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How Bruntwood SciTech is “changing the face” of the North’s thriving tech scene

Bruntwood SciTech

Bruntwood SciTech has much more to offer than just buildings – it’s on a mission to level up the Northern ecosystem by creating thriving innovation cities, where science and technology companies can form, scale, grow and thrive.

Bruntwood SciTech, a joint venture partnership between Bruntwood and Legal & General with over 2.4million sq ft across its portfolio, is continuing to lay building blocks to nurture thriving science and tech ecosystems in the North of England.

With 11 campuses spread across seven UK cities, we take a glimpse into a typical day across Bruntwood SciTech’s connected spaces in Leeds and Manchester.

On a very frosty morning, Prolific North headed across the Pennines to check out Platform in Leeds, the city’s ‘home for tech’ and dedicated start-up tech hub, home to over 100 businesses.

There’s a real buzz of activity in the business lounge area as a breakfast seminar called Platform Presents: Founder to CEO gears up to start, with a number of people deep in conversation, tucking into pastries and coffees from the buffet breakfast.

“It’s a real hive of activity. What we love about it is the ecosystem, seeing people discussing their challenges and opportunities all the time,” Katherine Megson, Innovation Events and Programmes Manager for Leeds at Bruntwood SciTech, told Prolific North.

Spotting Credera and Mercia located across the corridor, companies of all sizes are able to tap into a wide network of support whether it’s access to marketing, investment or pitch readiness, highly skilled talent or consultancy support.

The event kicked off with a trio of speakers including Chris Rabbitt, co-founder of online networking platform Meeow, Saile Villegas, CEO and co-founder of medtech company SeeAI and Jane Slimming, CEO and founder of digital creative agency Zeal.

With invaluable insights from leaders who have transitioned from founder to CEO at the event, events are just one of many benefits Bruntwood SciTech’s customers can utilise. There’s a big focus on providing tech companies, no matter where they are on their journey, with the tools and support they need to contribute to a successful ecosystem.

As the event wrapped up, we chatted with Alex La Via, the founder of digital wellbeing platform Live More Offline, who was deep in discussion with Colin Glass (OBE), a consultant and mentor at Murray Harcourt. 

Initially operating out of her bedroom on her own during the pandemic, she recently joined Bruntwood SciTech’s first female founders incubator alongside seven other female founders. 

Now based at Platform’s tech hub, which spans across three floors, being able to access an interconnected network of support – and the opportunity of “chance meetings” – through Bruntwood SciTech has been pivotal for her business.

“Being a solo founder can be a really lonely journey,” she explained. “It has been the single most helpful accelerator that I’ve ever been a part of. They genuinely just want to be able to see us succeed and it’s palpable, you can really feel it.”

As well as being able to utilise desk space at Platform and coaching sessions, as part of the incubator each female founder is paired with a mentor for guidance. 

Facilitating connections is a key part of how Bruntwood SciTech is nurturing the tech ecosystem here, such as connecting start-up founders with the expertise of industry experts or filtering through important advice on funding and grants.

“What is really nice is when Alex and the female founders came in, some of the founders wanted to impart their wisdom,” added Megson.

Heading up to the roof terrace with a stunning view overlooking Leeds city centre, customers can work, grab some lunch with a view or it can be used as an events space too. 

Roof terrace view from Bruntwood SciTech’s Platform

“It’s great to see the whole city and ecosystem from up here, especially both universities and the buzz of the city centre.  We’re right in the centre with all this around us, it’s great!” 

Heading back to Manchester by train with Deb Hetherington, Head of Innovation Services for Bruntwood SciTech, we went to see what’s happening there.

How Bruntwood SciTech is building a connected innovation community in Manchester

Jumping off the train, we headed to the new ID Manchester site, which is a £1.5bn joint venture between Bruntwood SciTech and the University of Manchester to create another trailblazing innovation district. 

The existing buildings are former University of Manchester teaching and research spaces, no longer in use since moving to a £400m new Manchester Engineering Campus Development (MECD) – one of the largest multi-disciplinary engineering hubs – and this 15 year ID Manchester project will seek to transform the area for the better. 

As well as two hotels and over 1,300 new residential spaces, over 2m sq ft of new “cutting-edge” workspace for science and tech businesses will support Manchester’s innovation sector and specialisms to form, scale and grow, and connect into collaboration opportunities with world-class research from the University.

“Really successful spin-outs from the University need that landing space to be able to develop out and continue working with them close by. Geographically it makes sense that they spin out into ID Manchester, keeping the links with the university but having a commercial front to be able to attract investment and build connections with a like-minded community. It all aligns to the economic growth of the sector and the city.”

This new 4m sq ft site will be developed and open in phases over the next 10-15 years, which could lead to the creation of a further 10,000 jobs.

The project will have international significance and will cement the UK’s position in the science and technology sector; providing vital specialist infrastructure to power the growth of the knowledge economy and unlock the potential to commercialise R&D innovation, supporting the UK to build back better and level up.

“I can see this being a phenomenal innovation project. It’s going to change the face of Manchester, and the UK.” said Hetherington.

It’s now an employee’s world, she explained. A big part of how companies can engage talent now is driven by how attractive the area is and how accessible amenities are – whether it’s green spaces, bike hubs or access to the train station.

“It really ties into placemaking. It’s important to have a reason to come to, and stay in this area above just going into the office, and having easy access to get to and from that place is even more important to attracting and retaining talent. ID Manchester is right next door to Piccadilly Station and will be the most connected location in the North of England.”

