Head-to-head with Mike Foster, Oxford Innovation’s new Centre Director

This week we spoke to Mike Foster, Oxford Innovation’s (OI) new Centre Director for Oxford to find out more about his plans. Originally started by The Oxford Trust and part of SQW Group, Oxford Innovation is now recognised as the UK’s largest innovation centre operator with 24 locations housing over 1,000 early stage businesses. Mike’s role is to oversee OI’s three innovation centres in Oxford – the Oxford Centre for Innovation (OCFI), One St Aldates and our contemporary new Wood Centre for Innovation (WCFI) at Stansfeld Park in Headington. The centres offer a variety of bespoke office space, meeting and conference facilities for start-up and grow-on science and tech companies, and currently support 54 businesses with the potential to help a further 25 companies when WCFI opens in April 2019.

In addition to running the centres day-to-day, and managing the centre teams, Mike will help to build networks in the local science and tech business ecosystem. He has also been appointed as the Executive Chair for Venturefest Oxford, taking over from Lynn Shepherd, who retired last year. Mike says of his new role at Venturefest, “I look forward to leading the Venturefest team into the exciting next series of annual events in Oxford. I am delighted to have the opportunity to develop this showcase event that brings together innovators, investors and entrepreneurs to make connections that lead to new investments, new businesses and new ideas in the high-tech sector.”

Mike was attracted to the role at OI through his passion for supporting start-ups. “I want to develop a strong community of start-up and grow-on businesses in our Oxford innovation centres by running more events and supporting companies to make sure they get the help they are looking for”.

As well as supporting existing companies, Mike would like to kick-start some business ideas too. Although those plans are a little further down the line, Mike has all the right experience to work in business development, previously holding positions as business advisor, mentor, trainer, author and speaker, and has even released his own DVD. His dedication to supporting businesses also lead him to set up the AI group of companies, offering business support with book-keeping, marketing and training.

In his spare time, Mike runs – voluntarily – the Oxford Business Network (OBN). A wide-ranging group of 48 businesses, OBN hosts a regular monthly breakfast meeting on the first Friday of the month, and a selection of social events and tours of interesting places throughout the course of the year. Up-coming fixtures include a visit to Prodrive, a trip to the Fire Service in Kidlington, and a tour of Make Oxford, The Oxford Trust’s creative workspace with maker and prototyping facilities, conveniently located in the basement at OCFI. Mike is also an Enterprise Adviser for OxLEP, the local enterprise partnership, where he helps young people from schools in Didcot to improve their employability skills by working with private sector companies. His other passions are family, rugby and football.

Challenges for 2019? Mike says his key challenge is ensuring that the three centres are filled to capacity, especially our new innovation centre at Stansfeld Park. We welcome him to OI and wish him the very best of luck in his new role.