A meeting of minds

A meeting of minds

Birmingham’s first digital health incubator opens in March inside the iCentrum building developed by Innovation Birmingham, whose CEO Dr David Hardman explains more about the project.

Our concept was to drive forward the Smart City, so we developed and funded this £8m scheme speculatively as an incubator for the next generation of entrepreneurs, who have grown up in a world where social media, 3D printing and cloud-based business solutions are second nature.

We secured a £7.5m commercial loan through the city council to cover the main construction and fit-out costs, and also won support from the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP to create additional work space inside the building.

The iCentrum will have just over 42,000 sq ft of space, and thanks to the support of the West Midlands Academic Health Sciences Network (WMAHSN) we will have the city’s first incubator dedicated to early-stage tech companies working in the health sector and developing digital solutions.

Our research demonstrated very clearly that there was a market need for such space. Digital health will be one of this centre’s four specialisms, along with finance, intelligent mobility and the Internet of Things (IoT).

Having all four of these high-growth sectors here will allow people from each company to interact with the others, which we believe will act as a catalyst for even more ideas. We’re also asking every prospective tenant how they propose to overcome challenges in their sector to better understand their focus.

Everything we are trying to achieve here is about innovation, and about solutions which are not sector-specific or boundary-specific. We believe, for example, that because so many creative minds are working in proximity that iCentrum will become a breeding ground for radical and disruptive innovations. We also hope that solutions devised for one sector will be applied in different ways to the needs of another sector. We are setting ourselves and the people who come here very big challenges, but my belief is that if it works, it will be unique, and that is not a word which I would ever use lightly.

Our wider operational model at Innovation Birmingham is to devise and deliver a next-gen science park, and it’s been clear from the interest which our concept has attracted even before construction work got underway, that it is a vision which many others are finding as compelling as we do.

Obviously, the hard work starts now, because we have to prove our concept, just as the individuals coming here with bright ideas have to test and prove their concepts. We’re working very closely with Tony Davis, the commercial director at the WMAHSN, on the challenges which will be put to early-stage companies working in digital health.

We are looking to work with at least 10 businesses in each of our four sectors, and we’ll shortly be recruiting a specialist business development manager to drive our strategy. The first tenants have already arrived, and we’re starting to see a community developing inside iCentum, which bodes well for future collaborations. We’ll also be formally encouraging people to interact with each other because sometimes creative minds need a little nudge in the right direction.

Our agenda for the science park is based on the ‘Without Walls’ concept and it’s working there, so I am confident it will work in our new building. It is very exciting, and it will be even more so to see what progress has been made in a few months, as more new tenants arrive and everyone settles in.