Synapse is awarded a Knowledge Transfer Partnership with the University of Leicester, after securing £380,000 of grant income

Synapse – a business spreadsheet collaboration company based at the Innovation Birmingham Campus – has concluded the 2014/5 financial year with a total of £380,000 secured in grant and investment income. In addition, a Knowledge Transfer Partnership with the University of Leicester has just been awarded to further accelerate product development.

Started in 2012 by serial entrepreneur Brian Donnelly, Synapse has tripled in size to 18 people during the 2014/5 financial year. A £250,000 SMART Grant from Innovate UK, a £25,000 investment from Finance Birmingham, a £15,000 grant secured via a Coventry University project, and a £90,000 grant from The Birmingham Post’s Regional Growth Fund have supported the tech start-up’s rapid growth. Revenues have grown from £300,000 in 2012 to over £1.3 million in 2014.

Synapse’ largest clients include a high street bank and a leading Swedish furniture retailer.

Brian Donnelly, CEO of Synapse Information Ltd said: “Despite the prevalence of enterprise software, companies large and small still opt to produce financial reports using spreadsheets, which are manually cut and pasted together every time amends and new data are inputted. Spreadsheets offer employees a familiar, flexible format, but the time wasted and significant margin for error created by cutting and pasting various versions – sometimes as many as 200 versions are being worked on simultaneously –is bad for business.

“Synapse has spent three years developing a collaborative solution which connects standard spreadsheets through our cloud service and automates all of the cutting and pasting work in the background. Every change made by a user ripples through to every other user in a controlled and auditable manner, so ‘one version of the truth’ is instantly accessible across the business. There is no software to install or buy and no disruption to business as usual, which is resonating with our clients.

“The three grants we secured in the 2014 financial year – together with the investment from Finance Birmingham – has enabled the team to triple in size to 18. The newly awarded Knowledge Transfer Partnership grant will enable us to carry out much more product development work during this coming 2015 financial year, alongside a team from the University of Leicester.”

Synapse’s growth has also been supported by loan finance from Aston Reinvestment Trust (ART), which is also based at the Innovation Birmingham Campus.

The previous business founded by Brian Donnelly was relocated from the UK in order to grow the business exponentially in California’s ‘Silicon Valley’. Over a series of investment rounds with US venture capitalists, he raised a total of $30 million, enabling the team to grow to 160 with a customer base of 70 large clients, before exiting the business and subsequently returning to the UK.

Brian Donnelly added: “I made the decision to create a new start-up in Birmingham because the wealth of companies in the region makes it easier to establish a strong customer base. In addition, recruiting a high-skilled team of software engineers and marketers is much more straightforward and inexpensive than it would be in London. Birmingham is significantly underrated as a location for tech businesses.”

Innovation Birmingham expands its Entrepreneurs for the Future programme, as three new tech start-up enrol

A new employee and Entrepreneur in Residence have joined Innovation Birmingham’s Entrepreneurs for the Future programme, as three new tech start-ups have enrolled. In the five years the programme has been running, the start-ups have secured over £7 million of investment during initial funding rounds.

Entrepreneurs for the Future is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). To date, the programme has incubated 105 start-ups, with close to 200 new employee and director positions created since November 2009. The latest new tech ventures are: Spica Technologies – a software product development business;, which is a direct competitor of Just Eat; and Wander City, which has set out to provide real time information to users based on their personal profile and geolocation.

The new Entrepreneur in Residence position has been taken up by Andy Honess, who is a tech advisor and investor, with over 25 years’ experience in the enterprise software industry. Andy has held senior sales and executive leadership positions in IBM, Siebel and a number of start-ups. He was also the managing director and vice president of QlikTech for five years, helping the company to a successful IPO on the NASDAQ.

Holly Watkins has also joined the team as the Entrepreneurs for the Future Programme Administrator, having completed her Level 2 Apprenticeship via Birmingham Metropolitan College.

