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Where to now?


“Kent has a reputation of being the ‘garden of England’ but we want it to be the ‘garden of enterprise’. We’d like to see many more individuals looking to start innovative businesses – not necessarily high-tech, but pioneering businesses, and we can help that to happen.”

Every Enterprise Hub has a Director and a Business champion – who provide client businesses with the help and advice that they need to develop. This issue we talk to HUB Director John Dodd (right) and HUB CHampion Robert de Fougerolles about the challenges and opportunities facing the Sittingbourne Enterprise Hub.

Robert: Sittingbourne Enterprise Hub has been going for, five years now?

John: Four years since we actually started, but five and a half years since we started thinking about it. We started with life sciences as a focus, though that has evolved over the years into different sectors. 60% of the Kent Science Park (KSP) site, where we are based, has what we call “wet labs” – suitable for companies working in life sciences, biosciences, chemistry etc.

Robert: We have a huge legacy from Shell. It left KSP with labs, workspaces and workbenches, which have been invaluable. But while our vocation is life sciences, I’ve never been totally committed to that to the exclusion of all else; I’m happy to help any company, in any industry.

John: I try to keep Robert on track. He wants to get going and help businesses, but I have to have half an eye on their compatibility with the rest of what we are doing. We try to meet in the middle!

John: In the main though the companies we are dealing with are early-stage: pre and early start-ups. They need a lot of nurturing and, often, a lot of money.

John: Over the past three years we have worked hard to help the people and companies we have had to succeed. The challenge now is to lay foundations to make sure that in the future more good companies are coming through. We need to create a pipeline of companies with potential and we have addressed this through our annual Innovation Challenge competition.

Robert: But that’s not easy to achieve. There are four critical issues: we have to find enough entrepreneurs. If you don’t have entrepreneurs you have nothing. We have to have space in which to establish the businesses – in our case we are very lucky to be located where we are, with so much potential space. One of the big issues a company will have (hopefully) as it becomes successful is having space to grow. If our companies are successful, they know they have room to grow. We need money in the form of seed and early stage financing. We need mentors – because people who have high-tech innovative ideas are not necessarily natural-born businessmen.

John: There are many innovators out there. But an innovator is not necessarily an entrepreneur. What you have to do is match the innovator with the entrepreneur. But many people don’t want to share their idea with anyone; and that makes it more difficult to obtain the help they need, which, in turn, makes it less likely that they will succeed. The people who sell their businesses and make money are the ones who are open to input from everyone.

Robert: Absolutely. I think a lot of companies would do better to deploy the money they are spending on patents towards marketing and concentrate on being first to market.

Robert: People who are fixated on keeping 100% of the equity of their business are likely to end up with 100% of something very small. Those people who are willing to share, and who choose their business partners with care, can end up with a portion of something much more valuable.

Robert: One of the great challenges for any Hub is matching entrepreneurial business people to people with ideas.

John: We have several people who have made successful exits from businesses and are now looking for new challenges. We need to get these people connected with new businesses: because they have done it all already, they know how to do it and because of that they’ll get there faster the second time around. The problem is that many people in the South East say that they could start a business, but the percentage of those who actually take the plunge is very small. I think that working for a large company is perceived as being safe and as a result, at the moment, we’re not being deluged with people coming forward with great ideas. That is why we are trying to establish a firm foundation for Kent’s future. One initiative recognises that we have a strength in bio-manufacturing so a group of us is co-ordinating a huge effort to build a technicians’ training centre here for the biosciences industry. In that way, kids coming out of school with an interest in science can get access to the skills they need to start working for bioscience companies. The central idea is that this pool of competence will feed and nourish the bioscience industry here and help to build its footprint in Kent, which in turn will help to attract other companies to the area.

Robert: If we can develop a pool of trained bioscience technicians here in Kent then that will surely help to attract more bioscience businesses to the area. We know that successful companies get acquired and the danger is that they then move away from the area. Having a local pool of talent makes it more likely that these companies will stay and grow.

John: I think that Kent has been thrust into the foreground as a pivotal state on the borders of mainland Europe. In the past it may have been considered something of a backwater, but now it’s the gateway to Europe as a result of the Eurotunnel; and that’s only happened in the last 10 years. That’s why I think that Kent is at an earlier stage of development than some other areas.

Robert: So the future’s bright – but we have to support it!

Contact: John Dodd


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