Case Studies & Testimonials
At the University Business Centres we are passionate about supporting the growth of our businesses. Come and meet some of our clients and see what they are saying about our services.
Homecoming for Halifax entrepreneurs
For proud Yorkshire lads, Acuity Digital, the chance to join Leeds Beckett University’s new University Business Centre located in historic Piece Mill in the centre of Halifax was a welcome homecoming.
Started in 2016 by Sean Walsh, and later joined by brother Liam, the innovative digital consultancy works with growing tech start-ups through to several Premier League football clubs, helping them improve their digital strategy. Acuity provide a digital intelligence audit service for brands to help them evaluate the effectiveness of all their digital marketing channels before recommending improvements as part of an overall project.
“We had both worked in the digital arena for a number of years for other companies,” reflected Sean,” but, as our careers progressed, we found we increasingly wanted the greater flexibility that running your own business brings and to have an opportunity to do things differently and take on work that interest us.”
Deciding to locate themselves in Halifax, rather than the more obvious choices of Leeds or Manchester, may seem a surprising decision for a new digital start-up but Acuity realised early on that there were many advantages to basing themselves in their home town.
“There’s a real buzz about Halifax at the moment with increased support for start-ups and more digital talent moving to the area. Our new offices within the University Business Centre are the perfect base, conveniently located with the train station just 100 meters down the road and surrounded by bars, shops and restaurants in Piece Hall. It is fabulous to be located in such a historic and state of the art building,” said Liam.
One key benefit to being based in the Centre is the ability to access the ultrafast internet connectivity provided to all Centre clients through the installation of DarkLight by University partner Exa Networks – making Halifax one of the best connected places to do business. The Centre also offers Acuity the chance to be part of what will be a growing digital community in Halifax and to access the additional support and potentially larger office space provided by the Centre as the expand.
In the immediate future Acuity Digital are looking to continue their growth, hoping to bring on new clients, reinvesting in the company and expanding the team further. They are particularly keen to work with the university to provide a platform for nurturing young talented graduates in digital and keeping them in Yorkshire.
Their advice to others thinking of starting -up is to have courage and not be scared of failure: “There is never a good or bad time to start a business,” Sean reflected, “But if you choose who you work with carefully and seek out strengths in others that you don’t already have your chances of success become greater.”
Simon Baldwin, Head of Enterprise and Operations at Leeds Beckett University, added: “It has been fantastic to welcome Acuity Digital to our Halifax University Business Centre. All of our clients have access to a wide range of support in growing their business – including advice from our partners Lupton Fawcett solicitors, Yorkshire Bank, and WGN Accountants; our free networking events; and the chance to work with Leeds Beckett’s expert academics and graduate talent. We are very much looking forward to seeing Acuity Digital grow and develop their business, thereby contributing to economic growth in Halifax, over the coming years.”
What is the name of your business and when did it become established?
Pete Rushton Transport and Design, we started trading end of May 2018.
Can you give us a brief overview of what your business does?
We provide Transport Planning and Highway Design Advice to support developments.
If a developer or consultant needs specialist highways advice in regard to planning or construction, then this is what we do.
So new accesses, new roads, roundabouts etc we plan and design them. From conception to final construction on site.
What inspired you to start your business?
My previous role was as Director of a similar company, within that role I saw there was niche demand to provide specialist support for other consultancies whilst still providing responsive advice to the end use clients.
How did you hear about the University Business Centre - Wakefield and when did you move in?
I saw a LinkedIn post and I contacted the Business Centre. I came to view the space and we moved into straight into our office in December 2018.
What attracted you to the University Business Centre?
Location, the cost, that it was more than just an office space – the whole package of support where needed and the potential for a community. It’s a great environment in a comfortable and interesting building.
The options available through the centre means that whether I needed just need a desk or an office, or even room for expansion, there is a space available for me, which is a big plus as the company moves forward.
What benefits have you experienced so far (or are you planning on taking advantage of) by being based in the University Business Centre?
Adventure support, networking events, the development or training workshops. We also get Mid Yorkshire Chamber membership for the first year and if you need it, external business support.
Having an outside perspective, whether its impartial advice from a well-established business leader or even an academic has been very helpful in this early part of developing the business and I’ve already benefited from the ideas and knowledge outside of my current experience.
I personally don’t use it, but I am aware that the centre here at Bond Terrance has superfast broadband too if you’re more online based.
How has your business developed since moving in?
