Southampton Science Park has revealed details of its 2019 Catalyst accelerator programme for business start-ups.

Catalyst is a unique opportunity for entrepreneurs with an early-stage business – or an ingenious idea for one – whether they’ve been in business before or not. Valued at up to £15,000, the scheme is fully-funded for successful applicants.

Participants will create an investment-ready business plan, management team plan and funding plan as well as receiving high-level one-to-one mentoring and commercially-focused weekly peer group workshops with world class business leaders. No stake is taken by any party involved in Catalyst so that entrepreneurs retain all equity in their businesses.

The demand for places on the programme is so high that Southampton Science Park has increased the ability to participate. It’s now running three shorter, more intensive schemes each year rather than one annual programme.

Catalyst founder and Science Park CEO, Peter Birkett, explains: “We have been working to find ways to increase capacity on Catalyst and to further enhance participants’ experience and outcomes.

“Getting fledgling ideas to market quickly has never been more critical, so our aim with Catalyst 2019 is to fast-track compelling business concepts into high potential commercial operations by shortening and intensifying the programme and hosting three schemes annually. We look forward to welcoming our first group of entrepreneurs this spring.”

Success story: Utonomy

Start-up Utonomy, a gas grid solutions provider, was successful in applying to Catalyst in 2015. The Catalyst coaching team worked with them to develop a business model, support team building and to raise funds.

Since then, the company has grown quickly, securing its first contract of over £500,000 and attracting significant investment to accelerate future product design and development. The company is still at Southampton Science Park and now employs 12 people.

“We’ve been able to raise significant investment of over £2m with the potential to grow into a very substantial business”

CEO, Adam Kingdon, commented: “I believe we have an incredible future ahead of us. We’ve been able to raise significant investment of over £2m with the potential to grow into a very substantial business. Part of that is due to the very good start we’ve had at Catalyst. It can get any new business off to the best possible start.”

He continued: “Catalyst propelled my business forward in a way I couldn’t have previously anticipated.

“I came into Catalyst with an idea that was just a few months old; I now have a solid value proposition, a great team and funding to push it to the next level. I’d encourage anyone thinking of taking the leap into entrepreneurship to apply to the Catalyst programme today.”

The first Catalyst programme for 2019 commences in April with introductory days being held in March.

Find out more and apply at the Southampton Science Park Catalyst website.

Business accelerators: the benefits for early-stage companies

Is an accelerator worth your time? Louise Cushnahan, innovation programmes manager at the Centre for Secure Information Technologies, looks at the benefits of business accelerators – especially for tech companies.

In the tech sector, the start-up scene in the UK continues to thrive, with figures suggesting that these are exciting times to be involved in an industry which is driven by innovation and disruptive thinking.

With an increasing need for consumers and businesses to protect against a growing number of cyber threats, the UK has been staking its place as a cyber security powerhouse. This burgeoning market has spawned a number of home-grown success stories such as Darktrace and Digital Shadows. While we may not yet have the number of start-ups in this sector to rival the US’s Silicon Valley, we are building flourishing cyber security tech clusters across the country, from Belfast and Bristol to Yorkshire.

For fledgling businesses in the sector, however, there are multiple challenges in navigating the early stages of establishing a business. It’s one thing to have an idea; the hard work starts in taking that concept or prototype to market.

It’s why specialist support, in the form of business accelerators, can play a vital role for these early-stage ventures providing support, practical assistance and access to expertise to speed the growth of new businesses.

Supporting the entrepreneurs of tomorrow

Tech entrepreneurs are vital for the health of the economy; we need to nurture those smart, ambitious individuals with the vision to drive change, who are developing disruptive technologies and re-imagining tried and tested approaches.

The government recognises its importance and is also ploughing funding into the sector.

Beyond this, we also need to provide a pathway and support network in which fresh ideas and talent can flourish in this competitive sector. For the lone innovator, getting a proposition off the ground can be challenging and taking ideas from the drawing board to the real world is a testing time for even the most determined individual. This is where business accelerators come in.

Accelerators have a valuable role to play in this – and many other industries – providing the foundations from which great ideas can grow, enabling innovators to tap into the expertise of professionals who have already forged a similar path.

Bringing together like-minded individuals, accelerators provide an environment in which early-stage businesses gain access to specialist expertise, mentoring and networking opportunities to help them turn their ideas into viable business opportunities. This structured approach provides individuals with the opportunity to test the validity of their products, to learn how to position it and reach their target market.

The HutZero early stage accelerator – a joint programme between CyLon and Queen’s University Belfast’s CSIT (Centre for Secure Information Technologies) – kicks off with a week-long bootcamp from which participants can tap into the experience of experts from academia, industry and government. They can gain advice from legal and financial experts and learn about areas such as technical development, business fundamentals and team building.

Business accelerators can be invaluable to solo entrepreneurs

This can help to foster a more collaborative approach to product development, exchanging ideas, and pooling knowledge. This is particularly valuable in the tech sector which typically has more complex product development processes. Providing a platform for early-stage testing and a forum for end user feedback and market research makes this access to specialist skills invaluable.

For individuals branching out on their own, the networking opportunities that business accelerators provide can have long term dividends. Even in our social media-driven world, there’s no substitute for face-to-face contact and accelerators help individuals to build a network of contacts with established industry players and fellow entrepreneurs that it would otherwise have been difficult to make.

What’s been most encouraging from our own programme is that we’re able to support entrepreneurs from all walks of life, varied backgrounds and at different stages in their career, from sixth form students to ex-city workers. What they all have in common is the shared objective of making their business vision a reality.

With cyber security at the forefront of public consciousnesses – particularly in light of global widespread ransomware attacks – building the UK’s position as a vibrant centre of innovation and expertise in this sector is of national importance. It’s not only about creating employment opportunities, but also supporting the next wave of talent who will play a vital role in protecting our digital economy.

Further reading on business accelerators

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