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How Bruntwood SciTech is fuelling innovation in Manchester and Leeds’ tech ecosystems


From nurturing ambitious science start-ups to working with global technology transformation specialists Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Bruntwood SciTech’s unique innovation services offering is supporting science and tech ecosystems to thrive across the North and beyond.

During a trip to Leeds and Manchester to take a look around Bruntwood SciTech’s campuses, which was set up as a joint venture partnership between Bruntwood and Legal & General in 2018, we sat down with its head of innovation services, Deb Hetherington.

Well-known as an established figure on the tech scene, Hetherington shared how Bruntwood SciTech is curating interconnected ecosystems both in the North of England and throughout the UK.

“What makes a successful innovation ecosystem? First and foremost, it’s the startups, obviously. But innovative start-ups and scaling companies should never make up more than about 65% of a tech and digital ecosystem. The remaining percentage should be ecosystem supporters like funders, IP specialists, legal providers, talent providers and more established businesses,” Hetherington told Prolific North.

“The ecosystem isn’t simply large numbers of start-ups, it’s more than that and it needs to be more than that,” she explained. “That whole spectrum of business growth support, in order to create economic and social growth and supercharge innovation, is just integral.”

Deb Hetherington
Deb Hetherington

At Manchester Science Park, you’ll find numerous remarkable start-ups and SMEs such as digital curation platform Wakelet who are based alongside tech giants such as Epic Games. 

Technology transformation specialists Hewlett Packard Enterprise and global TV streaming platform Roku are just a short walk away after opening offices at No.1 Circle Square in the heart of Manchester’s Oxford Road Corridor last year, and leading names such as Uber-owned Autocab and Bosch reside next door at No.2 Circle Square, while recently acquired by eBay NFT marketplace KnownOrigin has its home in the Tech Incubator.

“When big businesses look at our campuses, they love the idea of being co-located with young innovative businesses that they can network and tackle innovation challenges with. Established businesses need access to innovation roadmaps, which are supported by the start-ups through peer-to-peer networking.”

Potential opportunities for collaborations between early-stage science or technology start-ups and disruptive leaders in their fieldare curated and facilitated by Bruntwood SciTech throughout its property portfolio, which now spans 11 locations in seven cities, six of which are in Greater Manchester and Leeds.

There might be a breakfast seminar one morning, such as Platform Presents: Founder to CEO over in Leeds where Bruntwood SciTech customers can tap into insights, or an evening session at Platform’s Tech Hub Social for a more casual networking event over a few beers for entrepreneurs to connect. 

“I’ve seen a lot of really interesting collaborations happen across our buildings, and across our cities,” she said. “Our service provides quality business growth support, as well as regular social community initiatives Those two elements are key to ensure customers have the opportunities to network and collaborate. It’s a key part of creating an innovation ecosystem.”

How Bruntwood SciTech’s innovation services offering is creating collaborative, scalable ecosystems

On a mission to encourage innovation ecosystems to bloom, the property provider has set out to ensure everything is seamlessly connected from its strong ties with local universities, creating access to a solid talent pipeline, funding and new and accelerated market growth.

For the more established companies, the biggest priorities for them are centred around skills and talent to access the volume of specialist highly skilled talent they need and to continue to drive a “pipeline of innovation” in their businesses.

One of the events at Bruntwood SciTech

“There is a spectrum of human capital required for a growing tech company, from technology developers, digital creative talent, project management, through to UX and Ops; if you’re going to continue to grow and be innovative, you need the people to deliver that. One of the key projects we run is a skills marketplace.”

The skills marketplace brings together the regional skills providers, both traditional and alternative, for a reverse skills fair. Businesses are invited to network and learn more about the range of skills available from universities, coding bootcamps, digital academies and so on. Last year, the specialist property developer and provider partnered with social enterprise Agent Academy, introduced initially to connect young talent with businesses in Bruntwood SciTech’s Circle Square campus. 

“At the end of the programme, at least half of the young cohort had learned a range of new digital skills, and secured roles. So, it has really made a difference.”

With customers such as Northcoders, a provider of training programmes for software coding headquartered in Circle Square, it has led to a successful way of connecting big tech companies in the city with the next generation of talent.

“With Northcoders being a key customer, we host their coding bootcamp graduations. We tend to invite customers along who are looking for tech talent, and organically we’ve placed several grads into roles within businesses on our campuses.”

