Explore the ScaleUp Annual Review 2022

Select a section to expand and explore this year's review..

The ingredients of a successful cluster - and how they support scaleups

The first ingredient of a successful cluster is that “its focus has to address a global need,” says Sally Ann Forsyth, chief executive of the Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst (SBC), whose focus is on therapeutics and cell and gene technologies and whose 40-plus occupant companies employ more than 3,500 people. “Such a global theme will make the cluster sufficiently attractive to investors.” 

It also needs to have research credibility, with a pool of skilled people and specialist facilities. “It needs to have something that is unique – a strength that others don’t,” she says. More than 50% of people working in SBC-based companies have PhDs.

“A successful cluster needs to have a knowledge hub and a reservoir of IP,” says Jamie Clyde, innovation services director of Bruntwood SciTech, the joint venture between property company Bruntwood and Legal & General which provides office and laboratory space for technology and science businesses in 11 locations in seven UK cities. Such a hub does not need to be a university. Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst has formed around one of the two global R&D centres of pharmaceutical giant GSK. Level39 is a technology cluster based in Canary Wharf’s One Canada Square in London. Alderley Park, which is operated by Bruntwood SciTech, was previously an R&D centre of AstraZeneca. Harwell Science & Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire is a pioneering cluster in the space sector; at the centre of its constellation are institutions such as the Diamond Light Source Synchotron and the European Space Agency. “We have more space organisations within walking distance than anywhere else in the world,” says its director of communications and marketing Dan Metcalfe.

A strong and highly selective gateway policy which does not dilute the quality of the organisations within the cluster is another aspect, says SBC’s Sally Ann Forsyth.This deliberate approach is also taken by Bruntwood SciTech: “we do think about how organisations can contribute to the community,” says Jamie Clyde. 

Then there’s location. The cluster has to be accessible and attractive for companies and their employees, providing an enjoyable environment in which to work. “It has to be an exciting place,” says Harwell’s Dan Metcalfe. A new conference centre, a hotel and residential housing are all being built on Harwell’s 700 acres. “Historically, campuses had neglected these types of investments but these are the amenities that build the connective tissue,” he adds. Physical design is really important, says Bruntwood’s Jamie Clyde. “If it’s just a collection of buildings with no soul, then there is no hub.”

A successful cluster also focuses on the entire supply chain of its market.  Sally Ann Forsyth says that SBC, situated at the centre of the Golden Triangle of London, Cambridge and Oxford, is ideally located “to take an innovation, run it through the whole innovation pipeline and get it out into the market.” A healthtech startup formed out of academic research can scale up, access research and manufacturing capabilities, secure investment and access talent, learn from and collaborate with large corporates, and connect with the NHS – all under SBC’s umbrella. 

This approach also means that a rich mix of participants is vital. A collection of businesses of differing sizes and growth stages is just one part of the thriving cluster community; “it needs to be anchored into the broader ecosystem,” says Jamie Clyde, “by being connected into the universities, professional advisers and finance providers, local authorities and public sector bodies.” This requires active curation: a genuinely supportive environment requires investment, time and energy. “Part of our role is to help curate the community and develop the buzz,” says Harwell’s Dan Metcalfe. Harwell has four cluster managers who are sector-specific experts in space, life sciences, green tech, and quantum computing.

The Babraham Research Campus is a campus by name and a campus by nature. “People like the Babraham experience,” says its CEO Derek Jones. “They like the fact that we are a campus, not a science park, and we operate a community approach where we constantly ask our tenants what else we should be providing, other than a building. We are now home to 60 companies, from nascent startups to successful scaleups. It’s a micro-cluster where companies are willing to help and mentor each other.”

And clusters evolve. When SBC opened its doors in 2012 its companies were early stage and so the support programmes reflected this – providing an advisory panel, an Entrepreneur in Residence, shared basic equipment, and access to professional journals. As those companies have scaled up SBC has provided additional support such as skills training and mentoring, an accelerator programme, specialist training, and access to a CEO peer network. This is leading to accelerated development: SBC-based companies say the support from SBC and its location have enabled them to reduce product development time by an average of nine months.

