Situated at the heart of the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol)’s Frenchay campus is a space that looks to drive innovation and enterprise. The University Enterprise Zone (UEZ) caters to a range of entrepreneurs and technology professionals, providing a space to work, share and collaborate.
The UEZ is one of four such zones in the UK originally commissioned by central government, with support from the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership and University investment. Its vision is to facilitate innovation and growth and ultimately, the region’s local economy.
Reflective of the area’s industrial diversity, the zone contains Launch Space, an incubator for early-stage start-ups that are run by recent graduates, as well as Future Space, an innovation centre for start-ups and fast-growth businesses.
It also houses the Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL)’s Robotics Innovation Facility, a centre that promotes the adoption of robotics and automation, as well as its Robotics Hardware Incubator, a start-up space for hardware development businesses. Robotics Hardware Incubator businesses have so far raised £15.5m worth of investments.
Finally, the Health Tech Hub (HTH) offers lab-space and cutting-edge facilities for collaborative university/business research and development around health tech. Its facilities include DNA-testing, and a fully-equipped on-site ‘Living Lab’ enables controlled, near-real-life trials of technologies.
Altered Carbon is a start-up company that works with HTH. Its product is a sensor based on graphene, whose unique attributes can enhance sensor function. Founder Ali Rohafza says: “Health Tech Hub is of great value to us because it is highly advanced and we’re able to run checks and develop our product.”
One of Future Space’s many success stories is Open Bionics, which designs and manufactures prosthetic limbs that are accessible, useable and fun for child amputees. Founded in 2014, the company broke new ground with its Hero Arm, the world’s first medically approved, 3D-printed device of its kind.
The device was developed and tested at UEZ with funding from Government and NHS England. It has proved hugely popular with young users, securing commercial licences with Disney, Marvel and Lucasfilm to accessorise its prosthetics with superhero characters. Open Bionics also recently secured investments of £4.5m from the Williams F1 team’s Foresight Williams, Downing LLP and Ananda Impact Ventures. Both Open Bionics and Altered Carbon grew out of BRL’s Robotics Hardware Incubator.
By working nearby to companies like Open Bionics, residents in UEZ benefit from more than just an office space. The university setting gives them access to high-quality facilities, expertise and support that would otherwise be out of reach.
Services include specialist business growth support, opportunities for collaboration with university researchers and technical experts. There is also access to legal, accounting, marketing and IP expertise, as well as grants for innovation and enterprise.
Located at the epicentre of UEZ, the Hub café is an inspiring space for meetings, networking and events. Future Space resident and co-founder of Service Robotics Rob Parkes says: “It’s great to be able to tap into the creativity of all kinds of tech start-ups, to learn from each other and build lasting relationships that could lead to ground-breaking collaborations.”