FRANCISCO VELOSO UNPACKS IMPERIAL’S CONNECTION TO SCALE SPACE AND HOW THE UNIVERSITY CAN HELP DRIVE INNOVATION
As the first new businesses settle into Scale Space ahead of its formal launch, Professor Francisco Veloso, Dean of Imperial College Business School, discusses the role that Imperial College London and the Business School will play in White City’s scale-up community
Francisco, you’ve witnessed the development of Imperial’s campus at White City – what, for you, is the unique opportunity Scale Space offers?
Imperial College London is a very entrepreneurial environment and we are committed to embracing entrepreneurship in a meaningful and significant way across the whole community.
That starts with giving people the opportunity to tinker. One of our first initiatives in White City was the Invention Rooms, where we have a 3D-printing lab, an electronics lab, and a mechanical lab. Anyone from the Imperial community can go there and play and try different things.
We also have a variety of initiatives through the Enterprise Lab that are designed to support entrepreneurial ventures in their early stages of development. Blenheim Chalcot has been involved with these initiatives at several levels, for example through their support of Imperial’s Venture Catalyst Challenge competition.
When the idea of Scale Space came about, we felt it was a unique opportunity for the College to connect with local businesses throughout the various stages of entrepreneurial growth. Scale Space offers an environment where we can be engaged and connect with the entrepreneurial community, to learn, but to also take an academic lens to it and hopefully better understand the process of scaling a business. Not only supporting it, but to create a living lab.
Can you explain the idea of a living lab?
A living lab is an environment where we will bring academics and start-ups to work together to understand what it takes to de-risk on the technology and on the market side, so they can be successful. It is important that we go beyond the many anecdotes on how to scale a business and understand the broader lessons about what you need to do in certain conditions to be successful in your business and to create maximum impact.
How can scaling technology companies benefit from being university connected?
They can benefit in several ways. Firstly, by being connected to Imperial they are close to those in academia who work on the frontier of technology development and are doing relevant research to these organisations. In addition, companies can access talent from the Imperial community, through the College’s students and graduates which is another critical element for any scaling business. Companies can also benefit from being part of a vibrant ecosystem, where they can tap into ideas and make valuable connections with clients, investors, partners, etc. Finally, these companies will have access to management advice offered by the Business School on the areas highlighted above.
How does Scale Space fit within Imperial College Business School’s education strategy?
One of the reasons that Imperial developed the Business School was because it wanted to provide business education that would be underpinned by the technology and innovation that the College is famous for. Understanding the challenges facing companies in today’s business world, whether we’re talking about start-ups or established firms, requires a critical understanding of emerging areas such as technological transition, digital transformation and sustainability as well as having a robust business model.
To gain a solid understanding of these areas requires the insights of academics who research these subjects and teach relevant courses to students. Scale Space will allow us to increase our understanding of these phenomena by connecting our academics with the companies who are innovating in these areas. This experimental approach of connecting the worlds of academia and industry is a key part of our mission to address the current challenges facing businesses and society through our research and teaching.
The Business School has around 2,000 students who fall into two major groups. One group are pre-experience masters students who are pursuing a postgraduate qualification directly after their undergraduate degree. These include students who did a first degree in mechanical engineering, for example, and who now want to go into business and do a Masters in Management, or if they want to go into finance, they do a masters in that area. The other group comprise post-experience students, most of whom are studying for an MBA. These students have already been working for several years and bring this valuable experience and interest in leveraging technology for business success.
These students bring drive, a solid background and training, as well as some valuable experience, and have the aspiration to change the world. They will engage with and contribute to the scale-up businesses that are going to be located in Scale Space, through projects, internships and employment opportunities.
To learn from, value and nurture entrepreneurship, which is at the heart of Imperial College Business School, we need to be connected to it and that’s exactly what Scale Space will bring to us.
In the future, we will continue to grow and develop, but continue on a journey to differentiate, so that leveraging technology and entrepreneurship is a critical distinguishing element of the Business School.
What do you hope will be the success of Scale Space?
I see Scale Space having success in two ways. One is to create a new generation of scale-ups that are changing the world in their respective fields. The other is fundamentally reshaping our understanding of what it takes to create a successful scale-up that is grounded in research.