Campuses don’t succeed by themselves; they have to be active participants in the ecosystem and they have a constant appetite to enhance their connectivity. Tech bio – the convergence and interface between biotechnology and AI and big data – means that bringing these two areas together will be increasingly important, says SBC’s Sally Ann Forsyth. 

As Oxford University generates an increasing number of spin-outs, Harwell’s Dan Metcalfe says that there will be more active and frequent partnership with Oxford University Innovation and Oxford Science Enterprises. “Academics want to make a difference in the world and see that one of the best ways to do that is to create a company that really moves the needle.”

And crucially, a successful cluster provides a supportive environment for scaleups. 

Connecting scaleups to sources of talent

Lack of talent is a key block to growth for businesses on many campuses. “For the UK to be a powerhouse in life sciences, we have to deal with many skills gaps,” says Kath Mackay Bruntwood SciTech’s director of life sciences. “It’s not just about getting PhDs out of a university because there are so many other channels to be filled. Some skills are deeply technical but we also need more laboratory technicians, and more digital and basic bioinformatics skills.”

Jamie Clyde thinks that, as the site owner, Bruntwood SciTech can play an important role in providing the bridge between businesses who need talent and the complex skills marketplace. “Understanding the talent landscape in most cities is complicated; it can include universities, headhunters, digital training businesses, alternative universities, and community outreach programmes. Making the access to talent – and signposting that access to talent – an area of improvement that we need to make across the country. We are working on this, effectively acting as an aggregator between companies looking to scale who need many different types of talent and where to find those particular talent pools.” 

Alongside the graduate events, sandwich courses and work placements, clusters and hubs are helping to open up apprenticeship opportunities and connect their businesses with local schools and colleges. When a campus has critical mass, a talented person can have a fascinating, rewarding and diverse career among several organisations all on the same campus. “We see the same people popping up in different companies, going up another level each time,” says SBC’s Sally Ann Forsyth. “It’s a success of a cluster that talented people can stay and grow their careers.”

At SBC there are approximately 13 active apprenticeships in addition to 12 with GSK. This includes the Advanced Therapies Apprenticeship Community (ATAC) provided by the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult that helps to address the crucial skills gap in the cell and gene therapy manufacturing sector. ATAC created the first apprenticeship programme. SBC’s Generation Stevenage initiative and summer school promote apprenticeships, training and career opportunities. 

In Birmingham, Bruntwood SciTech has worked with Digital Innovators on a 12-week programme called the Ideator in which 250 16 to 18 year olds from a number of local secondary colleges have spent time on the campus. “We put them in a work environment – in the initial phase with the NHS, HS2 and BNP Paribas – and give them real corporate challenges alongside some training and skills that they wouldn’t get in school,” says Jamie Clyde. “The employers have been staggered by the quality of talent. It has opened up some flexible apprenticeship routes into these organisations and our intention is to grow this programme.”

Infrastructure: flexible space that matches scaleup growth patterns

So far, physical space has been the biggest issue, says Sally Ann Forsyth. “We have a long waiting list of companies looking for more space.” In July 2022, a £900m investment in the campus by Reef Group and UBS Asset Management was announced, which will add 1.4m sq ft of commercial laboratory, office and amenity space. The first building in this next phase has opened. 

In 2022, Alderley Park invested £20m into 86,000 sq ft of new biology and chemistry labs providing further much needed space for scaling companies.

Scaleups will grow in fits and starts so they need to be able to move quite quickly, says Dan Metcalfe. He cites Astroscale, a scaleup that is creating satellites to tackle space debris, has just moved into a new facility which is nine times bigger than their old space, with a cutting edge cleanroom and a mission control room.

Access to markets

Sally Ann Forsyth notes that its corporate heritage makes Stevenage different and enhances opportunities for corporate collaboration. “There’s a more commercial focus, a translational aspect to the research. That understanding is really, really helpful for young companies.” The SBC accelerator programme provides scaleups with introductions to large corporates – “it is gaining access to the right people and the lessons that they learn from them that our scaling businesses find invaluable.”

