We were delighted to welcome Bill Esterson MP, Shadow Minister for International Trade and Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) to Sensor City last week.
In addition to his international interests, as MP for Sefton Central, Mr Esterson was keen to find out more about our innovation hub’s activities and impact on the Liverpool City Region.
Mr Esterson was greeted by our acting Executive Director, Dr Joanne Phoenix, who provided an overview of the office, event and laboratory space within Sensor City and outlined the specialist entrepreneurial and engineering expertise available that sensor and IoT focussed member companies can tap into.
She also explained how Sensor City links in with the wider Knowledge Quarter and partner organisations.
Good practice in Business Support
As well as learning about the available support for SMEs, Mr Esterson was interested to hear about the pipeline of student and graduate run tech start-ups that Sensor City is helping to develop.
He understood the commercial merit in providing them with work space through hot desk provision and early stage business development support.
He also explained how lifestyle businesses, which may currently only employ 1 or 2 people, form a really important part of the economy and have huge growth potential given the right impetus.
Mr Esterson believes that many lifestyle companies are currently underperforming however, due to a fear of taking on financial commitments and a lack of funding for early stage companies, which is something he’s keen to change.
Mr Esterson said: “Part of the challenge for them is knowing where to start and go to for help.
“We need to devise a business support framework in the UK as we currently don’t have one front door.”
One of his ongoing projects is focussed on discovering good practice in business support for start-up and scale-up businesses.
Mr Esterson added: “The USA has a good model in which the Government is the initial point of contact and organisations such as universities, innovation hubs and financial institutions undertake the delivery. Germany and Singapore also have easily navigable systems.”
A recent IoD report, Lifting the Long Tail, backs up Mr Esterson’s claims that the UK needs to develop a more formal national business support framework to assist SMEs on the journey of absorbing existing productivity-enhancing initiatives into their organisation.
Sensor City has already assisted many businesses across a range of sectors, to rapidly translate their innovative sensor concepts into commercially viable solutions and is working to engage both industry and academic partners to further help facilitate this development.
Mr Esterson remarked: “It is great to see first-hand how Sensor City is playing a key part in the overall picture.
“Growth accelerator initiatives like Sensor City can help to plan and deliver more ambitious regional deliveries, using existing organisations.”
In house engineering department
As part of his visit to Sensor City, Mr Esterson was given a tour around the rapid prototyping laboratories at Sensor City.
He was shown the diversity of our cutting edge electronic and mechanical kit on site, including PCB equipment, multi-material 3D printers, a digital microscope and pre-compliance testing environmental chambers.
Daniel Watson, Lab Manager at Sensor City, explained: “It’s unusual to find all of this equipment in one place, as normally it’s very specialised work.
“By pulling different capabilities together, we’re able to help SMEs leapfrog from idea to prototype at pace.”
One of the current projects being worked on in our labs is a 3D printed model of a sea glider for National Oceanographic Centre (NOC). Made from biodegradable PLA, the component parts are printed on Sensor City’s Stratasys 3D printer, which is able to produce a combination or blend of materials in one print.
Mr Esterson said: “I’ve done a lot of thinking about the future of plastics recently.
“Innovative technologies and production techniques such as this can only be a positive for the sustainability of both industry and the environment.”
Sensor City’s blend of specialist equipment, knowledge and skills in one accessible location, as well as its strong connections with other hubs and research institutions, is also driving demand for our services from organisations outside of the UK.
In the past year, the team at Sensor City has undertaken work for companies from across 3 continents, living up to its name as a global innovation hub.
Dr Joanne Phoenix said: “We have seen a number of companies taking up hot desk packages at Sensor City and using us as their UK or northern base.
“We’ve recently assisted a sports innovation company from Cyprus, with the design and fabrication of a flexible PCB and 3D printing of a range of prototypes for their smart insoles. We have also linked them in to the Liverpool John Moores University School of Sport and Exercise Sciences to trial their prototypes.
Sheffield-based BiBCOM, who develop remote condition monitoring and coaching tools, are another example of an SME which has been attracted to locate in Sensor City to take advantage of its unrivalled connectivity.
As a result, the company has benefitted from connections to academic expertise at Liverpool John Moores University for assistance with suitable product evaluation, and to premier sports clubs for trial work.
Mr Esterson took the opportunity to speak with BiBCOM’s owner and employees from other companies based within Sensor City as part of his visit.
He met SMEs from a cross section of industries including healthcare, creative and digital, who are all members of the collaborative community being fostered at Sensor City.
The LCR 4.0 delivery team based at Sensor City were also introduced to the MP and talked through some of the innovative engineering approaches and digital assists they are currently working on for SMEs in the Liverpool City Region.
Concluding his visit to Sensor City, Bill Esterson MP summarised: “I’ve been to a lot of incubators, but you are doing something quite different.
“It’s great to see real products being produced here and to find out about the positive impacts that SMEs have experienced from using Sensor City as an outsourced engineering department.”