The Oxford Trust – a year in review

As with many organisations, 2020 has been a challenging year and we have had to adapt the Trust’s innovation and education programmes to a new era of working from home, flexible furlough, the world of Zoom and Teams and keeping morale up with kitchen science – as well as contributing individually to amazing COVID-19 community support projects.

With the recent focus on the development of the Oxford vaccine, our region has become one of the most significant centres for science-based research and enterprise. Investing in and inspiring future generations in science and technology is critical to maintaining the county’s – and the nation’s – position at the forefront of research and innovation. Now more than ever, we need to create a local pool of science talent to step into science-based jobs in our region and to support innovators and entrepreneurs to develop their ground-breaking ideas. That’s why our founders Sir Martin and Lady Audrey Wood set up the Trust 35 years ago and, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, we have not forgotten our original mission ‘to encourage the pursuit of science and enterprise’.

 

Our innovation programmes

With the Wood Centre and the Oxford Centre for Innovation in operation, we now have nearly 40,000 sq ft of innovation space within the city to support science and tech start-ups and spin-outs. Despite recent circumstances, we saw an unprecedented level of enquiries for innovation space in 2020 and welcomed five new occupiers to our centres: Spintex, Akrivia Health, Living Optics, Printpool Additive Manufacturing and SSEN. They all have exciting stories to tell, with many working on leading-edge start-up ideas from artificially spun silk and rapid prototyping to advanced imaging and a new local energy network.

This year we have also seen several businesses expand and grow in our centres, including the online learning platform, Learning with Experts, Cold Quanta with its Innovation UK grant to develop quantum technologies and Visual Meaning, which provides a combination of visual and systems thinking techniques to support organisational transformation. If you want to find out more about the thirty plus businesses in our innovation centres, read the interviews with CEOs and founders here

We’ve also said good-bye to a few successful businesses like Ultromix, who have developed a new echo-based ultrasound diagnostic support tool for coronary artery disease. These “graduations” are a key part of our strategy, allowing a cohort of new businesses to benefit from our support.

Eagle Lab launched at Wood Centre

In October, Barclays launched its new Eagle Lab at our Wood Centre for Innovation with a week-long series of online events. Oxford is one of a network of 25 Labs, which are aiding nearly 2000 entrepreneurs to grow their businesses by providing co-working space, cultivating a community of like-minded entrepreneurs and on-site business support to maximise the growth of early-stage start-ups. They already have some interesting businesses involved, including Prismea and Quorbit.

Escalator Support Programme

Our Escalator Support Programme continues to give a leg up to fledgling businesses. And this year Curacode, developers of an innovative anti-counterfeiting technology, scooped the Trust’s #StartedinOxford Demo Day 2020 prize to join the programme. We direct over £200,000 towards business support every year and, over the last 35 years, we have helped dozens of tech companies to flourish and grow, including Mirada Medical, Perspectum Diagnostics, Natural Motion and Oxford Computer Consultants.

Laboratory and workshop space

During the year we started a programme to convert some of our facilities into laboratory and workshop style spaces with the first ones coming on stream during lockdown. We have plans to accelerate this programme so watch out for some news in the near future!

 

Our education & engagement programmes

In October, we marked the 30-year anniversary of very first science centre which opened to the public in 1990. Since then, Science Oxford has inspired countless children and their families about science, technology, engineering and maths. A legacy we have continued with our new Science Oxford Centre in Headington and our year-round events and outreach programme to schools.

At the start of 2020 the Science Oxford team was in full swing – our family days were continually sold out; our new Science Oxford Centre was booked with school visits until July; and the outreach team were busy running activities in local schools. As with many other organisations across the country, we had to suspend operations in March and move programmes online, including running our first Big Science Event at home to engage young people with science and show that that they could still be scientists – even in their own kitchens and gardens (see photo of our winners). For more information on Science Oxford’s year in review, see here.

 

Fulfilling our mission

One of our newest residents at our Wood Centre for Innovation is a “graduate” of Science Oxford. As a teenager Alex Greenhalgh, CEO and Co-founder of Spintex, won a Nuffield Foundation Bursary in microbiology through one of our programmes and has now gone on to set up a brilliant new start-up that is developing artificially spun silk.

What do we say we are trying to do? Inspire the next generation of scientists and support innovators and entrepreneurs…