After working from a home office for six months, I feel my productivity has really increased by being back in a more ‘formal’ work environment with the room needed to expand.
It has helped me to focus time better. Plus, I now have an option of a meeting room when needed, rather than a local coffee shop!
What are your plans for your business over the coming months/year?
I am looking to continue growing the team here, property and development is a very busy industry and there is plenty of work out there with some great and varied clients.
What would you say to anyone with a new or early-stage business thinking about becoming a University Business Centres client?
I wish I had taken the office on sooner as I think that certain elements of the business would have accelerated much faster. For the price the office space is amazing value. I would recommend anyone with a new or early stage business to get in touch.
If you want to use the services provided or not at all, the centre itself is very accommodating.
rebuildingsociety.com aims to harness the power of the people to keep the wheels of SMEs turning when traditional lending options fail. It provides small and medium sized businesses with loans via its peer-to-peer lending platform; connecting businesses with a community of socially minded investors who want to facilitate loans that the borrowers were not able, or did not want, to get from a bank. As a result, everyone gets a better deal on funding and communities benefit from local businesses growing and succeeding.
Most recently, the lender base has expanded in to institutional investment, with Leeds City Council using the platform to support Leeds-based businesses by contributing to their loan requirements. Financial institutions are also taking an increased interest as the innovative ideas from FinTech seep into traditional financial services.
Having been a client of the University Business Centre’s since 2011, rebuildingsociety.com has used multiple facilities including space on Queen Square before moving to the Digital Hub in 2015.
Daniel Rajkumar, Chief Executive Officer of rebuildingsociety.com said:
“George and the UBC Leeds team have been great hosts for us, allowing us to scale up and down, at short notice, with the needs of the business. The location allows us to be minutes away from the heart of Leeds’s financial district whilst benefitting from having other like-minded innovative businesses around us; the ideal balance for a FinTech firm.”
Daniel Rajkumar occasionally speaks at our events and is also a Director of Web-Translations, another UBC client.
Claire Shakespeare won a Business Advantage Award for Butterfly Tree Bags. Claire set up the company in 2015 and uses the finest quality, locally-sourced, wool and leather to create handcrafted bags from the Leeds Creative Hub.
Claire’s bags are now stocked by retailers across the country, including Moon’s new flagship store in York; and she is set to launch a new collection next year.
Speaking about winning a Business Advantage Award, Claire said: “I was really flattered. When you apply for things like this, you imagine that there’s hundreds of other people that could possibly win the title as well and you just think ‘what’s special about me?’ When somebody takes the time to listen to your story and thinks that it’s got value, it feels like an honour.”
When asked how she plans to use the prize, Claire said: “I’m just launching my new website so I’m going to use the award to look into all the relevant terms and conditions and terms of sale. GDPR is also about to come in so I’m going to make sure that everything is ship-shape ready for the new website.”
Speaking about being based in the Leeds Creative Hub, Claire said: “The community that we’ve got in the Creative Hub is brilliant because we can network in the same field. The connections from Hainsworth have been amazing and I’ve been able to collaborate on quite a few projects so far.”
Looking ahead to the next year, Claire added: “I’ve just launched a new collection so I’m looking to get that stocked all over the country this year. I’m also designing a new leather collection for next year.”
Waleed Shihadah and Jonty Abbott took home an award for their management consultancy, FluidIT Consulting. Founded in 2015 by Jonty and Gareth Murphy, FluidIT delivers business and IT transformation programmes for construction, finance and manufacturing companies across the region.
Speaking about winning a Business Advantage Award, Jonty said: “I was really chuffed to win the award – shocked and surprised! We’re a young company, we’ve only been together for a short time and given we are currently experiencing very strong growth, the timing couldn’t have been better, so I was really pleased.”
Waleed, Change Management Consultant at Fluid IT, said: “We’re probably one of the more developed businesses in the competition but we’ve only been of this size in the last couple of years. You think you’re on to a winner in terms of your proposition and what makes you different and, for someone to agree with you, it’s a really nice acknowledgement.”
When asked how the team plan to use the prize, Jonty said: “We’ve grown very quickly so our focus over the last 18 months has been on winning new business and recruiting and growing. We’ve gone from being two people to being a team of 10 and we want to learn how best to manage the legal side of our growing business.
“One of the reasons we came to the Leeds Digital Hub was to have a wider network and we see working with Lupton Fawcett as an extension of this and what we’ve been trying to achieve.”
