Buzz about The Bradfield Centre on Cambridge Science Park as it marks first year
MD James Parton discusses how £20m deep tech collaborative workspace has established itself
There’s a buzz about The Bradfield Centre – and not just because it’s celebrated its first birthday.
The £20million deep tech collaborative workspace on Cambridge Science Park is now home to more than 60 companies and has hosted 180 events, attended by 7,000 people.
Chatting with managing director James Parton in the café, which is open to the public, The Bradfield Centre feels nothing like a conventional working environment.
And that’s the point.
“The culture and feel of the place is relaxed, but purposeful and businesslike,” he says. “It doesn’t feel academic or formal, but creative and stimulating. Our members enjoy being here for those reasons.”
Launched by Trinity College and Central Working, which runs operations day-to-day, The Bradfield Centre is designed to support scaling tech businesses.
“The first year for us was about opening up with a brand new building, going through a bedding-in period, then driving awareness of what we are trying to build here, because I think it’s a bit different to what else is in Cambridge,” says James.
“The other integral part of the proposition is about making this a community hub as well. The auditorium is a key piece in that. We’ve been making sure that the existing event organisers, community meet-ups and conferences around the region were aware of the facilities we have and over time we’ve seen more and more events come to The Bradfield.
“We are quite regularly having three events a day.
“Both the number of companies we’ve attracted and the number of events show the demand in Cambridge because we didn’t exist a year ago. In the space of a year, it’s sky-rocketed. That’s been really satisfying.”
Key to the success of The Bradfield has been getting the service proposition right for its members, as Central Working’s clients are known, offering flexible options from a desk to offices or collaborative spaces.
“At Central Working we take a hospitality approach to collaborative working,” says James.
“We are focused on the day-to-day experience of the membership and are centred around making connections and collaborations for members.”
In year one, it has made more than 1,000 meaningful introductions for its companies, leading to more than 200 direct collaborations.
“We see it as a platform. Our target member is a company going into that scale-up phase – perhaps four-six people in size, who want to take that next step. That’s what we have in mind with our events in the auditorium,” says James.
“Getting to know the members has been a lot of fun. There are some really tangible outputs.”
Among those has been the success of image fusion pioneer Spectral Edge, which has recently closed a $5.3m Series A round, secured its first major customer and has doubled the size of its tech team since the start of 2018.
Meanwhile, Cambridge Spark, a spin-out of the Department of Computer Science and Technology at the University of Cambridge, has won a £550,000 grant from Innovate UK to develop its data science assessment technology, and doubled the size of its team.
And String, which created the augmented reality technology behind the Dulux Visualiser mobile app, was in the first cohort to join when it relocated from London last year. It has gone on to treble its space since moving in.
“They are running great businesses,” says James. “We have some shared pride.”
Given the pace of change among its members, The Bradfield is not sold to 100 per cent capacity.
“We know the kinds of companies we’re working with need flexibility,” says James. “There will be times when they need to downsize and times when they need to double or triple in size. MIG has had a big increase since they’ve been here.
“The longest commitment on a standard office lease is three months. You can negotiate a longer one if you want one, but our standard terms are three months.
“It’s quite different from a standard workspace where you’re trying to lock people in. Here, one of the measures of our success is how many people outgrow us.”
Trinity College hopes The Bradfield Centre will foster companies before they move to the Science Park, which it owns.
“It’s certainly part of the long-term goal from Trinity’s perspective,” says James. “The Science Park has an ambitious programme of new buildings and facilities.”
Intriguingly, despite the drive to fill space in the new building, some businesses were boldly turned away, because the mission of The Bradfield is to be a hub for tech entrepreneurs.
“By having a critical mass of like-minded people, the content programming and events can be much more targeted,” James points out.
The UKBAA selected the centre as its East of England Angel Hub, and Cambridge Angels are also present, meaning entrepreneurs have access to capital funding.
Cambridge Wireless, Cambridge Network, Tech Nation and Tech East are all running events and encouraging members to network at the centre.
And there are more big announcements coming.
“We’ve got exciting companies joining in the next four-six weeks,” he reveals. “We have two local scale-up businesses that you will know well.”
And it has also been revealed that JD.com, the Chinese e-commerce company, has chosen Cambridge and The Bradfield Centre to establish its first European R&D artificial intelligence lab.
A new biannual Trinity Bradfield Prize for entrepreneurial students across Cambridge University has also been announced, supported by entrepreneur and master of Trinity College, Sir Gregory Winter.
A £10,000 prize and complementary space at The Bradfield will be on offer to the winning team to develop its ideas, along with expert mentoring from the Trinity Alumni network.
“The first cohort will move in during the autumn,” says James. “A big focus is strengthening the ties with the university as well and supporting student entrepreneurs.
“We also want to work with a younger age group as well. We want to demystify what it’s like to go to work. A place like this really challenges preconceived ideas about that. Things like bringing your kids to work day have really helped but there’s more that we can do.
“We are looking at one-day mentorships with younger kids and getting our entrepreneurs going into schools. We want to inspire kids to think about working in STEM subjects and change that historical mindset that you have to go and get a job: you can create a job by founding your own company.”
Some bespoke leadership programming is also being planned.
“We’ve got some conversations about potential accelerators moving into the building as well, which is why we need some headroom,” adds James.
Those joining The Bradfield can expect an open and collaborative environment – 6,000 square feet of the building is given over to space outside offices.
“We put eight years of experience into the design, with space for people to meet, chat and socialise. The members’ floor is built around the kitchen idea – the majority of time at home is spent in the kitchen.
“Having the café open to the public is also deliberate. Being on the Science Park, you are mixing the more established companies with the start-ups in the building.”
This combination of location, design, facilities and the programme of events have helped The Bradfield establish itself as a leading location for emerging tech firms.
“In the last three months, it’s hockey-sticked,” says James. “It’s satisfying to go from a standing start to pretty much full in a year. It’s testament to Cambridge and the demand for space with so much innovation going on.
“But what you see is just scratching the surface…”
Case study: MIG eyes further growth
Market research insight company MIG is among those enjoying growth at The Bradfield Centre.
Head of product Bart Read says: “We opened the office in Cambridge because it’s a great place to open a tech hub. There is a lot of talent in the area.”
Making it easier and cheaper for companies to conduct market research, MIG was propelled to growth by investment from NEXT15 communications group in the US and now employs about 170 across all offices.
At The Bradfield, MIG’s software developers provide resources and tools for the whole company, which is separated into business units.
“We’ve got our survey platform, which is a long-standing product, and the systems that support it. Anyone could answer one of our surveys on their phone or computer. Then we’ve got the data analysis, visualisation, brand tracking and insight side, which is what I’m heading up,” says Bart.
“High Street brands would be a typical customer but we also sell to private equity firms to inform investment decisions. We also have a lot of other market research consultancies and general management consultancies who would use our research. And all manner of people would run research through us.”
Having begun with two people, nine more have been hired.
“We will probably grow to 25-30 over the next 12 months,” says Bart, adding: “The Bradfield has been great. We’ve met interesting companies here and that’s been fruitful. Call HR has been really helpful to us.”