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A note from Nick Sturge, Engine Shed Director: Taking Engine Shed Stateside

Published on November 21, 2018

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Well, not quite yet, but I did receive a lot of interest in what we are doing here.

As part of our Scale Up work, I attended the inaugural ‘Scale Up Practitioners Summit’ at Babson College near Boston, Massachusetts, a couple of weeks ago. Engine Shed has been recognised as an exemplar in the international Scale Up Ecosystem community, and I was with exemplars from nine other locations – Columbia, Panama, Brazil, Switzerland, Scotland, Russia, Ohio, Milwaukee, Haiti, and Saudi Arabia.

Our friend Sherry Coutu and I were representing the UK, and it was really interesting to see both the differences and similarities in the various environments, and of course the biggest difference was that Bristol & Bath is already at a very advanced level in terms of a vibrant scale up ecosystem – as can be seen from the data in the Scale Up Institute’s Annual Review 2018, which was published last week. If you look at page 35 of chapter one you’ll see that this area has seen the highest growth in number of scale up businesses in the 2013-2016 period after Cornwall, in the UK.

The most challenging aspect of this summit were the discussions around measurement. We have always taken the approach of spending our scarce human and financial resource on action more than measurement, which of course puts us at a disadvantage sometimes. But if we tried to measure everything we wouldn’t get any work done – and isn’t the anecdotal evidence and other peoples’ economic measurement (such as that referred to above) enough?

Programmes in the other countries at the summit are spending a lot of time and money on measuring their projects, as required by their funders, and they have nice stats to show for it, but they are typically providing direct support to companies, whereas we are trying to ‘enable’ the ecosystem, and thus the outcomes of what we do are harder to measure. We’ll come back to this topic I’m sure.

I also took the opportunity to meet with UK Consulate colleagues, the MIT Media Lab, City of Boston Mayor’s Office, a few local businesses both in Boston and in Warren, Rhode Island, where I visited a food-business incubator.

I got a very strong sense that the similarities in culture and business attitude between Boston and Bristol & Bath are very strong, and for many sectors this would be a great first-landing point for Bristol & Bath businesses wanting to make a foray into the vast US market. Colleagues from the Department for International Trade in Boston (whose boss visited us last week, but no need to dwell on that) made very clear to me that there was more investment capital there, on the East Coast, than there were investment opportunities.

I’ll be nudging a few partners to get a few trade missions out to Boston – I suggest there’s a lot of opportunity there. Free trade deal or not.

One final note, as we approach Engine Shed’s 5th Anniversary with a ‘Founders Lunch’ on 4th December. It turns out that on the same day in 1978, that seed of Bristol’s high-tech cluster, Inmos, opened its Bristol office in Whitefriars. What a coincidence. I’ll be reflecting on our first five years in the next newsletter, when I’ve fully come to terms with reaching that milestone!

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