As well as CEO support offered by successful entrepreneurs to founders on a one-to-one basis, the property provider has access to a network of key regional partners such as North Invest, Manchester Angels, Women in Leeds Digital and so many more, that support the growth of young businesses.

At Platform in Leeds, the likes of specialist asset management firm Mercia offer support around pitch decks to start-ups for instance, to qualify whether a business idea is viable.

Bruntwood SciTech’s Platform in Leeds

“They give really honest advice. They have also invested in several of our customers, which again goes to showcase that wider innovation ecosystem that derives from the curation of our communities.”

For start-ups based at Bruntwood SciTech’s locations, there are plenty of opportunities from innovation programmes with accelerators, funding support, to events to mingle with like-minded people such as their Tech Tuesdays event. Tech Tuesdays is a community event which aims to bring the ecosystem together and offers funding or advice, and goes hand-in-hand with around 10 other events a month including community lunches, Ted-talk style coffee mornings and peer-to-peer sessions also offered.

Initially, once a business takes space, business growth managers work closely with them to identify their needs and challenges, and work with them to develop bespoke growth programmes.

“In my role as Associate within the Research & Enterprise team at Leeds Beckett University, I worked with a team to design a business diagnostic. The diagnostics objective is to identify and address growth barriers. That diagnostic is in its third iteration, and has developed into a full toolkit for our growth managers to navigate the intricacies of the entrepreneurial, startup journey often pulling out support requirements that the businesses didn’t even know they had.”

Collaboration taking place in one of Bruntwood SciTech’s meeting rooms

For the more early-stage businesses, Bruntwood SciTech has a variety of incubation programmes that run for six-months to supercharge growth. 

One of its success stories is digital curation platform Wakelet, which initially started out as two people on one of their programmes three years ago.

“Now the company is based across a whole floor filled with employees in the Bright Building at Manchester Science Park. They’re a real success story.”

They are also seeing success with their Female Founders Incubator launched last year at Platform in Leeds, to encourage the next wave of female tech founders.

“My passion area is diversity within tech. I was an original founder of Women in Leeds Digital (WiLD). WILD is a community-led organisation that looks to address the gap in female representation in digital. I’ve not seen that percentage go above 17 to 18% in the last 10 years. There is so much more we need to do in this space, and it’s a key objective for us. Diversity and Inclusion are championed in this business more than any place I have ever worked. No idea or initiative in that space is ever questioned, it’s entirely refreshing.’

“This year we’ll launching our new pilot programmes from 2022 across other cities”

When deciding to design the Female Founders Incubator and pilot it in Leeds, she was proud of how collaborative Leeds is as a city when seeking out one-to-one support for it.

“I reached out to the network as we needed 10 mentors to offer their services pro bono with it being a pilot. The response couldn’t have been more positive. These are successful CEOs of £million+ revenue businesses, giving their time to a cause they really care about. The programme has already proved itself as a success and we are looking to launch it in our other cities in 2023.”

Bruntwood SciTech also offers its Serendip programme; a challenge led co-innovation programme which provides links between major organisations and startups to accelerate both larger corporate innovation and early-stage growth. Since it launched in 2016 it has led to more than 70 commercial deals and included partners such as Barclays, the NHS, National Express, HS2, Balfour Beatty, Gymshark, and BNP Paribas.

It has led to some fascinating collaborations and challenges tackled facilitated by Bruntwood SciTech, including one between HS2 and an exciting specialist concrete data and digital monitoring startup called Cloudcycle in Birmingham. Cloudcycle’s digital platform aims to eliminate waste in the concrete industry using big data to reduce CO2 emissions whilst improving quality and efficiency. This helped HS2 avoid 420,000 tonnes of concrete waste, saving £25m on phases 1 and 2, cut CO2 emissions by 50m Kgs, and save 2.6 million litres of water.

Deb Hetherington
Deb Hetherington

For the future, although she recognises “you can never achieve full success, there’s always room for improvements, that’s what innovation is”, she believes Bruntwood SciTech is the market leader in building specialist ecosystems, particularly those in the science, tech and innovation sector.

“I think we deliver quality innovation ecosystems, with all of the integral elements required to make those work. From really strong teams, to strong stakeholder partnerships who offer high quality growth support to customers. ”

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