Dr David Hardman MBE, CEO of Innovation Birmingham said: “The continued growth of the Entrepreneurs for the Future programme is driving the success of the Innovation Birmingham Campus. Our Faraday Wharf building is fully let, with a lot of the recent uptake in office space coming from the expansion of the businesses that have graduated from the Entrepreneurs for the Future centre. These innovative businesses are creating new jobs for the local economy and driving the growth of Birmingham’s tech community.

“Launching a new business in a sector specific incubation centre ensures it has a much better chance of succeeding and becoming commercially viable. We have a full-time team working in the centre, together with the three Entrepreneurs in Residence, who guide, drive, motivate and facilitate connections for the start-ups, to ensure they become investment-ready and/or revenue generating in as short a time as possible. “

Those enrolled onto the Entrepreneurs for the Future programme benefit from up to nine months free office space, telecoms, meeting rooms and superfast broadband. In addition, there is continued mentoring from the Entrepreneurs in Residence, regular visiting expert sessions, a series of workshops and events, networking opportunities and peer-to-peer support. All of this support comes for free; Innovation Birmingham does not take an equity stake in the start-up businesses, as enrolment onto the Entrepreneurs for the Future programme is part-funded by an ERDF grant.

Innovation Birmingham has designed its tech incubation programme in order to capture serial entrepreneurs, who as individuals are working on more than one project concurrently. The Innovation Birmingham Campus is open 24/7, enabling people to work flexibly, or cram in the hours when needed.

Let’s recognise Birmingham’s tech hubs

Birmingham is being overlooked as a tech hub – and indeed a ‘Tech City’. The vast number already employed in the tech sector, the calibre of computer science graduates from the University of Birmingham, Aston University and Birmingham City University, along with the city’s impressive stats on start-up activity all paint a solid picture. So, why does it feel like I’m fighting a losing battle when trying to change the perception of London-based influencers?

Birmingham’s tech community has four main centres of activity; Birmingham Research Park in Edgbaston, specialising in life sciences; The Custard Factory and Fazeley Studios in Digbeth, with their vibrant community of creative companies; Longbridge Technology Park; and our dynamic centre for tech start-ups at the Innovation Birmingham Campus. If, as a city – a ‘Smart City’ – we could champion these four centres in an effective joined-up fashion, perceptions should be changed overnight.

Each of these four centres has considerable growth potential to meet future demand. Other work spaces and co-working environments will – and are – emerging across the city, which is good news for the continued growth of the local economy and its variety proposition. However, promoting the four aforementioned well-established centres as the focus of a Birmingham Tech City campaign could leapfrog us ahead of other ambitious cities. Let’s learn from Cambridge, where a handful of centres with distinct offerings have made it a formidable global hotbed for tech innovation.

Effective campaign branding and clarity of message would bring much more investment and profile to Birmingham’s rapidly growing pool of tech start-ups and SMEs. It would also help to lure talented tech professionals to relocate here, turning the current trickle into a transformational flood. Birmingham’s compelling quality of life metrics have resonated with the professional services sector of late; we now need to see the same number relocating here to work in the tech sector.

Report from the March meeting of the Birmingham Smart City Alliance

Originally posted on Birmingham Smart City Alliance:

For our March meeting, we had useful updates on the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP’s strategy for accessing European Structural and Investment Funding (ESIF), on a Virgin Media pitching competition for entrepreneurs, and on a new “Smart Transport” trial being launched by Centro in partnership with WMG‘s “Hub of All Things” technology platform and enable-ID, a start-up company that’s emerged from Alliance activity over the last year.

Pam Waddell of Birmingham Science City gave a presentation on how the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP is coordinating local proposals into the ESIF funding. You can download Pam’s presentation here. Whilst the calls for this funding will be national, the LEP is doing a huge amount of work with Central Government agencies to prepare local proposals to have the best possible chance of succeeding.

Brian Mitchell of Virgin Media described Virgin’s upcoming “Pitch to Rich competition. A prize of…

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Ladywood Health & Community Centre – first to reap WiFi benefits!

Members of the public wanting to improve their computer skills or access useful online services at Ladywood Health and Community Centre will no longer have to go elsewhere following the installation of free WiFi for visitors.

Despite being commonplace in today’s society, those using the centre had been long used to being told there wasn’t any internet connection – and sometimes resorted to asking if they could use staff computers to access the internet.

