As Culham Innovation Centre in south Oxfordshire celebrates 22 years of providing flexible workspace for innovators in the science sector, the innovation centre is also reflecting on its contribution to cutting-edge technology that is helping to deliver potentially world-changing solutions. 

Based within the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority’s (UKAEA) Culham Campus near Abingdon, the Innovation Centre has played a key role in incubating and supporting innovative companies on their growth journeys since it first opened in February 2001. One of its first clients and significant successful spinouts was Reaction Engines, who pioneer high-speed flight, space access and sustainable technologies and have gone on to employ over 250 staff across their offices at Culham Campus and Denver, Colorado, US. 

Managed by Oxford Innovation Space, Culham Innovation Centre Director Shelley Furey said: “Over the last 22 years, we have supported over 200 businesses in biotech, high-tech engineering, and fusion energy. Being based at one of Europe’s leading science and technology campuses, means that we are also at the heart of fusion technology developments, with First Light Fusion, General Fusion and now Tokamak Energy planning on building fusion facilities at the UKAEA owned campus.” 

Tokamak Energy was initially based at the Innovation Centre and General Fusion currently have a satellite office space at the centre, whilst they await their new site on the campus.  General Fusion’s Senior Vice President, Technology Delivery, Michael Cappello explains: “We are thrilled to be based in the Culham Innovation Centre, which places us at the heart of a thriving fusion community. Our close proximity to our fusion demonstration site, set to break ground this year, gives us unmatched access to the largest concentration of fusion-based expertise and suppliers in the UK.” 

By providing flexible office and lab space, Culham Innovation Centre is ideally placed to play a key role for the fusion supply chain as well as providing incubator space where the young technologies can develop and contribute to fusion technology in the future.  

Fusion energy has great potential to deliver safe, sustainable, low carbon energy for generations to come and is based on the same processes that power the sun and stars. “With more and more companies taking an interest in fusion, Culham Innovation Centre provides an ideal place to be located. Its role becomes ever more vital as the fusion ecosystem grows,” says Valerie Jamieson, UKAEA’s development manager for The Fusion Cluster.  

Technologies benefiting from fusion R&D include robotics, computing, and artificial intelligence and applications for these technologies are expected in other fields, such as space exploration, mining, healthcare, and transport.  The Innovation Centre is also home to clients including sensor companies, an automated testing company, as well as a battery technology company, with all companies at the centre benefitting from community collaborations on Campus.  

Innovation Director, Wendy Tindsley, explains: “As Innovation Director, I provide typical business support from finding grants or collaboration opportunities or getting the community working well together. Some great opportunities for companies based at the Innovation Centre have come from connecting and collaborating with UKAEA and making the innovation centre a strong contributor to what is happening at Culham Campus.” She added: “It’s great that as a relatively small centre, Culham Innovation centre is helping to deliver potentially world-changing technologies.”   

Celebrations to mark the 22nd year anniversary included coffee and cake and an opportunity for businesses past and present to reflect on their experience at the Centre.