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TMCNet:  Bristol and Bath: Already well-known for electronics and engineering, the region boasts a new and exciting tech generation: TECH STARS

[January 11, 2014]

Bristol and Bath: Already well-known for electronics and engineering, the region boasts a new and exciting tech generation: TECH STARS

(Observer (UK) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) It would be wrong to call Bristol and Bath an emerging tech cluster. The region is well-established in microelectronics and aerospace engineering and has been a base, in recent decades, for industry leaders such as Hewlett Packard. But now a new generation of smaller tech companies has formed and is building upon existing foundations in diverse and interesting ways. New incubators and workspaces are opening up in Bristol, notably around Temple Meads station, while Bath boasts one of the country's top early-stage tech investors, Eden Ventures.


The two cities are 12 miles apart, but the gap between them has narrowed in recent years: the universities are closely linked through the dynamic SETsquared partnership and their involvement in the Bristol and Bath Science Park, which opened in 2011. Bath-based entrepreneur Glenn Smith notes: "More senior execs in the larger industries in the Bristol cluster are choosing to live in Bath . . . It all combines to form a fantastic base for modern technology companies: experienced management talent with global experience and perspective in Bath, coupled with a hipper technology and media crowd from Bristol." It's a powerful combination.

PERVASIVE MEDIA STUDIO Clare Reddington director Founded 2007 Headcount 147 residents (including 19 companies) What is it? A research lab and community workspace.

How did it come about? The studio grew out of the Watershed, a cross-artform venue on the harbourside. "We realised there was loads of potential in the creative/tech crossover, but it was reliant on government funding, which was stop-start," says Clare Reddington.

How does it work? Priority is given to applicants who bring new sets of skills to the studio. As well as desk-space and access to events and talks, the studio provides residents with guidance, feedback and support with funding.

Why Bristol? "Partly because of its size, in that it's highly connected, not too massive, and you're able to find other people to collaborate with," says Reddington.

BRIGHTPEARL Andrew Mulvenna co-founder and VP of partnerships Founded 2008 Headcount 100 What is it? A cloud-based business management application that incorporates inventory, accounting, CRM, POS and ecommerce.

How did it come about? Andrew Mulvenna and Chris Tanner founded Lush Longboards in 1999. "Like most retailers, we hit challenges scaling the business," says Mulvenna. "Lacking a budget to buy an expensive business management system, we started to build our own." How does it work? "Brightpearl helps small-to-mid-size retailers by bringing together data from across the business and putting their customers, orders, inventory and accounting all in one place," says Mulvenna.

How are they doing? The company has just launched a strategic partnership with eBay and has so far raised pounds 9m.

Why Bristol? "The biggest advantage is high-quality engineering in the south-west," says Mulvenna.

SETSQUARED BRISTOL Nick Sturge director Founded: 2003 Headcount: 60+ companies; 18 are resident at the centre.

What is it? A university partnership supporting research innovation and accelerating tech startups.

How did it come about? It was formed as an enterprise collaboration between the universities of Bath, Bristol, Exeter, Southampton and Surrey, with the aim of supporting early-stage tech businesses in the region.

How are they doing? "In the last six years, we've helped early-stage companies raise pounds 106m," says Bristol centre director Nick Sturge, "and we've created more than 650 jobs." The partnership was recently ranked fourth best business incubator in the world.

SECONDSYNC Andy Littledale co-founder and CEO Founded 2011 Headcount 15 What is it? Social media analytics for TV.

How did it come about? "We saw a big opportunity in the volumes of conversations going on around TV shows on social media," says Andy Littledale. How does it work? The company gathers around a million TV-related tweets in the UK every day and tracks the main channels getting traction on Twitter. They present this data in easy-to-read form to broadcasters and advertisers.

How are they doing? "We launched our full product in January. By the end of February, we had BBC and ITV signed up," says Littledale. "We also sell data to Sky, Channel 5 and MediaCom, and now we're looking to move into other territories, including the United States, Canada and Australia." BARDOWL Caroline Hoddinott CEO Founded: 2009 Headcount: Four What is it? A streaming subscription service for audiobooks.

How did it come about? The idea to stream audiobooks to mobile on a subscription basis came to Chris Book and his co-founders in 2009, but they didn't launch the iOS app until last June. "The concept was ahead of the market," says CEO Caroline Hoddinott.

How does it work? For pounds 9.99 a month, you can access the entire Bardowl catalogue, which is small but growing - the company has deals in place with a few big publishers such as Penguin and Macmillan, and is in negotiation with several others.

Why Bath? "It does give us space to be very focused; we're not distracted by anything." MAPLEBIRD Glenn Smith co-founder and CEO Founded 2010 Headcount Three What is it? A company developing very small flapping-wing UAVs.

How does it work? The company is developing tiny insect-like UAVs, or drones, with flapping wings instead of rotors. "Bees are good bad-weather fliers," says CEO Glenn Smith. "They have small wings but beat them really fast and can react very quickly to gusty conditions. That's the principle we're using at MapleBird." How are they doing? It's initially being developed for military use. But Smith anticipates a variety of wider applications: "Police operations, fire-fighting and industrial plant inspection through to personal drones controlled with a smartphone." SURE SENSE Tony Solon co-founder and CEO Founded 2012 Headcount Three What is it? A tablet-based kitchen management system.

How did it come about? "Commercial kitchens are obliged to keep records of how food is delivered, stored, prepared and cooked," says CEO Tony Solon. "We set out to automate all those operations and ended up developing a whole kitchen-management system." How does it work? The system uses low-cost wireless sensors to take measurements around the kitchen. Information is sent to software designed for iPad and can be accessed remotely via the cloud. Additional apps have been developed along the way to manage a variety of other kitchen operations.

