With over 80 years of experience between them, we caught up with Entrepreneurs in Residence, Keith Dixon and Stephen Mooney, who work at Surrey Incubation, to find out how they help individuals take an idea from conception to commercialisation.
Stephen: I have been involved in startups for most of my career. I started a carbon and energy management software company in North America in the early 2000’s that expanded over here in England in 2007. We sold that company in 2010 and begun working on a couple of other projects, all in the startup space.
One of these was a company called iVeridis, which is still growing today, another software company that helps large corporations source the right innovations faster, cheaper and with better results.
I joined Surrey Incubation on a part time basis about a year ago to provide startup / early stage businesses with advice on building and scaling up their businesses, predominantly in the software and technology industries.
Keith: My background is not too dissimilar but maybe a bit longer! When I left university, I began working in engineering but software was booming and everybody else seemed to be flying off to work in San Francisco so I changed course. I’ve pretty much been working in high-tech, software and consulting environments ever since.
Stephen: It works on different levels; it’s a bit of a mixture of people approaching us but also us having an eye for a good business. I’d say the reputation that Surrey has is great in terms of the Incubator itself but is perhaps not the most widely advertised. Our aim is to get our message out because we are a bit of a secret at the moment.
Keith: A key part of the way Surrey Incubation works is its use of Entrepreneurs in Residence - a very grand title which means companies have regular, scheduled review meetings. These are actually an opportunity to take an objective look at their businesses and help them to consider the long term effects of decisions that they are making now. This could be getting ready to take the next step, such as sourcing early stage funding or entering competitions. We don’t do the work for them but point them in the right direction – it’s a free form of management consulting for startups.
Stephen: We have a criteria and an application process that all companies have to go through, however it’s not too stringent. We have speciality areas, especially technology. The University of Surrey has recently won a very large contract with the government and the private sector to build the 5G network, which will expand our reach.
We are in partnership with some of the big mobile providers, as well as the government, to enable us to help companies that are in the satellite or phone industry area. So, if it’s a growth business, it has a good chance of meeting our criteria but there are a lot of cool companies that come across our desk that look like they are high growth and look like they could use our support.
Ultimately, we want them to stay in the Incubator for two years or less, we don’t want them in here for too long. That’s where the research part can come into play, where they can move on and how they can grow within Surrey or globally and I think that comes back to one of the benefits of Surrey Incubation. Most of the companies we help are in the early stages, with one or two employees who are looking to get to that critical mass of customers and then start to go through the investment process.
Keith: The Incubator is a key element of the University’s ability to connect with business, and this is especially important when it bids for and develops its research agenda. One of the crucial things that is considered when the government funds research is the University’s ability to exploit this and have an impact on economic development through its links to industry.
The Incubator has a history of achieving this and this has become invaluable as the government and European funding has begun turning around from being primarily research focused to driving universities to looking at the economic impact.
Stephen: The Surrey 100 Club is an investment club and takes the collection of high net worth individuals through this area and London, and gives our businesses and as well other businesses across the UK the opportunity to pitch for investment.
Our model is different to some of the investment clubs that you see in the UK, we don’t run it as a profit making venture, boot camp or charge exorbitant fees to the companies. It’s really about advancing the agenda of the University of Surrey and the Incubator, whilst actually growing businesses in the UK - turning small businesses into successful stories.
Stephen: We try to help our businesses as much as possible, within both Surrey Incubation and The Surrey 100 Club. When we put companies through for investment consideration they go through a panel process and sometimes the advice they receive may differ from what we tell them.
Also, once companies get the funding, that can create a different pressure and potentially defocus them from other tasks. It's always important for startups to keep their feet on the ground.
Find out more about Surrey Incubation.