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Higher education labs to boost local innovators and fuel growth


  • 20 University Enterprise Zones (UEZs) are set to stimulate development of incubator or ‘grow-on’ space for small businesses in locations that encourage businesses to interact with universities and to innovate
  • UEZs are specific geographical areas where universities and business work together to increase local growth and innovation
  • The UEZs will encourage universities to strengthen their roles as strategic partners in local growth, building on existing capabilities and partnerships

Government funding announced today, Friday 20 September 2019, will help universities stimulate growth in their local economies, providing vital support for innovative new companies and creating jobs in emerging industries. 

Twenty University Enterprise Zones (UEZs), launched with a £20 million investment and delivered by Research England, part of UK Research and Innovation, will strengthen collaborative ties between universities and businesses, helping small businesses and start-ups to succeed by providing access to space for them to grow, as well as specialist facilities and expertise.  

Funding for the UEZs has been announced alongside an investment of £78 million in the second wave of UK Research and Innovation’s Future Leaders Fellowships.

Universities Minister Chris Skidmore said: “Delivering on our research and innovation ambitions means putting people first, whether they are just starting out in their career or are leading major projects in academia or industry.

“These inspirational Future Leaders Fellows will generate the ideas of the future, helping to shape science and research for the 21st century. But to realise the full potential of these discoveries, their ideas need to be taken out of the lab and turned into real products and services, where they can actually change people’s lives for the better.

“That’s why we are creating 20 new University Enterprise Zones, helping local start-ups to co-locate in universities to build the businesses of the future – all inspired by university research.”

The UEZs announced today will focus on a diverse range of industries, from aerospace and smart energy to Artificial Intelligence, and digital health services to agri-foods. Expertise and innovation from 20 universities will be shared with the private sector through the UEZs, establishing or expanding existing specialisms that will benefit businesses in local and regional economies.

The projects include:

  • Falmouth University's existing Launchpad programme will be expanded to deliver more companies, new products and jobs. Instead of starting with an entrepreneur and their idea, Launchpad begins with the customer and challenges set by industry. These are solved by teams of graduates with transdisciplinary skills.
  • The University of Lincoln’s Business Incubation Development to support Food Enterprise Zones project will provide fledgling, entrepreneurial food and related technology businesses with specialist support to aid their success and transition onto the newly developed Food Enterprise Zone in the heart of the UK’s agri-food sector in rural South Lincolnshire. 
  • The University of Southampton’s Future Towns Innovation Hub project will focus on transforming and connecting future towns. The hub will provide space to enable interactions between business and academia to identify impediments to improving quality of life and economic growth.
  • The Innovate Tees Valley UEZ at Teesside University will have a strong digital focus, and is an important component of the university’s strategy to support development of Tees Valley. It will address productivity, business density and absorptive capacity, and R&D commercialisation.

UK Research and Innovation Chief Executive, Professor Sir Mark Walport, said: “These 20 University Enterprise Zones funded by Research England will be important focal points for collaboration in business-friendly environments, driving innovation and delivering benefits that will be felt across economies at the local, regional and national scale.”

David Sweeney, Executive Chair of Research England, said: "The University Enterprise Zones demonstrate that universities are at the cutting edge of technology incubation and are committed to delivering on the government's place agenda." 

“They demonstrate that universities are at the cutting edge of technology incubation and are committed to delivering on the government's place agenda." 

Further information on the twenty UEZs announced today is available in the Notes to Editors section below.

Notes to Editors:

For further information contact the UKRI press office at press@ukri.org or on 01793 234170.

The UK Government initiated the UEZ programme in 2014. Four UEZs in Bradford, Bristol, Liverpool and Nottingham sprung out of this programme. These have shown how universities can strengthen their roles as strategic partners in local growth opportunities, and support the development of business incubation in locations that encourage business to innovate on new products and services.

Summaries of the projects:


Led by: Birmingham City University

Research England funding: £530,000

STEAMincubator develops a new incubation facility and programme focused on the student, academic and digital creative community in Birmingham City University and the West Midlands region.  It utilises the principles of STEAM innovation to combine artistic thinking with STEM approaches and support the commercialisation of new and differentiated business ideas and models.  This addresses the latent demand for grow-on space and start-up support created through the www.STEAMhouse.org.uk prototyping space for local entrepreneurs and the university’s own student entrepreneurship programmes.  As a member of UKSPA (UK Science Park Association) its programme will follow best practice under the INSPIRE Framework based on the national Business Incubation Development Framework.


