The CEO’s blog: Catalyst – a platform for innovation, incubation and acceleration

Back in 2012, in the midst of the economic recession, I established the Catalyst Incubation Programme to facilitate the growth and evolution of young businesses by providing entrepreneurs with access to first-rate facilities, expert advice, and extensive networks. Five years on, the Programme has expanded and we are proactively supporting businesses, helping them achieve their maximum potential. With Catalyst applications open for 2017, now is an ideal opportunity to celebrate the achievements of the Programme so far.

I take immense pride in the way Catalyst has grown in only five years. Our start-ups have secured a total of £5m in seed funding, we have featured in The Times Start-up List, and some of our businesses have forged significant global partnerships. Entering the programme in 2013, BluPoint has established links with international organisations including Dixons Carphone, UNESCO and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, whilst SAL Scientific counts three global pharmaceutical companies as clients. Another start-up, Utonomy, has grown in just 20 months from a concept to having major customers, employing six full time staff, and having raised more than £1m in investment. Other Catalyst companies have had similar experiences of converting a business vision into reality.

In assessing candidates, we set simple but tough criteria for companies competing to join the Catalyst Programme. We look for science and technology-based business concepts with the potential to deliver value to customers, and a team, or individual, with the energy, passion and skills to make it happen. The market prospects and capability of candidates is tested through a robust pitch process. For 2017, I am seeking new ambitious businesses to join the elite group engaged in the Catalyst Programme, whether seasoned entrepreneurs looking to accelerate their next venture, PhD students and academics with disruptive research, or youngsters with great ideas, ambition and business flare.

I am a firm believer that a business should not give up equity too early. At Catalyst we practise what we preach: we remain one of the few incubators in the UK that takes no equity stake in its businesses but rely instead on graduates of the programme establishing a long-term presence at the Science Park. I simply aim to identify new technologies, nurture the innovators and business leaders of tomorrow, and facilitate their collaboration with the region’s thriving business community.

We surround Catalyst companies with a high quality network of business coaches, advisers, and mentors. The team comprises individuals who have achieved success locally, nationally and internationally – and are eager to share their experience and expertise with those on the programme. Steve Bedford, for example, is the Founder and former CEO of children’s superstore Build-A-Bear Workshop. He brings 25 years’ experience at both public organisations and FTSE companies so was ideally placed to lead the 2016 negotiation skills workshop. Similarly, cleantech pioneer, Sandra Sassow, has won both ‘Eco Entrepreneur of the Year’ and ‘Enterprising Woman of the Year’ awards and her company, SEaB Energy, has won many more. Having launched a series of successful companies here and in the US, Sandra brings a wealth of expertise which she has shared generously with a number of Catalyst cohorts.

Applications for the 2017 cohort are now open and I look forward personally to working alongside the region’s future entrepreneurs.