But now though, thanks to Birmingham City Council’s Digital Birmingham team and the Government’s Super-Connected Cities Programme, the building on Vincent Street West, is amongst the first Birmingham buildings to go live with safe, secure public WiFi through the scheme.

Read the full press release here.

Birmingham seen as open data exemplars says The Cabinet Office

Open Data event March 2015
Paul Maltby (2nd left) and Jemma Insall (right) from Cabinet Office with David Hardman from Innovation Birmingham and Heike Schuster-James from Digital Birmingham



Digital Birmingham welcomed Paul Maltby, Director Open Data and Government Innovation and his team from Cabinet Office to Birmingham to showcase the excellent work being done by the wider digital community. Their discussions with Mark Rogers (CEX of Birmingham City Council) and Councillor Trickett (Cabinet Member for Green, Smart and Sustainable City) re-enforced the council leadership’s commitment to openness and transparency as driver for change. This half day event supported by Innovation Birmingham at Faraday Wharf displayed a firework of outstanding work done in Birmingham and the wider region.

12 different stories were told by panellists from West Midlands Open Data Forum, Mappa Mercia, Impact Hub, Sandwell Trends/@policyworks, NHS, RnR, RAWM, Balsall Heath and Castle Vale Neighbourhood Forums, Boilerhouse, Podnosh, Birmingham City Council, Centro and Amey. This demonstrated that open data is being used more and more, on its own and mashed with other data. However, all stories start and end with people. Citizens seeking to understand their neighbourhood to build new homes or help vulnerable people in the community drive projects and develop the skills to find and use the right data. People at work who need to raise more funding, understand where their clients come from or wish to gain better visibility for their organisation get engaged.

Projects in the region are responding to those needs by providing help with data skills, creating powerful but simple to use visualisation tools and build networks with these communities. People in big organisations on the other hand are exploring ways to embed open data and open innovation into the business to drive innovation together with their supply chain and improve their own operations.

Cabinet Office visitors were impressed by the range of activities and engaged in the lively discussions. Some of these examples are sure to make it into their best practice collection!

Festival of Code – could you help?

This summer Young Rewired State are bringing their hugely successful Festival Of Code back to Birmingham.

Young Rewired State | Festival of Code 2015
Young Rewired State | Festival of Code 2015

Happening over the week of 27th July to 2nd August, The Festival of Code brings together young developers, all of them under the age of 18. During the week they attend centres around the country and build web and mobile applications that attempt to solve real world problems, with each project using at least one piece of open government data.

Then, over the weekend up to 2000 young people will descend upon Birmingham to present their projects and get feedback on how to take them further. Continue reading Festival of Code – could you help?

Innovation Birmingham prepares for 2015 launch of its €2 million Climate KIC programme

The West Midlands 2015 Climate KIC programme of activity will be launched on Tuesday 24thFebruary. Innovation Birmingham acts as the regional hub, which this year has been assigned €2 million to deliver a range of initiatives for Climate-KIC; Europe’s largest public-private partnership focused on tackling climate change.

The main programmes to be launched on 24th February are; Pioneers into Practice – a grant-funded European exchange programme for 50 low carbon specialists; the Low Carbon Accelerator Programme for 30 start-up businesses; ClimateLaunchpad – a programme enabling 10 business ideas to become a commercial reality; and a range of grant-funded education programmes aimed at students, professionals and organisations. Applications are being sought for all of the programmes, with the cut-off date being 23rd March 2015.

35 initial expressions of interest for the Low Carbon Accelerator have been lodged from across the West Midlands in the first few days of the application process being open. It is designed to accelerate the growth of early stage businesses, awarding up to €20,000 of grant funding to each company who successfully progresses through the nine month programme.

The recent growth of the Climate-KIC programme enabled Innovation Birmingham to create 10 new jobs during 2014. In 2015, in addition to the main activity programmes, Innovation Birmingham will also be responsible for the delivery of Climate-KIC’s annual Innovation Festival, which will be held at The ICC in October. The event attracts over 500 climate change practitioners from across Europe.