Led by: Cranfield University

Research England funding: £1.2 million

Building on the regional strengths and success in the Aerospace sector Cranfield University Enterprise Zone seeks to establish a UK Aviation Innovation and Technology Entrepreneurship Cluster. With recent developments in aviation technologies and the easing of light aircraft regulations, small agile firms are now in an ideal position to bring forward the technologies of the future. Cranfield University is actively pursuing utilisation of its unique capacities to address this need. The proposed University Enterprise Zone will significantly expand Cranfield University’s business incubation infrastructure by providing specialist business grow-on space with appropriate connectivity and infrastructure.

Keele University Corridor University Enterprise Zone

Led by: Keele University

Research England funding: £910,000

Investment from Research England in the Keele Growth Corridor University Enterprise Zone will leverage £33million of public and private sector investment.  This investment will harness the emergence of the University as a national research and development facility for innovation and at scale demonstration of smart digital technologies in the energy, transport and biomedical technology sectors.   New investment will also enable the creation of a 7th Innovation Centre on the Keele University Science & Innovation Park, with a focus on commercialising research on artificial intelligence, machine learning and big data.

Secure Digitalisation University Enterprise Zone (SecureD EZ)

Led by: Lancaster University

Research England funding: £1.5 million

Lancaster’s Secure Digitalisation University Enterprise Zone (SecureD UEZ) responds to the Government’s Industrial Strategy for widespread adoption of Industrial Digital Technologies and the National Cyber Security Strategy to make the UK a secure place for business. Productivity is driven through a Secure Digitalisation Accelerator Programme providing bespoke support to businesses to digitalise safely and securely. Rapid commercialisation is enabled through secure digitalisation collaboration infrastructure, including secure access to sensitive data sets (e.g. health records) and digital fabrication facilities. The UEZ combines academic strengths and a demonstrable track-record of developing innovation in small and medium-sized enterprises to provide secure digital growth.

Oxford Brookes Artificial Intelligence & Data Analysis Incubator (AIDA)

Led by: Oxford Brookes University

Research England funding: £1.2 million

Oxford Brookes University’s Artificial Intelligence and Data Analysis (AIDA) Incubator aims to help companies in professional service sectors maximise the value they can gain from use of these emerging techniques.The AIDA Incubator will target start-ups, scale-ups and established companies to maximise productivity, margins, growth and turnover.The companies helped will include but not be limited to lawyers, human resources, insurance, planners and creative sectors.The AIDA incubator is part of OBU’s Ethical AI Institute, a world class team of AI Researchers, Data Analysts, social scientists and business researchers. We will provide companies with consultancy, training and contract research.

QMUL/Barts Life Sciences University Enterprise Zone

Led by: Queen Mary University of London

Research England funding: £1.5 million

Growth in London’s life sciences sector is held back by a lack of affordable workspace. The University Enterprise Zone (UEZ) proposal from Queen Mary University of London has identified 1000m2 that will be converted into incubation space, offering business development support and infrastructure to help early stage bio-pharma, digital health and med-tech companies grow. The UEZ will support the expansion aspirations of existing tenants in Queen Mary’s Innovation Centre and create opportunities for new tenants including digital health and bio-engineering businesses. The UEZ will drive economic growth and enhance health outcomes in Tower Hamlets - England’s third most deprived local authority.

Wellbeing Accelerator

Led by: Sheffield Hallam University

Research England funding: £900,000

The Wellbeing Accelerator will intensively support SMEs and start-ups in the development of innovations to prevent or manage non-communicable diseases including cancer. It will provide specialised support packages including product development, testing, and consultation with patients, NHS commissioners, and clinicians. An investor 'club' will also be created to broker investment into the most promising innovations. Housed in the Sheffield Hallam University Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre, a new £15m world-class facility boasting over 3,500m² of laboratories, clinical research, rapid prototyping, and an incubator, the accelerator will positively impact the disadvantaged area in which it is situated and will recruit members of the local community to take part in product development.

