Unit DX is a science incubator in Central Bristol. By bringing together specialist facilities with science-focused business support, we have been instrumental in creating a new scientific ecosystem in Bristol. While the city has long been a host of world-class research, it now has the support in place to retain and host cutting-edge businesses and the people behind them. The growth in the city’s science sector has seen a huge increase in activity, including record levels of spin-outs from the University of Bristol.
After opening in 2017, Unit DX reached full capacity within two years and is now home to a range of science and engineering businesses supporting almost 150 jobs. Our members span the bio-design, chemistry and quantum industries, working on diverse problems. We have plans in the pipeline to provide additional laboratory and workshop space to house this growing community.
“We’ve reached 100% occupancy in two years, and the growth of this sector does not appear to be slowing. There is significant evidence to suggest that additional space is required, both for start-ups and scale-ups is needed to accommodate the growth of the existing SMEs, the needs of budding entrepreneurs who have been inspired by this ‘first wave’, and to add to the home-grown talent by accommodating inward investment into the West of England.” Ashley Brewer – Centre Director at Unit DX.
The Ziylo Story
Unit DX was set up by the founders of another startup, Ziylo, after identifying that there was no home for science companies in the city. Ziylo spun-out from the University of Bristol in 2014, with a technology platform offering the potential to develop glucose responsive insulins – a ground-breaking treatment that could help diabetes patients worldwide. Unit DX became their home, and in 2018 made headlines when Ziylo was sold to Danish pharmaceutical giant Novo Nordisk in a deal that could be worth up to $800M, if the technology reaches certain milestones. The sale helped put Bristol on the map for science start-ups and made many researchers take another look at their work to consider whether it has commercial applications.
Growing the Sector
We use a three-pronged approach to developing the scientific start-up ecosystem in Bristol. We work with local schoolchildren to get them interested in science, and have involved over 1000 children in our outreach program; we champion entrepreneurship at universities, and we directly support and house early-stage science companies. These efforts were recognised when we were awarded the OBN’s ‘Best Sector Support Organisation’ in 2018.
Our members have been increasingly recognised for their efforts in their respective fields. The inaugural ‘Launch: Great West Awards’ saw five of eight honours awarded to companies housed by Unit DX. These awards not only offered the opportunity to recognise our members’ work but also to recognise the development of Bristol’s science ecosystem.
Investment and Business Support
A key part of helping to grow this new ecosystem is helping with the formation of new companies. We have helped in the formation and development of the city’s latest biodesign companies, by finding the right people, funding and securing IP.
Unit DX’s network of angel investors has led funding rounds for many of our members. With over £20M raised before our second anniversary, we’ve helped to gain the financial backing needed to turn their remarkable science into commercialised technology. By fostering an environment where members can exchange ideas and information, our members can share expertise between companies and learn from each other. The success of individual companies also reflects on others, raising the profile of Bristol’s science ecosystem and attracting investment. We think that in a science cluster, connectivity aids viability.
For start-up development, business support services are just as important as financial support and infrastructure when creating an environment for successful companies. We provide links to advisory accountants, insurance brokers, project management expertise, patent attorneys, and lawyers. Our network includes links to successful biotech deal brokers, relevant consultants and strong partnerships with local Universities.
The Big Picture
We want to see the UK become a major player in the development, delivery, and commercialisation of biodesign and quantum technologies, and we will continue to help grow and support this sector in the South-West. Previously, this part of the country was in the background of the UK science start-up scene, as the ‘Golden Triangle’ of London, Oxford, and Cambridge housed much of the UK’s scientific industry. This success was in part due to the many translational resources available in the area – resources that are essential to entrepreneurs looking to commercialise their technology. We believe the South-West can join the ‘Golden Triangle’ in leading the UK’s bio-economy by promoting translational activity and providing resources that are crucial for start-up growth.