Gordon Fong and Anna Bravington

Fareham Innovation Centre. Talking to Anna Bravington, innovation director.

By Gordon Fong

My little side project of taking my Park Life video series on the road has finally begun. The aim is to leave my base at the Dorset Innovation Park and drive around the UK to visit other innovation centres, science parks, technology hubs and business clusters to find out their approach to innovation and building the community.

My first visit was to the Fareham Innovation Centre and was a quick run from Bournemouth along the M27.

I’ve known Anna Bravington for a while through my peer learning group so it was great I was able to include here in my video series. I talked to Anna, the Innovation Director, about what innovation means to her, how they build their community, working with other stakeholders, what other services make up their offering, and the benefits of being part of a bigger group belonging to the Oxford Innovation Space company.

One important factor in what makes the innovation centre more than just coworking spaces for rent, is the business support that is provided and active building of a community.

Many of the fledgling businesses have a great product, deliver a great service but most business owners aren’t taught the skills needed before starting a business. The centre helps bridge that gap.

It would be a win-win situation should be business grow so much that they outgrow their space and need to move on.

Anna believes innovation is about doing something differently. It’s not just about tech but thinking differently too and points us to the book Rebel Ideas by Matthew Syed.

I wondered about their approach to building their community as in if it us curated, is there a theme they want to follow or does it happen organically.

Business support can come in various forms from other parts of the parent group such as Oxford Innovation Advice and Oxford Innovation Finance, as well as access to Innovate UK Business Growth. The onsite support teams across the centres also have skills in strategy, marketing, bid writing and so on.

I then asked Anna about how they work with the different stakeholders involved.

The building is owned by Fareham Borough Council who have contracted Oxford Innovation Space to manage the building and service, and it was great to hear how the stakeholders have the same goals and vision when it comes to economic development and job creation for the local area.

Being part of a group that has over 30 innovation centres around the UK gives every site the opportunity to share and learn from what’s happening locally. A Founders Forum seemed to work on one site and Anna might replicate this too. The support team are definitely part of a wider network and can cross refer clients to those that have the expertise needed.

I asked about what events they hold for their tenants and in fact the day I turned up, I attended the Boardroom Business group session hosted by Beverley Poole. These are also open to the public so it is a great opportunity for those fledgling companies in the centre to meet other business owners that might be further down their own journey, to share experiences and war wounds.

The centre host events that are for tenants only and some also open to the public. Learning events, networking events and socials are all listed on their website and you can see whether they are open or not.

The innovation centre is located right next to Solent Airport in Lee-on-the Solent and boasts a range of office spaces, co-working spaces and workshop units, all part of the core building, so everyone can bump into each other over coffees in the communal areas. In addition there are meetings rooms that can also be hired, plenty of parking but no EV chargers just yet. The centre is also in the Solent Enterprise Zone.

Check out the video for the full interview.

They are only down the road from me so I will be back and hope to interview some tenants also to hear about the fantastic things they are doing and what it means to them being part of the innovation community there.

If anyone can get me a good introduction into a similar venue to do a future video, I would greatly appreciate that.

Whilst I was there, as a thank you for their time, I donated a blood pressure monitor as a part of my campaign to share the awareness on the dangers of high blood pressure and that business owners and entrepreneurs can be the last people to check in on themselves, whilst they worry about everybody and everything else.

Finally, I didn’t need to use any EV charging on this trip, but this is a summary of my drive there, showing the distance, efficiency and outside temperatures.

3.6 miles/kWh isn’t too bad for mainly motorway driving with aircon on, although there was a stretch of 50mph roadworks along the way.