Katharine Fuller, Innovation Birmingham’s Senior Project Manager for EU Projects said: “There are only six Climate-KIC Regional Innovation Centres across Europe, so having one in the West Midlands is a significant asset to the regional climate change agenda. We will be spending €2 million during the course of this year on initiatives that will have a real impact on our environment and the economy.”

Katharine Fuller continued: “The significant increase in the Climate-KIC funding that we’ve been able to secure for the West Midlands is a reflection of the rapid growth of the region’s sustainable energy market. The low carbon agenda is capturing the interest of serial entrepreneurs, as well as prompting industry professionals to step away from a corporate career path and start their own business.”

Dr David Hardman MBE, CEO of Innovation Birmingham said: “Since the closure of Advantage West Midlands, we have been lobbying our European partners to increase the amount of funding for climate change initiatives across the West Midlands. We are delighted to have secured a record €2million this year to allocate across a number of low carbon projects – and amongst partner organisations – which will support the work of businesses, professionals and students.”

Innovation Birmingham’s Climate KIC West Midlands Regional Innovation Centre is one of six across Europe that are working to develop the low carbon economy within their regions. The other Regional Innovation Centres are located in; Valencia (Spain); Emilia Romagna (Italy); Hessen (Germany); Lower Silesia (Poland) and Central Hungary. The Centres are supported through the Climate Knowledge Innovation Community (KIC) project, which receives funding from the European Commission through the European Institute for Innovation and Technology.

To enquire about, or apply for any of the programmes, please contact Claire

Innovation Birmingham Campus-based Breaking Free Group named as a West Midlands winner of the Great Faces of British Business competition

Breaking Free Group; a digital healthcare business based at the Innovation Birmingham Campus, has been named as a West Midlands winner of the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills’ (BIS) Great Faces of British Business competition.

The competition, which attracted over 500 entrants, is run in association with BT. The national winner will be decided by a 50/50 combination of judging and a public vote, which is open until 23rdFebruary. The top prize is £30,000 worth of Government support.

Business Minister Matthew Hancock said: “I’m delighted to see the Great Faces of British Business competition celebrating the small businesses up and down the country that form the bedrock of economic growth. Breaking Free Group is a brilliant example of a successful small firm run by enterprising and hardworking people. We are backing them all the way and, with the advice and support on offer, there has never been a better time to start and grow a business in the UK.”

Breaking Free Group has created the world’s first online healthcare intervention programme in prisons, in partnership with the Ministry of Justice and NHS England. The product – Breaking Free Online – is an evidence-based addiction treatment enabling people to overcome alcohol and drug dependence. By tapping into the rapidly growing digital health market, the company aims to use its web-based treatment programme to complement existing healthcare services in the public sector, charity sector and beyond.

Clive Bawden, Commercial Director of Breaking Free Group said: “We are extremely pleased to be a finalist in BIS’ national competition for small businesses. Breaking Free Group was set up to deliver innovative and dynamic digital healthcare solutions, and this recognition testifies our principal focus of empowering people to address and overcome substance dependency and addition.

“At present, the Ministry of Justice and NHS England have specified the Breaking Free Online treatment programme for use in 10 UK prisons, but we are confident this number will rise as we continue to work with them to develop the service.”

To find out more about the regional winners, visit The national final consists of the regional winners from the competition’s three categories: best exporter, most innovative business, and best growth story.

The ‘grand prix’ winner, selected by a national judging panel, will be announced in March. The prize includes a bespoke creative advertising campaign worth £30,000, along with an iPad Air and unlimited BT Wi-Fi for 12 months, courtesy of BT Business. In addition, the winner will also receive a package of export support from UK Trade & Investment.

Breaking Free Group is one of 15 young companies receiving support from Innovation Birmingham’s e4f Inspire programme, which delivers a series of workshops, keynote events, entrepreneur dinners, off-site visits, funded internship/apprenticeship placements, and peer group sessions, in order to accelerate the growth of entrepreneurial tech companies.

To find out more about the Innovation Birmingham Campus and the innovative work its tenants are doing, visit its news page>

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