FluidIT has been based in the Leeds Digital Hub now since summer 2017. Speaking about the experience, Jonty said: “We’ve already worked with James Harrison of Truly Creative, who is a former winner of this award, to do our branding for us, Craig Duerden of Rocknine Creative, to help us deliver our website, and we’ve partnered on a project with Sparta Global, who were previously in the Hub.”
Waleed added: “That is three examples of how, in a relatively short period of time, we’ve already collaborated with co-worker companies in the Hub.”
Speaking about the company’s plans for the coming year, Jonty said: “Over the next year, we would like to double in size, up to about 20 permanent employees. We would like to win more clients and business and, one of the key things we want to do, is focus on growing our own culture. One of the big attractions of the company is we’ve got a very inclusive structure in terms of our management approach – all of our employees have an equal voice in how the company is run and what we’re doing. We want to find more time to spend in growing that and making sure that we are practising what we preach. The culture is what attracted us all to working here in the first place and we need to protect that as we grow.”
EatFishDesign, made up of Rowena Madar and Nook Barnes, is a design consultancy based in the Leeds Digital Hub. The duo specialise in translating complex and technical messages into visually engaging materials for a wide audience. They work with engineering, technical and medical SMEs who want to grow their business and extend their market reach. Their services range from logo and branding development to animated videos.
Speaking about winning a Business Advantage Award, Rowena said: “I feel fantastic to have won the award. It was a really lovely boost. We’re really hoping to grow the business so this has come at a really perfect time. It was so fantastic to get to talk about the business and now we feel even more confident about it.”
Speaking about how they plan to use the prize, Rowena said: “One of the things we want to do is get proper terms and conditions set up for us. Because we do design work it’s really important for us that it is clear where our role lies in the project.”
Nook said: “This will help us to solidify that foundation so that we can grow the company. We want to work with bigger clients and we need to look that part. We want to recruit more permanent members of staff as well as more freelancers and we need to get some contracts in place with bigger companies before we can bring in those people. We also want to understand our rights when it comes to employment law.”
The team moved into the Leeds Digital Hub in February 2018. Nook said: “We really enjoy it. We’ve always thrived in a co-working environment and the hub is that – it’s the energy there and everyone is so willing to help. Everyone’s also so focused –they’re getting on with growing and developing their business but they’re happy to take that time out to come and talk to us if we have any issues. And the view is really lovely!”
Rowena added: “Not only is everyone very friendly, it’s inspiring seeing these successful businesses doing really well, hearing about how they started and how they got to where they are and thinking ‘this could be us soon’.”
Looking ahead to the next year, Rowena said: “At the moment, we are looking to grow the team. We want to get someone in a sales and marketing role to help us get out into the wider world. We’ve also put out for an internship at the moment to get some more help with the design work. We really want to just grow quite stably.”
Nook added: “For the last two years, we’ve been working on small contracts. Because we’re a small company, larger organisations are hesitant to give us that large contract; but we’re hoping to get the larger contracts and then bring in more team members and essentially grow but sustainably. We’re now at that acceleration stage where we’ve done the ground work for the last two years, getting our name out there and getting our reputation built. So now it’s all about doing the exact same thing but on a larger scale.”
Speaking about how EatFishDesign started, Rowena explained: “Nook and I went to uni together – we studied product design. When we were on the course, which was part of the engineering department, we worked with engineers to create a medical simulator. The work was so successful that we went to Texas to showcase it and we made some branding materials to go with it. Everyone was asking us who has done the materials and we got people offering to give us jobs.
“We thought - there’s such a market in this - and we continued to research it and saw how many technical companies can really struggle to communicate their ideas or visions in a way that’s more palatable, more accessible, to a larger audience. So, our focus is on creating visual designs or communicating technical ideas in a way that can be shared to a much wider audience.”
Nook added: “Our tagline is ‘bridging the gap between technical and beautiful’.”
CityCleaner2U is a brand new business - a domestic cleaning platform connecting customers to cleaners through a website or app. Avi, Tom and Adam met while studying at Leeds Beckett University for their BA (Hons) Business Studies degrees, graduating in July 2017. The team is completed by partner Luke, whose specialist skills in coding will be vital in building the company’s website and app. The team plans to build a database of cleaners and develop a user-friendly system for customers to book a cleaner within 60 seconds.
