Culham Innovation Centre

Culham Innovation Centre in Oxfordshire has been fuelling innovation and growth for over 23 years. 

Since it opened in 2001, Oxford Innovation’s Culham Innovation Centre has shown the integral role such centres can play in exploiting research and scientific investment, building communities of great new businesses and therefore in supporting the government’s ambition for the UK to be a science and technology superpower.

Culham Innovation Centre team

Driving local economic growth
The centre in Oxfordshire has supported over 150 early stage businesses – many of whom are pioneers in fusion energy and high tech engineering. It is estimated that businesses currently or previously located at the centre now employ a combined total of over 600 employees and have an average turnover of £1.25m. 

Space to innovate and collaborate 
Providing flexible office and laboratory space along with in-house business support services and events, the innovation centre has been instrumental in incubating innovative start-ups and, in turn, furthering the growth of the fusion supply chain and the development of potentially world-changing technologies.

Based within the UK Atomic Energy Authority’s (UKAEA) Culham Campus, Culham Innovation Centre has been successfully managed by Oxford Innovation Space for over 23 years. One of the first businesses to start their journey at the Centre was Tokamak Energy, which is making groundbreaking strides in developing practical applications of fusion technology.

UKAEA is delighted to have Oxford Innovation as a long-standing partner on the campus as we all look to support innovators, drive economic growth, and grow the commercial side of fusion technology, which could be a key part of providing the future low-carbon energy needs of us all."

Tim Bestwick, Deputy CEO of UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA)

Building a community of groundbreaking SMEs
David Kingham, Executive Vice Chairman and Co-founder of Tokamak Energy, said:

“Culham Innovation Centre was the ideal location for the early growth of Tokamak Energy when the company emerged as a spin-out from UKAEA – it was the perfect place to start a bold, hard-tech, company. We wanted to remain on the same site for the first few years as one of our founders was still employed by UKAEA – and we benefitted from the flexibility of the Innovation Centre as we grew to employ more than 10 people. We wanted all the services provided by the Centre, so that we could concentrate on growing the business, tackling our technical challenges and hitting our milestones. We “graduated” from the Centre after three years and now, 10 years later, have raised over £150m investment and employ 260 people, nearly all in Oxfordshire.”

The latest business to join the community at Culham is Oxford Sigma. Established in 2019 by university friends Jonathan Musgrove and Dr Thomas Davis, the advanced materials technology company moved into the Centre in September 2023. Starting out as a consultancy service, the company has now expanded into technical development.

Jonathan Musgrove, Chief Operating Officer and Co-founder of Oxford Sigma, explained: “Culham is the key place for fusion in the UK, so Culham Innovation Centre was the right place for us to be. As well as being close to all the right companies and people, being here has opened us up to a network of support, including access to specialists in areas like finance. The centre really brings start-ups together to collaborate and discuss challenges, while the centre management team are always willing to provide additional help with those little day-to-day things.”

Key outcome statistics Culham Innovation Centre

Forging powerful partnerships
Fusion energy has great potential to deliver safe, sustainable, low carbon energy for generations to come. The technology used for fusion energy at the Culham Campus requires temperatures approximately six times hotter than the sun’s core, which is what makes it quite literally the hottest address on earth.

Tim Bestwick, Deputy CEO of UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA), said: “The Culham Campus is developing rapidly as a global hub for the commercialisation of fusion technologies, and the Culham Innovation Centre plays a central role in this mission – providing flexible accommodation and important support to growing businesses. UKAEA is delighted to have Oxford Innovation as a long-standing partner on the campus as we all look to support innovators, drive economic growth, and grow the commercial side of fusion technology, which could be a key part of providing the future low-carbon energy needs of us all.”

Flexible early stage support 
It is not just innovators in the fusion sector making Culham their home. Active Needle moved to the Centre in April 2016. Founded in January 2016, the medical device company uses innovative needle technology that enables needles to be more visible and precise in biopsies and drug delivery, while reducing pain for patients. This multi-award winning technology is gaining commercial traction as highlighted by the recent license agreement for use in low pain, skin-based applications.

Ian Quirk, CEO and Founder of Active Needle, said: “The local ecosystem is crucial to the success of a business and the Culham Innovation Centre is very well located for medtech start-ups. Being based in a fully serviced office saved us valuable time in our early days and it continues to provide us with the flexibility we require. We’ve tripled in size since we first moved here, but we’ve been able to easily scale-up our office space within the centre as we’ve grown. We’ve also benefitted from the specialist support services and events offered through the centre.”

Advice and finance to help SMEs succeed
Our holistic approach to supporting businesses by providing advice, finance and space to SMEs has played a key role in the growth journeys of SMEs at the centre. As well as providing flexible space to businesses, we also offer in-house business support services and can connect them into wider business support programmes through Oxford Innovation Advice, which currently delivers Innovate UK’s Edge programme in the South East.

Ian Quirk of Active Needle, added: “We’ve taken part in two showcases organised by the Oxford Investment Opportunity Network (OION) and accessed support from the Innovate UK Edge programme. Our programme adviser Eileen Modral has taken time to understand our business, she lets us know about any relevant grants that are available and supports us with the application process. The grants we’ve received are relatively small amounts but they have had a big impact.”
Some of the businesses at the centre have also raised investment through our Oxford Investment Opportunity Network, which is the business angel platform of Oxford Innovation Finance. Established in 1994 to connect companies with investors, it is one of the oldest and largest angel investment networks in the UK.