We headed onwards to Circle Square, which is in the heart of Manchester’s Oxford Road Corridor innovation district. There are three main buildings – No.1 and No.2 Circle Square and Manchester Technology Centre, and a fourth building, No.3, is getting ready to start construction this year.

Circle Square
Circle Square

It’s not just where start-ups are based – with plenty of exciting ones such as NFT marketplace KnownOrigin who were recently acquired by eBay – it’s where established tech and digital companies including the likes of Roku, Octopus Energy, Hilti and Hewlett Packard Enterprise have set up offices, too. Everything is connected for a purpose. Younger start-ups on incubation programmes in the district are able to tap into support or collaborate on projects with these global tech giants.

“You sell that as the dream, so we need to put it into practice,” she explained.

A key part of building a successful innovation district is building a vibrant neighbourhood filled with culture too. Whether it’s park areas, cafes, restaurants, bars or breakout spaces, or activities like the Corridor of Light Festival it’s all about “culture and placemaking”.

We visit Manchester Technology Centre, home to Bruntwood SciTech’s tech incubator with a mix of ambitious start-ups, entrepreneurs and scale-ups.

The next event taking place here is Tech Thursday, with Bruntwood SciTech’s partner law firm Mills & Reeve, to showcase the support on offer through its partner network whether it’s funding, finance or facilitating one-to-one meetings. A number of people were on hand to offer support at the event, from Praetura Ventures and Innovate UK.

It’s clear to see how events like this are supporting the tech ecosystem in Manchester, as the room becomes lively with entrepreneurs and industry leaders sharing their ideas and tips.

Northcoders, Your FLOCK and the future

Software training specialist Northcoders is one of the customers based at Circle Square. After the event, Chief Operating Officer Amul Batra showed me around Northcoders’ 10,000 sq ft office, home to 100 of its staff and students. 

Amul Batra, Northcoders
Amul Batra

When turning out “around 80 software developers a month”, connecting graduates to hiring partners is key. Now with numerous sites across the UK, being able to host events for its graduates helps with this. 

“It helps with collaboration, having that melting pot of companies based here and externally, and means that lots of companies hire from Platform, and here within Circle Square.

“They go beyond being a landlord; they funded our launch party and it was all about what they can do to help us be plugged into the ecosystem through these types of events.”

Following my meeting with Batra I met with Dan Sodergren, co-founder of employee retention platform Your FLOCK, located in the Tech Incubator.

With some of his team based within the hotdesking space, it has led to new clients, partnerships and collaborations with other companies such as payment company Stripe, and even new members of staff.

“Collaboration for us at Your FLOCK is key, it’s all about the brand’s values. Being in a Bruntwood SciTech space has allowed us to do that, it’s the living embodiment of those values. The events really help with the ecosystem.”

On the final stretch of the tour, Deb Hetherington showcased the part of the Oxford Road innovation district with the highest density of university departments, student teaching, and where the hospitals are located. “Along the Corridor are building blocks of an innovation district, which are skills and talent, R&D, clusters of private science and tech businesses and the funding, and it all comes together to create innovation spaces. We play a key part in helping businesses access it all.”

In this part of the innovation district, there are two other “innovation campuses”; Manchester Science Park and Citylabs, and all the businesses there have access to the communities, support and spaces at Circle Square and in the future, ID Manchester.

Browsing Citylabs, which is within the hospital campus on Oxford Road where there are five hospitals such as the MRI and Children’s Hospital, it’s home to a cluster of SMEs and global companies working across medtech and life sciences, working closely with Manchester’s NHS Trust to “create pathways for those companies to test their technology and products in the NHS and conversely improving healthcare access for local people by providing access to new tests and treatments that can predict and prevent illness”.

After strolling through the University of Manchester’s main student hub past its Faculty for Biology, Medicine and Health, the library, and learning centre, you’ll find Manchester Science Park. There’s 150 science and tech businesses based on this campus, which is one of the UK’s most established hubs having been here for over 30 years.

Since Bruntwood SciTech acquired the site they’ve been redeveloping it with an ambitious masterplan to grow it 1m sq ft. The first two phases have already finished and the third will start this year. We got to see phase 1 and 2 on our tour.

At the heart of Manchester Science Park we took a brief tour through the Bright Building, which is the nerve centre of the community. It is equipped with a gym, cafe, a large multi functional open plan space for socialising, informal meetings and events, and even has a Tesla Powerpack battery attached to it which can help take the building off national grid during peak times.

It’s also home to several exciting tech businesses who Bruntwood SciTech has helped to nurture, companies such as edtech Wakelet, which initially started off with two people in the Circle Square Tech Incubator but expansion has led to taking half of an entire floor in the building.

We also saw their latest new building, the newly completed Base building which only finished in July last year.

It’s going to be a new specialist hub for industry 4.0, light manufacturing, gaming, AI and robotics companies and has been built with a specialist space inside for companies to prototype their products.

There is also a large roof terrace and event space that looks out over the innovation district that all the companies on the whole campus can use. I’m told that while we were at the breakfast event at Platform earlier in the morning, there was a rooftop yoga and networking event at the same time on this roof terrace.

Even though this was clearly just a slice of the spaces Bruntwood SciTech has to offer, it’s evident that the property specialist is doing so much more than just offering buildings for tech and digital companies. It’s facilitating the connections and opportunities for young start-ups, innovative entrepreneurial minds and established tech companies to collaborate and boost the Northern tech ecosystem.

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