s great when the personalities of the founders come through.

Sam Fennell, AngelCoFund

To hear about our future programmes email: anneza@centralresearchlaboratory.com

How to take a prototype to an investor ready business

An interview with our Product Development Director, Jim Reeves

Our 2020 Accelerator programme is now in full swing and as we welcome our 7th Cohort, we take the opportunity to speak with CRL’s Product Development Director & Entrepreneur in Residence, Jim Reeves. We explore the challenging question, “how to take a prototype to an investor ready business?”.   

Question: Our 7th Cohort shows a rise in products and services focused around sustainability, med-tech and technology to support positive mental and physical health. Why do you think startups and entrepreneurs are choosing to concentrate on these specific areas?

Answer: “One of the main characteristics of hardware entrepreneurs is that their initial ideas tend to start with a particular motivation. Which is usually centre around a passion to create societal change. So by nature, they want to create something to solve significant modern day issues. Currently, the types of social trends we are seeing are hugely focused around medical and mental wellbeing, and sustainable products which benefit the environment. This in turn, creates a demand for entrepreneurs and businesses to develop a product that will have positive and long lasting effects. Which is likely why we are seeing a strong focus on these specific areas.

In short, a combination of an individual’s passion, comprehensive knowledge of social trends and involvement in their commercial environment are all contributing factors that inspire entrepreneurs to produce a product which promotes a positive social impact.” 

Q: As the Accelerator’s Entrepreneur in Residence, which part of the product development process is particularly crucial during the 6 month programme?

A: “The early phases are without a doubt the most crucial part of the Accelerator programme. During this time, we work with the Cohort to ensure their proposed product is a market fit, and that they have any considered potential issues or challenges. This isn’t to say any individual research conducted prior to the programme isn’t important. It’s about building the bigger picture around the product and its route to market.

Within this, we look at the 3 essential pillars:

  1. Desirability, do customers need or want it? 
  2. Feasibility, is this achievable?
  3. Viability, will this product create a sustainable enterprise? 

This must all be clarified very early on, which is why the start of the programme is the most crucial for product development.”

Q: In your experience, how different is a product at the end of the programme compared to its first concept?

A: “In my experience, a product’s end result is around 50% different compared to its first concept. In fact, it’s rare that a product won’t dramatically change. In many ways, the most successful projects tend to be the ones which evolve the most during the programme. But it’s also not always a given that a product needs to evolve further than its present state.

Typically there’s a product development journey which we tend to discuss at the start of the Accelerator. As discussed, the initial stages of the programme are crucial and part of this is assessing the likeliness that a product will change. Because it might be that there is simply no consumer desire!”

Q: What do you find is the most rewarding part about being a mentor for the Accelerator?

A: “Before I became an in-house resident for the Accelerator programme, I split my time between mentoring at CRL and teaching. Although I enjoyed teaching, working on ventures in the Accelerator felt very real to me. The Cohort are so committed to their work, their willingness to accept the challenges and sacrifices so they can bring their vision to a reality, is very motivating.

Going on this journey with them is hugely rewarding. Yes there are plenty of bumps in the road as an entrepreneur, but to see their journey come to fruition is why I love being a part of the programme.”

Read more of our articles here or take a look at our latest cohort here.

CRL Accelerator Programme: CRL welcomes 7th Cohort

cohort at CRL office

The Central Research Laboratory (CRL) has launched its 7th world leading accelerator programme, which celebrates five years supporting early growth stage product pioneers.

Supported by ERDF (European Regional Development Fund) the programme attracted over 85 applicants. A panel of 15 mentors and experts, including CRL co-founders Mat Hunter and Paul Rostas, and Entrepreneur in Residence, Jim Reeves, selected six finalists, who will take part in an intensive support programme over the next 6 months focused on product development and design, commercial & growth strategies and investor readiness.

In addition, each startup will be given a £5,000 start-up grant for prototyping and testing, as well as the opportunity to meet with and gain insights from key manufacturers in their sector. 

This year’s programme has seen a rise in startups creating products and services that enhance human life and our environment, including ventures that are focused on sustainability, med-tech, mental health and sport-tech.

The CRL accelerator programme has supported a range of successful award-winning new businesses who have raised a combined £5m investment over the past few years.

Notable alumni include Aceleron, creating sustainable lithium batteries, who were amongst the top 10 shorted listed for the 2019 Telegraph Tech 4 Good Pioneers. Cosicare, a female led tech startup focused on alleviating the  symptoms of Eczema and winning the 2019 Mayor of London’s Award for Innovation, Tata Varsity Pitch 2019 and Santander Entrepreneur of the Year 2019. And Chip[s] Board, a company committed to creating bio-plastics and bio-plastic composites for the design sector on a global basis. 

Our team of experts at CRL will be helping to guide and support the 7th Cohort including CRL Managing Director, Toby Kress, Accelerator Programme Leader Anneza Pitsialis and Director of Product Development, Jim Reeves.

Toby Kress says: “It’s amazing to celebrate 5 years successfully supporting product makers and hardware pioneers and reflecting on the achievements of our diverse cohort members over the past few years makes me very proud. Our accelerator programme is truly unique, offering 6 months of intense support blending product design expertise, customer research, manufacturing and market understanding. This year’s cohort is another exciting collective of talent who are working to create solutions for human challenges including mental health, sports recovery and personal medical care”.

2020 CRL COHORT BACKGROUND

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STIX MINDFULNESS

Founded by: Liam Murphy

Website: stixmindfulness.co.uk/

About: Stix is an interactive product supporting children living with ADHD. Through mindfulness activities such as meditation and balance, Stix monitors the users’ movements, enhances calmness helping to reduce symptoms of impulsiveness and hyperactivity.

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MYOMASTER

Founded by: Lottie Whyte & Joe Gray

Website: – myomaster.com

About: MyoMaster is a wellness company on a mission to help every athlete in the world recover faster. Their products combine extreme leg compression with contrasting hot and cold capabilities designed to significantly decrease athlete recovery time post injury.

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ENAYBALL

Founded by: Pete Barr & Eli Heath

Website: enayball.com

About: The Enayball is an art tool that enables anyone in a wheelchair, even the most severely paralysed, to paint. The Enayball attaches to the front of a person’s wheelchair and extends outwards. As the person moves their chair, it paints a line on the surface below.

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CRYOSUIT

Founded by: Matt Anderson

Website: cryosuit.co.uk

About: Cryosuit is a portable body cooling device to treat heat illness. Cryosuit aims to eliminate the logistical barriers encountered with current treatment, providing a practical and unanimous cooling solution for all instances of heat illness.

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M2JN Ltd.

Founded by: Melissa Berthelot

Website – m2jn.com

About: M2JN Ltd. Melissia is developing a wearable medical device for in-hospital high-risk patients to provide health prediction, allowing preemptive care to improve patient outcome and reduce related care costs.

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BIOPHILICA

Founded by: Mira Nameth

Website: biophilica.co.uk/

About: Biophilica is developing materials from green waste making them both biodegradable and recyclable. The production process is local, scalable to urban and rural locations, and is climate independent, allowing for global applications.