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University of Bristol - SETsquared

Background and Context


Existing sites


  1. University Gate East - previously Regus offices
  2. Woodland Road - previously academic offices (before that, domestic residence); refurbished to create some open space and interconnecting two buildings

The facilities are split across two locations - approximately 50 metres apart: 93-95 Woodland Road contains 10 desk-stations in SETsquared's shared 'pre-incubation' space plus 30 pre-incubation grow-on desks in 9 separate rooms (each of 2-4 desks). University Gate East contains the main reception and 46 incubation desks in 13 rooms (each of 2-8 desks).

Start/End Dates


University Gate East: 2002

93 Woodland Road: 2002
95 Woodland Road: 2006 (refurbished and connected to 93 Woodland Road)


Case Study tags: learning spaces, refurbishment, setsquared, university of bristol, business start-up, south-west england, business and community engagement (bce)higher education


What is it?


SETsquared is a joint initiative between Bath, Bristol, Southampton and Surrey universities to tackle a genuine need among early-stage technology companies across Southern England; whether they have developed from university research or not.

The SETsquared Business Acceleration Centre is an award-winning business incubator for early-stage, high-tech, high-growth businesses from inside and outside the University.

The Bristol centre is well established to support early-stage companies and later-stage companies of 3-5 people or corporate spinouts, who can benefit from the high quality support environment and University links.

What happens in the space?

Private companies growing, with support from the Centre's staff and systems.

The SETsquared centre offers the highest quality office space with desk-stations, reception services, meeting rooms, air conditioned offices, a wireless LAN and a video conference facility.

SETsquared's Bristol Business Acceleration Centre is in the city centre, close to the University's Faculty of Engineering, Department of Computer Science and other leading University departments. Those joining the Centre work alongside other ventures, many of whom are at the next stage of commercial development and present a real opportunity to source partners for joint ventures or other collaborative projects.

Book shelves are positioned along the corridors of University Gate East; they are filled with books related to Law, enterprise, and other topics of interest to the people working within the space.

There is an informal/social space within University Gate East, the Coffee Room is a pleasant and comfortable room. Art is a feature of this room and the rest of the space.

Regular monthly bulletins 'What's on at SETsquared?' are made available throughout the space to keep users up to date with activities.




Funding Sources


  1. University Gate East & 93 Woodland Road: Higher Education Innovation Fund 1; South West Regional Development Agency (IT Capital
  2. Expenditure); Hewlett-Packard (IT Capital Expenditure)
    95 Woodland Road: from operating income and existing revenue support (Higher Education Innovation Fund 2-4)




What technology is being used and how is it being used?

• Intranet (which, the management admit, is not being used to its full potential).
• There is a wireless network available throughout the space.
• SETsquared uses an electronic room booking system, Room Wizard, developed by Steelcase. Further details are available here.
• PictureTEL video conferencing is also available to users of the main meeting room.

How does the technology add value?

• Technology provides a repository for the information that is vital to the successful operation of the space.
• Technology also helps support SETsquared events.
• The wireless network provides additional flexibility for users.
• A Jobs and Roles website is available to all users of the SETsquared services.


Success Factors


What makes the space successful?

Greville Commins believes that the success of the space is down to a combination of, "The quality of the staff; the reputation; the momentum; the location and the mix of businesses".

What principles were behind the design?

Functionality and economy were key practical principles.

From the outset however there has also been an underlying creativity and SETsquared has very much developed as a result of continuing support, enthusiasm and input of people who have successfully carved careers out of enterprise activity.

An early example of the combination of creativity and enterprise is 'The Great and the Good Dinner Painting Collection', replica prints of which are featured throughout the space. During the Summer of 2002 SETsquared talked to many established entrepreneurs in order to refine its approach to supporting early stage technology ventures. Many of these consultations were at small dinners where conversation was stimulated around the abstract business art of Lewis Parsons. Lewis was at each dinner and captured the discussions on canvas as they happened. The information exchanged at the dinners was significant in shaping SETsquared's approach. This novel use of art was both successful and enjoyable and participants enjoyed the process and the outcomes.

SETsquared is about - 'backing enterprise and innovation' and this message is displayed on canvas prints along the corridor in the space.

What is innovative about the design? And use of the building?

Greville Commins feels that there is nothing particularly innovative about the design, 'They are bog-standard offices'. He feels rather that 'It's the style and delivery of the support and concentration of high-tech businesses that is special' about the space.


Top Tips


It's about 'soft' space. Spend money on people not facilities.


Lessons Learned


What changes have you made as a result of receiving feedback?


  • Relocation of pre-incubation open-plan space to more 'alive' part of Woodland Road.
  • Installation of mobile (wireless) conference phone.
  • Colour scheme in Woodland Road changed.
  • Changes have generally been made as a result of ad hoc feedback.

What could have been improved? What lessons have been learned?


A different colour scheme was introduced as a result of feedback.


Contact Details


The Centre is run by Nick Sturge and Greville Commins working very closely with the Research and Enterprise Development team at the University.

Nick Sturge - nick.sturge@setsquared.co.uk
Greville Commins - greville.commins@setsquared.co.uk


Address: University Gate East, Park Row, Bristol, BS1 5UB
Telephone: +44(0)117 903 1120


Case study written January 2010.