How are they doing? They've signed their first contract with an NHS trust in Cornwall, with trials in progress at four other NHS trusts. The company is also working with a local university and has had interest from a major US fast food chain.

BLU WIRELESS TECHNOLOGY Henry Nurser co-founder and CEO Founded 2011 Headcount 18 What is it? A company that designs and licenses silicon IP for multi-gigabit wireless communications.

What does that mean? "It's all about high-definition mobile video," says Henry Nurser, who co-founded the company. "With the advent of smartphones, everyone's expecting to have video on the go and the operators are struggling to keep up this demand." Blu Wireless is developing intellectual property that will enable operators to exploit a big band of spectrum at around 60GHz, allowing for much faster data downloads and video streaming on mobiles.

How are they doing? "We've just shipped our first demo platform and should be able to demonstrate the technology in the second quarter of next year," says Nurser.

Why Bristol? "It has a very strong engineering base for digital signal processing and consumer electronics." HYBRIDCLUSTER Dave Benton co-founder and head of sales Founded 2008 Headcount 11 What is it? A web cluster storage and cloud platform.

What does that mean? "It's basically a platform for hosting companies, cloud providers and other IT companies who want to have resilience, scalability and data protection for the stuff they typically run in the cloud, such as applications, databases and mailboxes," says co-founder Dave Benton.

How are they doing? This year the company has nearly quadrupled in size and it's currently working with 22 clients around the world.

HIETA Mike Adams co-founder and CEO Founded 2011 Headcount Six What is it? A design company specialising in additive manufacturing.

What does that mean? "Whereas 3D printing applies to plastics and polymers, additive manufacturing generally refers to metals," says Mike Adams. "We work with high-performance metals to produce components for engine systems, mainly, that make those systems lighter and more efficient." How are they doing? Last year the company secured pounds 3.5m in funding from the Technology Strategy Board and entered a collaboration with Renishaw, currently the UK's only manufacturer of a metal-based 3D printing machine. HiETA aims to start manufacturing its own products in the next two or three years.

TRIGGERTRAP Matt Kane co-founder and CTO Founded 2011 Headcount Seven What is it? Apps and hardware for triggering cameras using a smartphone.

How did it come about? It began with a Kickstarter campaign for a camera trigger which raised $77,262, more than three times its target. "We decided to create a mobile app as well," says Matt Kane.

How does it work? Connect your smartphone to a camera with a custom-made dongle and use the free mobile app to trigger the camera in a variety of ways: the sound sensor feature takes a photo whenever the phone detects a loud noise.

How are they doing? They've just raised a further pounds 290,000 on Kickstarter for a more advanced camera trigger.

NEIGHBOURLY Nick Davies founder and CEO Founded 2012 Headcount Two What is it? A social network connecting local projects with companies in search of a cause.

How does it work? "It's part social network and part matchmaking," says founder Nick Davies. "On one side, a project can tell its story and galvanise a community by uploading photos and videos and chatting about what they want to achieve. On the other side, companies can decide where best to make a contribution. " How are they doing? After a year in development, the platform launches this month. They've already had interest from projects and companies around the UK.

XMOS Mark Lippett COO Founded 2005 Headcount 56 What is it? A fabless semiconductor company that develops multi-core microcontrollers.

What does that mean? "I use the analogy of a motorway," says Mark Lippett. "With a multi-core microcontroller, it's like every task in the system has its own lane in the motorway rather than all sharing one lane, like on a conventional micro controller. It enables lots of activities to happen at the same time without interfering with each other." How are they doing? After an impressive start, raising $71m in Series A funding in 2007, XMOS went through several years of moderate growth. Since then they've been expanding and are viewed as one of the most successful startups in the region.

NU DESINE Richard de Lancey co-founder and product design engineer Founded 2010 Headcount Six What is it? A company making musical devices that integrate with computers.

How did it come about? After studying design engineering at Loughborough, Richard de Lancey reconnected with a friend, Adam Place, who had an idea for an electronic musical instrument. They launched the AlphaSphere last March.

How does it work? "It's a sphere with 48 tactile pads that you tap to trigger music. The harder you press, the more you can manipulate the sound, which gives you a whole extra degree of expression. " How are they doing? They've sold more than 300 AlphaSpheres, which retail from pounds 700. "This is our flagship product," says de Lancey. "We have lots of other ideas ." CALVIUM Richard Hull co-founder and CEO Founded 2009 Headcount Four What is it? An app developer and creator of a DIY app-making tool.

How did it come about? Richard Hull worked at HP Labs in Bristol for 24 years before co-founding his first startup, Calvium, in November 2009. "It was a big adjustment and not always smooth sailing, but we're doing pretty well now." How does it work? As well as developing apps for clients, Calvium has created an online tool called App Furnace. "It helps you make a simple mobile app without any programming," says Hull. They are also co-producing a set of mobile apps called App Trails.

"They enhance the real world by playing you audio stories or showing images or video triggered by your location. Recently we partnered with the National Trust to do one about Soho." Captions: Photographed at the Milk Thistle bar in Bristol 1 Richard Hull Calvium 2 Mike Adams HiETA technologies 3 Clare Reddington Pervasive Media Studio 4 Nick Sturge SETsquared 5 Matt Kane Triggertrap 6 Henry Nurser Blu Wireless Technology 7 Nick Davies neighbourly 8 Caroline Hoddinott Bardowl 9 Glenn Smith MapleBird 10 Dave Benton HybridCluster 11 Tony Solon Sure Sense 12 Andy Littledale SecondSync 13 Richard de Lancey nu desine 14 Mark Lippett XMOS 15 Andrew Mulvenna Brightpearl (c) 2014 Guardian Newspapers Limited.

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