Oxfordshire: A great innovation eco-system

Helping to create one of the UK’s great innovation eco-systems.

SQW Group has been one of the key movers over a large number of years in helping to transform the economy of Oxfordshire into one now widely recognised as an innovation success story.

Aerial view of central Oxford

Each of the four companies within the Group has deployed its capabilities in Oxfordshire, an area benefiting from several nationally significant scientific assets and a world leading university, in order to enhance the region’s economic vitality and its success in harnessing innovation and job creation.

An early contribution was the publication of SQW’s ground-breaking study, The Oxfordshire Innovation Engine. This report reviewed the area’s innovation assets and identified a series of interventions which could build upon these foundations.

Space to innovate and collaborate
Oxford Innovation Space operates eight innovation centres in Oxfordshire to support the innovation economy including Grassroots – the incubator for Oxford Science Enterprises’ investments. The Oxford and Wood Centre for Innovation, which is owned by The Oxford Trust, provides exceptional space for local start-ups and university spin-outs (including world leading companies like DJS Antibodies).

Providing a specially designed technical support package, our Harwell and Culham centres bring together pioneering businesses in the science and technology sector (including innovators in fusion energy such as Tokamak). Culham Innovation Centre has supported over 150 early stage businesses since it opened in 2001. It is estimated that businesses currently or previously located at the Culham centre now employ a combined total of over 600 employees.

In addition to this, Oxford Innovation Space operates several innovation centres in other areas of Oxfordshire in order to enhance local opportunity and prosperity, notably in establishing the UK’s first shared life sciences laboratory in Upper Heyford and managing a hub for ambitious entrepreneurs in Witney.

Culham Innovation Centre in Oxfordshire

Finance to help SMEs grow and scale
We operate a uniquely successful set of venture investing services and have deployed our investment funds on high growth companies based in Oxfordshire, including Oxford Medical Products, Inulox, Cognitant and EcoSync.

Our Oxford Investment Opportunity Network (OION) is the business angel platform of Oxford Innovation Finance and is Oxfordshire’s principal angel network. Established in 1994 to connect companies with investors, it was one of the UK’s first business angel networks. Today, OION is one of the largest angel investment networks in the UK, focusing on technology companies from Oxfordshire and across the country.

Advice to help SMEs succeed
Oxford Innovation Advice has delivered more than five major programmes of business support to ambitious SMEs within Oxfordshire, including Innovate UK’s EDGE programme, the Enterprise Europe Network programme and the Business Growth Service. Through these programmes, the team has directly assisted over 2,000 of Oxfordshire’s most ambitious and high growth businesses, helping them to overcome challenges and fulfil their potential.

Our holistic approach to supporting businesses by providing advice, finance and space to SMEs has played a key role in their growth journeys. For example, Tokamak began its scale-up journey based in our Culham Innovation Centre, raised early stage finance through OION and received business coaching to develop their commercial strategy from one of our business support programmes. From those early beginnings, the company now employs over 200 people and is making great strides in developing practical applications of fusion technology

Now an international success story, Perspectum started out as a University of Oxford spin-out based in the Oxford Centre for Innovation. Perspectum also received advice from our team of innovation experts to secure funding and develop international partnerships. It has also raised finance through OION. Now a 280-strong team with offices in Boston, San Francisco, Dallas, Portugal and Singapore as well as the UK, the company is another great local success story.

Oxford Innovation Finance showcase event

Research and analysis
SQW has undertaken a series of projects which have helped to inform priorities for public investment across the county. These include a future-facing study for Harwell Campus called Pioneer Campus 2040, which considers the likely nature and form of innovation campuses in the future.

Wider contributions
Individuals from across our four companies have made other contributions of note to the social and economic development of Oxfordshire. These include volunteering as board members of key organisations such as Advanced Oxford, local schools, the Oxford Trust and the Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) advisory board.

A thriving innovation economy
It is clear from a recent report* published by Advanced Oxford that Oxfordshire has a thriving innovation ecosystem with a flourishing community of spin-outs and start-ups. Some 64% of the region’s businesses are innovation-active according to the UK Innovation Survey and 5,700 patent applications have been made by Oxfordshire based firms and institutions in the last five years (to 2022). The county is an innovation hatchery for the country, generating benefits beyond the county and making an important contribution to the UK economy.

Over the years, by helping to identify the strategic development priorities of Oxfordshire and then through the interventions of our businesses providing space, advice and finance to innovation rich and growing SMEs, SQW Group has made a critical contribution in establishing the conditions that have helped Oxfordshire to its position as one of the leading innovation economies of the UK.