Bruntwood SciTech’s sites run a number of challenge-led programmes to help scaling companies gain access to markets. Through the HS2 Accelerator  – a collaboration with HS2 and the Connected Places Catapult –  20 businesses in four cohorts have raised over £110m in funding and accelerated the growth of their business. Alderley Park’s Oncology Development Programme offered grant funding but it was the connections into, and learning from, participating companies such as Roche, Johnson & Johnson, and AstraZeneca that has proved to be just as valuable.

Access to finance

Clusters host a regular flow of pitch events to investors. “You need to have a range of investors to match the different growth stages and specialist areas,” says Sally Ann Forsyth. “And you need to attract the best in each of those sectors and growth stages. Quality investors are good for everybody.” 

SBC’s cluster of approximately 45 companies have collectively raised £2.9bn since the campus opened. “In the last four to five years we have attracted similar levels of biotech investment as Oxford, Cambridge and London,” she says. A dedicated Entrepreneurship and Business Development Director facilitates introductions to grant funding, investors and venture capitalists.  

Some campuses  – such as Harwell – have VC investors on site while SBC does not. “For one thing, we are only 20 minutes on the train from Kings Cross,” says Sally Ann Forsyth, and everyone can visit – there’s no perception of bias.” 

Bruntwood SciTech has also facilitated access to finance by helping in the formation of new local funds. It is an LP in Northern Gritstone, an investment company founded by the universities of Sheffield, Leeds and Manchester; and it has committed £5m to the Greater Manchester and Cheshire Life Science Fund which is run by Praetura and has invested £30m into 42 companies and is now in its second iteration. It has also helped facilitate the formation of Manchester Angels – “scaleup funding is enabled by having strong angel networks that can help to create the pipeline,” says Jamie Clyde.

Helping to build leadership capacity 

At SBC, the free DATA accelerator programme equips scaleups with leadership, business and commercial skills and connects them with investors. The programme holds workshops with the London Stock Exchange and Nasdaq and three scientific interest groups foster information sharing, collaboration and innovation. 

Alongside a CEO peer network, SBC occupier companies can connect with experts who offer insights, support and guidance along the various stages of the therapeutics development pipeline. A number of GSK Fellows are matched with individual companies to provide scientific and business advice on a non-confidential basis.

Alongside its existing CEO peer network, Alderley Park is working on the development of a professional network that supports under-35 year-olds on the site who want to develop their entrepreneurial, project management or leadership skills. “Scaling companies don’t always have that focus and ability to upskill their own team while rapidly growing so we think that’s an area where we can provide some support,” says Kath Mackay. Other peer groups have been launched with a focus on a particular topic area such as HR or marketing. 

Extensive education is provided on site through conferences and workshops, seminars, peer groups. For example, Alderley Park provided more than 400 business support sessions to resident companies in 2022.

The key issues and barriers to further growth remain consistent with scaleup businesses continuing to grapple with access to markets, talent, and finance as their critical challenges as we head into 2022. Significantly, the talent challenge is dialling back up in 2021, whilst Access to Markets at home and abroad remain equally of concern. 

Scaleup case study: Autolus

Autolus is founded on the cell programming technology of Dr Martin Pule and spun out of University College London in 2014. CAR T cell therapies have been shown to be effective in haematological malignancies and for use as cancer treatment. Autolus has more than doubled its presence in Hertfordshire employing both PhD graduates, manufacturing scientists and taking advantage of the apprentice scheme provided by the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult. It held its IPO on Nasdaq in June 2018.

In 2016, Autolus was one of the companies to occupy the first six manufacturing modules of the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult at the Stevenage manufacturing centre. In 2018, Autolus became an occupier of Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst to expand its GMP manufacturing activities. In 2020, Autolus was able to continue its growth in the SBC Spark building, specially built to enable grow-on space for GMP manufacturing.

In 2021, the company appointed developers to construct a 70,000sq ft manufacturing facility in Stevenage.  This is due for completion at the turn of 2022/23. The company has increased its employee base from 45 people in 2017 to just under 300 people at the end of 2021.

Previous Infrastructure
Next – Programmes Endorsed & Ones to Watch Infrastructure