A note from Nick Sturge: Collaboration for Commercial Success

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Collaboration has been a principle for us since day one, and it is first on our list of company values. We have also shouted loudly about how collaborative the Bristol & Bath city-region is. But is it really? It’s so easy to just bandy the word around without walking the talk.

I thought it would be worth sharing a few examples of how we collaborate in the interest of helping others build on what I do still believe is a collaborative spirit in the city. As the city-region grows – nay, starts to burst at the seams – it is perhaps a risk that, as one my advisory board observed, organisations can enter a city with sharp elbows to gain profile for commercial gain. I would argue that one can still achieve commercial gain by taking a collaborative approach. Co-opetition, if you will. Public, private, and third sector alike, we have a common purpose and there’s room for all in helping us get there.

Earlier this month I joined a highly collaborative trade mission to Boston and Chicago with Mayors Rees and Bowles, Invest Bristol & Bath, The University of Bristol, Destination Bristol, Bristol Airport, and a selection of technology businesses. This trip will be featured in the FT this week and reflects a week of meetings with various US parties to promote Bristol & Bath as a business destination, help companies understand more about how to penetrate the US market, and for many of us, to learn more about the two cities. The collaboration between the parties enabled a broader range of meetings than might not otherwise have been possible – creating better opportunities for the companies that came with us, and greater learnings for us to bring back – not to mention the start of a long term relationship between here and those two cities. Partnerships don’t happen overnight, you have to work at them.

Two other highly collaborative Engine Shed projects that I’m working on are the Bristol Technology Festival and the Scaleup Safari.

The thinking behind the Festival is not to try and create a series of events, but harness the power of some existing, anchor events – in this case BrisTech, Technotopia, and Bristol Technology Festival – and encourage others to run events in the same week, so that we can promote the whole as greater than the sum of the parts. With some truly great support from our friends at CookiesHQ we have built a website (launching any day now) to feature as many tech related events in Bristol as we can, and promote nationally and locally – not least to citizens of Bristol & Bath not familiar with the tech cluster – to showcase all the exciting things going on here. Of course, we have organised this to be the other side of October half-term to Bath Digital Festival, because collaboration geographically is really important.

Scaleup Safari 2019 happens this week, and brings a cohort of scaleup leaders and investors from London, and some scaleup actors from across the UK, to meet with some local scaleup leaders and actors in Bristol & Bath, to share learnings and demonstrate the power of our local ecosystem. Again, entirely reliant on goodwill from many partners.

Within the University of Bristol, Engine Shed’s parent, we are developing the operational plans for the new Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus, which will help develop new technologies, discoveries and societal change with new methods of innovation and collaboration. Engine Shed is a part of the new Campus and so we’ll be bringing our learning of partnership working over the last 6 years to the development of this major new investment, which will be a game-changer for both the city-region and the University.

All of these happen through a deep culture of collaboration – people or organisations ‘leaning in’ to support a common purpose.

This is key to making the ecosystem thrive, for the long term. Organic collaboration, giving forward, shared gain – however you want to describe it – needs to continue, to make a positive impact on our city-region. It is the hardest style of ‘intervention’ to fund from the public sector, though can probably deliver the most in terms of systemic change. We therefore rely on goodwill, and busy people making and giving time, and support from generous businesses, to enable the spirit of collaboration in Bristol & Bath.

If you want to find out more, or want to sponsor, some of our collaborative projects, take a look at our projects page.

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