Shoot for the stars: join Bristol’s scientific start-up boom


By Anastasia Gurskaya, 3rd year, Biochemistry

Bristol is rapidly becoming a place for science and technology start-ups to flourish – and these can offer attractive opportunities to graduates.

A new academic year has begun. Another year to learn, meet new people, gain new skills and try to figure out what on earth you’d like to do after you graduate. There are plenty of opportunities for science and technology graduates out there, but entering the job market straight out of university with little knowledge of the industry often means that many opportunities may be overlooked. Graduate schemes and internships at big-name companies can be awesome, there’s no denying that - however, they usually give you little influence over the company’s future directions. But what if you do want to make a difference, or have an idea that is just begging to be made a reality?

Bristol has seen an incredible boom in science and technology start-ups recently, largely due to support from the University and incubators like Unit DX, founded by Ziylo CEO Dr Harry Destecroix, which filled to capacity in under two years and announced a second site, Unit DY, in partnership with the University of Bristol earlier this month. There are plenty of ambitious up-and-coming start-ups around, as shown by Launch: Great West Awards 2019, designed to honour the achievements of scientific start-ups across the region. At this year’s awards, an astonishing 57% of nominated companies were incorporated within the past two years. It is clear that Bristol is culturing an innovative environment where scientific start-ups can bud and thrive. Nevertheless, getting a business off the ground is no small feat, especially if you’re fresh out of university. But what if you had a bit of help?

This past summer saw Spin Up Science, a Bristol-based science start-up incubator, launch its pilot Rocket Factory Program aimed at undergraduates with interests in scientific entrepreneurship. It ran for eight weeks and covered topics including ideation, market analysis, financing, and many more. These sessions were delivered by Spin Up Science, local entrepreneurs as well as professional solicitors, patent attorneys and accountants.  Participants also visited local incubators including Unit DX, SETsquared and Engine Shed.

The founder of Spin Up Science and organiser of the Rocket Factory program, Dr Ben Miles, told Epigram that the main goal was to ‘give [participants] a very lightweight direction of how to get the company up and off the ground - not necessarily to hold their hand along the way too much’, which he believes to be ‘the opposite of entrepreneurship’. The participants were introduced to the mechanics of the getting a business up and running; Dr Miles adds that the process ‘should not be scary and [participants] should’ve gone through them before, in kind of a ‘practice round”. It’s OK to make mistakes,” he asserted.

A big part of the program was coming up with a start-up idea and working in teams to pitch it at the end of week eight. As this was a pilot program and just ten people were selected to participate, only two groups were formed. Nevertheless, one group created a workable idea named BandLess which they are now taking to the next level. The team behind BandLess shared their journey with Epigram, explaining that ‘one of the team members came up with the idea…to come up with a device the size of any fitness tracker which measures your blood pressure instantly.’ They noted that conventional devices are ‘prone to disturbances and take up to five minutes’ to give a reading, while they plan to achieve the same outcome ‘in under 30 seconds,’. ‘We are currently in the end stages of building a fully functioning hardware prototype’ said the team.

Spin Up Science still mentors the BandLess team, who say that their most valuable takeaway was understanding that ‘coming up with an innovative solution doesn’t guarantee that the product will work; one has to make the product feasible, engaging and economical.’ Another participant told Epigram that participating in Rocket Factory is ‘a must…if you are really serious about building a business. If you put in the effort and use your resources to your advantage, you can get a lot out of it…if you have difficulties or challenges, it’s all the better for your character building. I have learned a lot during these 8 weeks. It’s totally worth it!’

Overall, the Rocket Factory was a success. It will run again next summer, and Dr Miles plans to take in more participants and make the program more ordered, as well as raise prize money for the winning teams. Spin Up Science was incorporated in 2018 and until recently, focused on training and events for PhD students and post-docs interested in areas such as business and entrepreneurship. The idea to work with undergraduates is new, and there are plans to engage more with them and the University of Bristol in the future. The Rocket Factory initiative was supported by and promoted through the Careers Service, which organised an event to introduce interested undergraduates to the program.

It is a truly exciting time to be a scientist in Bristol. The growing community of scientific start-ups welcomes people with innovative ideas and the determination to make those ideas work. If you have what it takes, keep your finger on the pulse and look out for opportunities - there are more of them than you think.

Featured image: Perry Grone / Unsplash

Have you worked for a start-up? Get in touch!