“Start-up businesses tend to be unpredictable!” says Mike Herd, Executive Director of Sussex Innovation. “Growth almost never happens in a straight line, so we try to keep our office space as flexible as we can and ensure that our members always have a suitable space for their needs.”
Uniqodo is a software company that helps retailers to add advanced promotional code features to their eCommerce stores. In many respects the business is a model Sussex Innovation tenant. They moved into a small four-person office at Sussex Innovation Croydon in early 2016, and have rapidly grown over the intervening three years, becoming a big part of the community within the hub and taking advantage of the full range of support on offer.
“We’re just about to switch offices for the second time since moving in here,” says co-founder and CEO, Chris Giddins. Our new rooms are right next door to our current space, two of the largest rooms in the building. We plan to fill them fairly quickly – we’re hoping that we will have twenty staff by the end of the year.
“Sussex Innovation has offered us a bit of everything we need. We’ve brought talented young people into the team through their Catalyst programme, and worked closely with several of their in-house support team, who are the kind of asset that you wouldn’t get in a serviced office. What really attracted me in the first place though - and keeps us pushing forward - is being around other people who are going through a similar journey, creating something, making something happen.”
Sussex Innovation’s goal is to help innovative start-ups like Uniqodo grow and create skilled jobs, supporting them through the growing pains of going from their first few staff up to 20-30 people. Once they have reached that sort of scale, most will start to look for their own premises and fly the nest.
“It’s ironic that the better we do our job, the less money we make,” says Mike Herd. “The more successful our members are, the bigger they get – so when they move out they tend to take a sizeable chunk of the rent revenue with them.”
Uniqodo’s new space became available after it was vacated by Focal, a company that builds video and audio tools for the residential sales and letting industry. Formerly known as Audio Agent, the business moved into its own dedicated space in December 2018.
Audio Agent moved their technology team into Sussex Innovation Croydon from an ‘office only’ rental space in the summer of 2016, looking for a more innovative and collaborative space to inspire new ideas.
“Because we were growing, and we were already one of the larger companies here when we arrived, we needed less hands-on support than other members,” says co-founder and Technology Director, Matt Gates. “What was really great for us were the facilities and the flexibility – the willingness to sort things out for us whenever we spoke to anyone.”
Last year, the business rebranded, moved their sales department into Croydon, acquired another company and made a huge number of new hires. Now, with nearly 120 staff, it was time to move everybody under one roof. The business retains a virtual membership with Sussex Innovation, giving it access to the networks and support available.
“Ironically, I’ve actually looked a lot more at the support since we’ve moved out!” says Matt. “We’ve commissioned an insight project from Sussex Innovation’s research advisor, with market reports for the UK, Australia and the US. Our future strategy will be based on that, as it’s some of the best data we can access.”
As with this example, any vacant space will ideally be ready to be filled by the next up-and-coming start-up, each company growing and upscaling from room to room during their time as tenants. But maintaining a constant pipeline of businesses is a logistical challenge. Any new arrivals must be equally ambitious about their growth, as well as bringing something to the innovative community around them.
Justin Butler is the founder and MD of flood risk consultancy Ambiental, tenants at the organisation’s site in Falmer for several years. He values this selective ethos, saying: “I wasn’t really ever expecting to be interviewed to take rental space in an office, but I was encouraged by it. The things that are worth doing and worth having will take a bit of work, and you have to prove yourself.”
With the start of the new year, Sussex Innovation has a range of vacant office space available at its sites in Sussex and Croydon. If you’re an innovative, ambitious start-up looking to join an entrepreneurial community and scale your business, you can preview offices and arrange a visit at tiny.cc/sincspace.