Staffordshire Advanced Materials Incubation and Accelerator Centre (SAMIAC)

Led by: Staffordshire University

Research England funding: £800,000

The Staffordshire University Enterprise Zone will develop a regional flagship facility to support companies in researching and developing new innovative products using advanced materials. The ‘Staffordshire Advanced Materials Incubation and Accelerator Centre’ (SAMIAC) will consist of dedicated incubation space and research, prototyping and innovation workshop lab space reinforced by the innovation and leadership support. The incubator will be developed at the heart of Staffordshire University’s Stoke campus, co-located with Staffordshire University’s academic expertise through the adjacent Smart Zone with digital, advanced manufacturing, media and maker facilities.  The centre will build on university’s expertise in materials and manufacturing to support the regional business base.

Unit DX+

Led by: University of Bristol

Research England funding: £1.5 million

We all know that the 21st Century will be the century of biotech. At the University of Bristol, we are making that a reality. We are partnering with a specialist biotech incubation provider Unit DX, to develop a state-of-the-art facility (to be called Unit DY) to support the growth of life science start-ups and spinouts, such as our recently successful spinout Ziylo. Our collaboration will provide business and technical support whilst retaining close links with the academic departments of their founding teams. The importance of our collaboration has been recognised in the West of England’s Local Industrial Strategy as a key enabler for this sector.

East London Inclusive Enterprise Zone (ELIEZ)

Led by: UCL

Research England funding: £500,000

The development of innovative and accessible products and services by people with disabilities will a key focus of a new zone at London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. The East London Inclusive Enterprise Zone (ELIEZ) at Here East will host a business incubator designed to be accessible for entrepreneurs with disabilities – the first such dedicated space in the UK.

ELIEZ will be led and hosted by University College London (UCL) and the Global Disability Innovation Hub, in collaboration with key partners including Plexal, Disability Rights UK, Here East, the Greater London Authority, Loughborough University, London College of Fashion: UAL, Hackney Council, Ford Mobility, Capital Enterprise, London Legacy Development Corporation, and Barclays Eagle Labs.


UCL at Here East: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/here-east/

GDI Hub: https://www.disabilityinnovation.com/

Plexal: https://www.plexal.com/

Greater Cambridge Health Tech Connect: Testing and integrating inter-disciplinary models of incubation across West/South Cambridge

Led by: University of Cambridge

Research England funding: £500,000

Addressing real world challenges, including unmet medical needs, requires innovative thinking across disciplines. Our aim is to create a University Enterprise Zone that pioneers new ways of collaborating across physics, technology, engineering, biology and medicine and thereby drives new innovation in healthcare as well as manufacturing and engineering. This project will explore and scale-up new and existing models of business incubation. By strengthening the interdisciplinary bridge between two research hubs in South and West Cambridge, we will drive new research and development and deliver a model that can be applied more widely to support company incubation.

Accelerating Innovation at the Knowledge Gateway

Led by: University of Essex

Research England funding: £800,000

Accelerating Innovation at the Knowledge Gateway will increase business creation and success in high-growth sectors, accelerating university-business collaborations on the University of Essex’s 43-acre research and technology park.  It will increase the level and impact of the interaction between business and the University through supporting new businesses to access working capital they need to propel their growth; enhancing the impact of newly established digital creative collaborative workspace; and removing barriers for business users to collaborate anywhere on the University’s Colchester Campus.  The initiative will enhance Knowledge Gateway as a location of choice in the East of England for knowledge-based businesses.


Led by: University of Falmouth

Research England funding: £1 million

Launchpad is Falmouth University’s business incubation and acceleration programme.

Working closely with local partners, it has been developed to support the growth of the regional economy through the development of innovative digital tech companies and high value jobs in Cornwall and Isles of Scilly.

Launchpad’s unique model starts with market-led challenges set by sector-leading organisations, to be solved by teams of highly-skilled graduates attracted from across the UK and around the world.

The University offers comprehensive support, including an MA in Entrepreneurship and expertise in creative, tech and digital skills.

After a year, graduates become Directors of their own incorporated company and remain on campus for an additional year as they scale up, employ staff and secure investment. 

The UEZ award is expected to unlock a total funding package of £8m and is a significant step towards the Launchpad Programme achieving an evergreen fund.

The Go Herts University Enterprise Zone

Led by: University of Hertfordshire

Research England funding: £1.1 million

The University of Hertfordshire Enterprise Zone will support start-up and small businesses, leading to increased economic growth, employment, turnover and investment. The University’s local area, Welwyn-Hatfield, is currently among the lowest performing for new businesses, with one-year survival rates also falling short of the national average. The Enterprise Zone will offer local companies access to new specialist workspaces, equipment and resources and encourage the development of talent through apprenticeships and student placements. A network of academic advisors, supported by our world-leading research, will further enable businesses to grow and prosper.

