Birmingham to lead extension of voucher scheme to neighbouring LEPs

In the past few weeks, Government has announced that the Superfast Broadband Voucher Scheme will be extended.

The scheme which allows SMEs to receive up to £3000 grant funding to connect to new, superfast broadband connections has been a big success for Birmingham over the last twelve months and things are about to get even more exciting. Over the past few months, we have been negotiating with Local Authorities from our surrounding areas and we are delighted to announce that Birmingham will become the lead organisation and administrative centre for the newly extended scheme which will now cover the following Local Enterprise Partnerships:

  1. Greater Birmingham and Solihull
  2. Worcestershire
  3. Stoke on Trent and Staffordshire
  4. The Marches – Herefordshire, Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin

For further information about the voucher scheme, please visit or alternatively contact Stuart Lester.

Our first annual report: the Birmingham Smart City Alliance 2013-2015

Originally posted on Birmingham Smart City Alliance:

(Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall opening the Harborne Food School, with founders Robert Smith and Shaleen Meelu. The Food School is one of the initiatives the Birmingham Smart City Alliance has supported over the last two years)

In February 2013, IBM, SCC, Millennium Point and Innovation Birmingham – then known as Birmingham Science Park Aston – agreed to form a “Birmingham Smart City Alliance” as a collaboration to stimulate and support “smart” projects and initiatives in Birmingham.

Our inspiration was the work of Kelvin Campbell, the architect of Birmingham’s “Big City Plan”. Kelvin designs cities according to the “Massive / Small” principle: successful cities create “massive” amounts of the “small”-scale innovations that make a difference to people, businesses and communities.

We realised that we could help Birmingham become more successful at “Massive / Small” innovation by collaborating in a focused way on the “Smart City” agenda and making…

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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.

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