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Chinese explore innovation centre excellence

Chinese explore innovation centre excellence

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Chinese officials have toured a thriving business support centre for entrepreneurs in Hampshire as they look to replicate its success back home.

Government representatives from the Guangxi Zhuang region in south China included Fareham Innovation Centre as part of a fact-finding trade mission in the UK.

With 15 workshops and 24 offices, and next to Daedalus airport at Lee-on-the-Solent, the centre is run for start-ups and early-stage firms by innovation centres specialist Oxford Innovation, an UKSPA member.

Richard May, the centre's incubation director, facilitated the Chinese mission after networking with a British Chambers of Commerce initiative involving trade links to China.

The 24-strong delegation was keen to see how the centre has created a thriving "ecosystem" created by occupiers, large employers, local and central government, further and higher education establishments and the Solent Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).

Visitors heard from Chris Allington, the managing director of Oxford Innovation, how the centre has close links with the University of Portsmouth, University of Southampton, Southampton Solent University and the LEP.

He spoke of a vibrant "knowledge exchange", where occupiers at the centre share ideas, training, research and development with the universities and neighbouring Centre of Excellence in Engineering and Manufacturing Advanced Stills Training (CEMAST).

CEMAST is a gateway to skills centre for more than 900 students in apprenticeship programmes with partner companies such as BAE Systems, GE Aviation, Virgin Atlantic, Coopervision, Burgess Marine and Jensen Motorsport.

Launched in April 2015, the purpose-built £5.3m Fareham Innovation Centre is operated by Oxford Innovation on behalf of owner Fareham Borough Council; full house was called in spring, two years ahead of schedule.

In total, there are 110 people working for 27 businesses on site, plus a further 36 local businesses regularly using drop-in facilities, such as meeting rooms.

Chris said afterwards: "What we have here is the makings of a world-class hub for aviation, aerospace engineering and advanced manufacturing, with a thriving ecosystem created by our customers, large employers, government, local universities, CEMAST and Solent LEP.

"This compelling mix, where innovation flourishes, has caught the imagination of the Chinese. They regard Fareham Innovation Centre as a prototype and our model could be the next British export to China."

Afterwards, Richard said: "Oxford Innovation forge links with most key global economies to best usher our customers wanting to trade internationally. Indeed, we recently held a roadshow at the centre on how small-to-medium size enterprises can do business in China, with a focus on the significant manufacturing province of Guangdong.

"The link strengthens our support for product prototyping and contract manufacturing in China and there is a possible opportunity for Oxford Innovation and its partners to create an efficient UK-wide gateway to China for innovators."

The Fareham Innovation Centre was built by the borough council with support from the Homes and Communities Agency.

Occupants enjoy various benefits, including a 100% business rate discount worth up to £275,000 per business over a five-year period for being within the South's first Enterprise Zone, following special designation by the then Prime Minister David Cameron.

Becoming a regional powerhouse for marine, automotive, aerospace and aviation industries, the zone is set to create 3,500 jobs by 2026.

In a related development locally, Universal Tools and Production in Fareham, a precision engineering firm, has signed up for a purpose-built factory in the zone, reportedly creating a further 40 jobs over the next five years.

Thanks to the achievements to date at the centre, the borough council earned plaudits from the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB). It was awarded the Most Innovative Small Business Project at the 2015 FSB awards.

Companies based at Fareham Innovation Centre include luxury carbon bikes designer LIOS, marine training provider Bachmann Training, Psion, a provider of structural integrity solutions for the Ministry of Defence, Iris Innovation, which manufacturers and distribute maritime security and leisure cameras, Constructex, maritime civil engineers, Oil & Gas research-based product designer 3-Sci and Britten-Norman, a British aircraft manufacturer and aviation services provider.

Oxford Innovation, which looks after 20 centres, specialises in running facilities which combine office space and mentoring support for start-up and early-stage firms.

Other centres in Hampshire are Ocean Village Innovation Centre and Portsmouth Technopole. 

The Chinese delegation was led by Wang Lei, Director, Expositions Affairs Bureau of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. 



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