Stockport’s Radical Digital Strategy aims to help us make the most of the digital-age possibilities for the people of Stockport and our local economy. Digital Place means having the infrastructure, skills and networks for digital start-ups, scale-ups and established businesses to thrive and grow our local economy. In this blog, Sharon Mayo, Economy, Work and Skills Manager in Services to Place talks about Stockport’s Innovation Centres.
Back in 2004, Stockport, as now, enjoyed a strong and diverse economy, a predominance of small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), some prestigious international large employers and a large number of micro businesses. A group of local business leaders, however, observed a shortage of premises aimed at new start businesses and called for research to assess the potential viability of a business incubator in Stockport.
Stockport had a growing digital sector at the time, a highly skilled resident base and appeared to perform better than other areas in GM in new business start-up rates. The desire was to harness the entrepreneurial culture and strengthen the level of support on offer, in order to further grow the digital and creative sectors in Stockport.
Subsequent research supported the view that an Incubator facility would give long term benefit to Stockport’s economy and Stockport Business Incubator on the third floor of Broadstone Mill opened its doors in 2007.
Stockport Business Innovation Centre
Today the former Stockport Business Incubator is now widely known as Stockport Business Innovation Centre (SBIC) and not only supports entrepreneurial activity but is also an excellent space in which to inspire innovation and development within established small businesses. The centre is managed on behalf of Stockport Council by Oxford Innovation Ltd and was established with support from the Council, the landlord and subsequent ERDF funding. Today it is a thriving hub of activity, supporting 53 businesses in house with a further 14 virtual tenants and regular users of the co-working space and business lounge.
Innovation Centres provide a supportive environment for new businesses, creating opportunities for collaboration, flexible workspace and onsite business support/mentoring. Offering more than flexible or managed workspace, the aim of the innovation centre is to accelerate the growth of early-stage businesses, building confident future local employers. LiCa Scientific Ltd. are a current occupier:
We moved to SBIC in 2016 as a one-person company that I had set up at my home but was rapidly growing and needed something more formal as a workplace. We moved to the shared-space business lounge initially and this provided a great place to come to and with coming into SBIC very regularly, I took a permanent desk in a shared area.
Once business grew, we took office space of our own which we could furnish and use as we needed. We then grew again, moving to larger office space in SBIC which allowed the space to grow and add more people. During the COVID pandemic, SBIC stepped in again and we moved to a smaller unit.
Post COVID, we saw a rebound and this lead to growth again and taking a larger office space, which has worked really well with five people working here successfully now. I put part of the confidence we had in re-growing down to the flexible lease terms we have. The risk is massively lowered and as a business, we can strike while an iron is hot.
SBIC have helped us grow from the kitchen table to a company working multi-nationally. Having a workplace full of other entrepreneurs and people used to working with entrepreneurs is great.
The community here is vibrant but also professional and realistic. I enjoy discussing the issues of the day with people. The training and development opportunities we have had have been fantastic also, not least international trade connections which have seen me working in five countries. We also participated in the Pioneer 10 programme which really professionalised the business planning and forecasting we had done via again a super network of experts looking over our operations.
It’s safe to say the decision to walk into SBIC and talk to the team here changed my life. I’ve no doubt LiCa Scientific would always have been successful however the big ‘how’ of that success would be very very different, and I’d wager, a bit less fun along the way. This is a great centre and quite rightly is regularly accommodated to capacity. I’d recommend working here to anyone.
Since the centre’s relaunch in September 2013, the centre has contributed an estimated £7m in GVA to the local economy. At least 250 businesses have benefitted from the friendly and supportive community, regular business workshops and networking opportunities, one-to-one support and a management team that are second to none! A great many have progressed/graduated into their own premises and are now thriving businesses in their own right.
In the past 5 years, businesses in the centre have created over 200 new jobs, 68 have accessed new markets and 70 businesses developed new products and services whilst in the centre. Certainly, a great deal to celebrate!
Our workspaces are so much more than just a space to work. The team at SBIC have provided a business community, an environment in which businesses can grow, develop and collaborate with other like-minded, innovative businesses. The SBIC team are always on hand to provide the support and business know-how needed to allow a business to flourish. The SBIC team have one common goal – to see our businesses thrive and the results we have seen are evidence that it’s a great place to be!
SBIC, and the smaller Merchants House, in Stockport town centre, remain extremely busy. The flexible nature of innovation centres, however, means that customers are moving in and out (and around) the centre on a fairly frequent basis, meaning there will invariably be one or two units available for new occupiers.
So, what’s next? The Council has secured government and European funding to enable planning for another Innovation Centre in the heart of Stockport, which will provide additional space for new and growing small businesses, aimed particularly, but not exclusively, at users and creators of digital software and systems. The three centres will work collaboratively, providing exceptional service, flexible office space, co-working stations and innovation support for all tenants and businesses associated with the centres.
The new space is expected to open during the summer of 2023 and more information will be available in the coming months. In the meantime, to find out more about SBIC and Merchants House, visit www.stockport-bic.co.uk.
Digital is a core part of Stockport’s developing Economic Plan. We will continue to evolve our ambitions for digital skills, employment and entrepreneurship to keep pace with the fast changes in the tech economy. Look out for more updates in this blog.