Business Incubation Development to support Food Enterprise Zones

Led by: University of Lincoln

Research England funding: £1 million

The University of Lincoln’s project will provide fledgling, entrepreneurial food companies with a specialist package of business incubation services. Through the University Enterprise Zone, businesses will benefit from scientific and technical support provided by the University of Lincoln’s National Centre for Food Manufacturing, and have valuable access to small capital grants, networking opportunities and innovation facilities.

The project will promote the newly developed Food Enterprise Zone (FEZ) in Holbeach in South Lincolnshire and support businesses in their efforts to grow and relocate to its specialist business incubation spaces.

Greater Lincolnshire is the UK’s major food production county and the project will play a significant role in strengthening its agri-food economy while maximising government and local investment in the FEZ. 

Future Towns Innovation Hub

Led by: University of Southampton

Research England funding: £1.5 million

The Future Towns Innovation Hub will deliver a joint industry-academia collaborative space on the University of Southampton Science Park to increase the capacity for innovation and growth of local knowledge-intensive, high-technology businesses in the clean technology and green infrastructure sector.Providing a gateway to the engineering expertise, skills and facilities of the University, the Hub will focus on breakthrough engineering technologies and solutions for transformational mobility and sustainable and integrated resources management while minimising impact on the environment. The Hub will create an environment for innovative translation of research to commercial applications that will contribute to the economic growth of the local area and wider regions.

Led by: Durham University

Research England funding: £1.4 million

The Durham University Enterprise Zone will provide flexible incubation space for up to 17 businesses on the NETPark Science Park. The incubator will provide space for Durham spinouts emerging from the Northern Accelerator programme and start-ups where proximity to the exceptional facilities of NETPark and the University is an advantage. It will also provide a gateway for high-growth businesses to access facilities and collaborate with university researchers. Northern Accelerator is an innovative collaboration between Durham, Newcastle, Northumbria and Sunderland Universities backed by £4.9m funding from Research England’s Connecting Capability Fund and £1m funding from ERDF. The initiative is driving a step change in the commercialisation of research to help address regional imbalance and strengthen the North East knowledge economy. Northern Accelerator brings together academics and business leaders, with a host of funding and support, to form sustainable businesses that create more and better jobs. The UEZ builds upon Durham University’s strategic partnerships with Durham County Council and CPI and our joint ambition to develop NETPark as a global hub for materials integration.

Led by: Teesside University

Research England funding: £1.4 million

Building on a successful track record of tech start-ups, the Innovate Tees Valley UEZ will provide a dynamic ecosystem for aspiring and new entrepreneurs, and established companies looking to grow through digital innovation.

This will be delivered through an exciting and transformative development on the University’s Middlesbrough campus to create new incubation, collaboration and co-working space, bringing business to the heart of the knowledge base.

Academic strengths in digital technologies including AI, augmented reality and intelligent gaming, and a focus on interdisciplinary working, will be the driver for start-ups and productivity growth through digitalisation in priority sectors of the Local Industrial Strategy.

University of Exeter Enterprise Zone (UEEZ)

Led by: University of Exeter

Research England funding: £800,000

The University of Exeter Enterprise Zone (UEEZ) will create a community of entrepreneurs, innovators, start-up and early-stage growth enterprises on the Exeter Science Park, at the edge of the South West’s fastest growing city. It will provide tailored packages of enterprise support alongside free access to incubator facilities, co-working and maker spaces. Filling a gap in the current innovation ecosystem, UEEZ builds on regional academic and industrial strengths, enhancing the SETSquared offer to deliver an industrial strategy focused on making Greater Exeter an international centre for environmental, digital and data science.

Led by: University of Sunderland

Research England funding: £0.6 million

University of Sunderland Enterprise Zone will bring new jobs and create the hi-tech businesses of the future.  The 12 month project builds on existing facilities and aims to create new, pioneering student, graduate, staff businesses and support local enterprises. Particular features include a new digital incubator in the University’s David Goldman Informatics Centre, exploration of new ideas in the world of sports technology and improved facilities and support for creative and media start-ups at the University and in the local area.  This builds on a recent study which found that Sunderland is one of the top three places in the UK to start a technology business.

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