Our history

We champion innovation in all areas of our work with SMEs and policymakers, and our own business journey is no exception. Innovation has been a deep rooted theme for us right from the start. You could say it’s in our DNA.

From our humble beginnings, we have expanded far beyond our original homes in Oxford and Cambridge and now operate across the UK, with over 300 employees providing space, advice and finance to businesses as well as providing research and analysis to clients in the public, private and voluntary sectors.

Our mission is as relevant today as ever. We continue to innovate and expand our services in order to help the next generation of entrepreneurs and innovators fulfil their potential and drive economic growth – locally and nationally.

Launch event for a new innovation centre

Our timeline

SQW: A new approach

SQW was founded in Cambridge to provide advice on knowledge-based local economic development and the steps needed to realise competitive advantage for places. It’s first major publication (in 1985) was The Cambridge Phenomenon: the growth of high technology industry in a university town. This report established a new approach as well as a standard for the quality of analysis and insight into the development of strong local economies.

Oxford Innovation: First innovation spaces

Having founded university spin out, Oxford Instruments Plc in 1959, Sir Martin and Lady Audrey Wood’s experience of the challenges of starting a business led them to found Oxford Innovation to provide a physical hub (initially two portacabins on Osney Mead) and assistance for entrepreneurs in Oxford. These were among the first innovation centres in the UK.

First business angel network

Our angel investment community, Oxford Investment Opportunity Network Ltd (OION Ltd), was established in 1994 as one of the UK’s first business angel networks. Today, OION Ltd (part of Oxford Innovation Finance) is one of the largest angel networks in the UK.

Forging powerful partnerships

In 2000 and 2001, Oxford Innovation opened centres in Harwell and Culham in collaboration with UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) to commercialise research linked to fusion, nuclear and energy. Over 60 companies at the two centres benefit from a specially designed technical support package.

First shared laboratory centre

We became the first company in the UK to build and operate a shared life sciences laboratory in which researchers and businesses could hire laboratory facilities ‘by the bench’. These facilities made research affordable and accessible to small businesses and start-ups.

A shared mission

In 2006, SQW merged with Oxford Innovation to establish SQW Group. The Group brings together two market leaders in the fields of economic development and regeneration, technology commercialisation and business support for high-growth companies.

First business diagnostic tool

Informed by our 35 years’ experience working with SMEs, we developed GROWTHmapper – now the UK’s leading business diagnostic tool. GROWTHmapper is now available in 11 versions (each covering different growth stages and areas of management focus) and has been used by over 40,000 businesses to explore their individual business challenges and support the development of effective growth strategies.

Flagship growth programme

Oxford Innovation was appointed as a member of a consortium selected to deliver the government’s Business Growth Service, the largest single programme of business support to SMEs in the UK. This led to the creation of a new division of the company, Oxford Innovation Advice.

Pilot to support unemployed

SQW was commissioned to evaluate Greater Manchester (GM)’s Working Well pilot programme. It aimed to support 5,000 long term unemployed people back to work. The programme was the first time that the Department for Work and Pensions had devolved money to GM, which would then commission and oversee delivery of the programme as part of the wider public service reform agenda.

First university enterprise zone

We supported the development of one of the first university enterprise zones with the University of West England (UWE), leading to the design and operation of Future Space, a cutting edge university-aligned innovation centre.

Expanding support for SMEs

Oxford Innovation Advice starts to deliver Innovate UK’s flagship programme of support to innovative businesses, later re-branded as the EDGE programme. In addition, we are selected to deliver an Access to Finance programme to support SMEs in Cornwall.

Leading on evaluation

Leading a consortium, SQW was appointed to evaluate the impact of devolved Investment Funds in eleven areas of the UK over the period 2016-2021. The Investment Funds were substantial in scale and they were a key part of a City Deal, a Devolution Deal or a Local Growth Deal in each of the eleven areas.

Supporting regeneration

Oxford Innovation Space partners with Belfast City Council to design and operate the Innovation Factory to support regeneration and community inclusion in an economically depressed area of Belfast.


SQW Group is acquired by 16 of its employees in a management buyout ensuring that it continues to be owned and cared for by the dedicated people that work within it.

Manufacturing growth

Oxford Innovation Advice begins delivering the UK’s largest programme of publicly funded support for SME manufacturers, the Manufacturing Growth Programme, which supported 4,565 SMEs in the East Midlands, West Midlands, Yorkshire and Humber, and parts of the South East.

Specialist expertise
BBP Regeneration became part of SQW bringing more specialist expertise in land and property, further strengthening SQW’s consultancy in the delivery of spatial economic impact.
An industrial challenge

SQW completed various evaluations of Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund programmes for UK Research and Innovation, covering precision medicine, transforming food production, transforming foundation industries, made smarter, and creative industries clusters.

A unified angel network

In January 2020, Oxford Angel Network (OAN), part of Oxford University’s commercialisation arm, merged with OION to create one unified angel network.

Authorised investment manager

OION became an authorised investment manager and raised its first investment fund to be invested, by OION, in exceptional IP-rich companies from the Oxfordshire eco-system

First centre in Ireland to open

Oxford Innovation Space is excited to announce another milestone with the opening of its first innovation centre in Ireland in South Dublin.

Case studies

Our case studies illustrate the breadth of our experience, the high quality of our services and our impact