Speaking about how the team came together, Avi explained: “We met in our Project Management module at university and the friendship formed from there. I had this idea and thought it would be great to bring these two on board: Tom’s very creative, Adam’s very mathsy and really good at marketing – we’re a great team! And then Tom introduced us to Luke who’s a coder.
“We are a platform that connects customers and cleaners and we aim to allow a customer to book a cleaner in the space of 60 seconds, with the click of a finger. We are targeting the domestic market in city centres and, hopefully further down the line, we can expand into dry cleaning and specialist cleaning. Our target markets are: students – end of year tenancies, parties, etc; professionals aged 24 – 35; and small to medium-sized businesses with offices in the city centre.
When asked how they felt to win a Business Advantage Award, Tom said: “We’re ecstatic to have won the award. We didn’t think we would as we’re so early on in our business life and to get an accolade such as this is a great feeling. It’s a boost to go from us thinking it’s a good idea to someone else saying this might work.”
Avi said: “We spent endless hours ringing up law firms, trying to get some advice, and we hit so many brick walls – it’s about £250 per hour to get specialist advice. As we’d just finished university, we couldn’t afford it. So the award has really given us the opportunity to form some contracts and start recruiting. This has opened the door for us, allowing us to take a step forward and bring our business idea to life.”
Adam added: “We’re meeting one of the lawyers, Josh, next week, and hopefully we can sit down with him and clarify what form of employment we are going to take and what insurance we need. Once we’ve got all of that written up, we can form some contracts and start recruiting and CityCleaner2U will be launched, with the help of Lupton Fawcett.”
Speaking about their time studying at Leeds Beckett, Tom said: “At university, the three of us worked together on a consultancy project and that’s what brought us together. It let us all appreciate each other’s abilities and see that we worked well together. The lecturers were also always very welcoming: they had conversations with you and recommended what direction to go in. That helped us a lot.”
Adam added: “What we got most from university has been the skills that we got from our lectures, seminars, speaking to people – that’s given us a better understanding of how businesses work.”
Avi said: “Our consultancy project was very research-based and this has really helped us over the last six months as we’ve been gathering all the information that we need to bring our business idea to the stage that it’s at now. The project at Leeds Beckett taught us all the resources and websites that we needed to get started.”
Speaking about the next steps for CityCleaner2U, Avi said: “Now, we’re going to test the market and hope to launch in Manchester in September with cleaners on the books. We’re going to launch the app around October.”
Luke said: “We want to test systems with the web platform first, and make sure everything’s going smoothly, then get the first few cleaners and customers going through the website before launching the mobile application. That will be the real push that starts to kick us off at that point.”
Adam said: “For the first year, it’s just us finding our feet, finding out what works and what doesn’t, testing the technology and getting into the market.”
Avi added: “Once the concept has been proven, we will expand into the northern market – Leeds next then Sheffield.”
The Leeds Digital Hub has proved the perfect setting for digital entrepreneur and Top Screen Media Chief Executive Achille Traore.
Top Screen Media (TSM) provides technology and consultancy to improve companies’ customer engagement. Launched in 2009, the business works with Leeds City Council, Ladbrokes, Alton Towers and Hotels.com, and has contracts worth £1.2 million in the pipeline.
It initially focused on the sports sector, providing Yorkshire teams, including Leeds United and Bradford Bulls, with kiosks to enable fans to buy tickets and interact with the club. The touch screen kiosks, named OfferPods, provide information at a set point, helping businesses to capture online and mobile customers. For shopping centres the OfferPod allows customers to find out what’s happening in real time.
TSM has now turned its attention to the retail sector, creating digital innovations to help companies like Adidas communicate better with their customers. Working directly with brands and with some of the most influential marketing agencies in the UK, TSM is continually pushing the boundaries of customer engagement in the retail sector.
However, digital innovations are just one of the services TSM offer. As a leading expert in his field, Achille Traore offers digital consultancy to some of the world’s most renowned companies. In 2015 the business secured a contract to deliver the digital marketing strategy for the World Trade Center in New York and is set to work closely with them throughout 2016.
SALT.agency is a team of consultants, specialising in the field of technical development and organic search marketing. The company operate a new type of hybrid agency model; half focusing on providing technical SEO consultancy, and half on producing creative software to solve problems.
Having set up the company in 2014 with just two directors, they have since tripled in size and now have a team of seven.
In 2015 the company experienced unexpected global recognition after uncovering a security flaw with Facebook. The story quickly went viral resulting in global debates around the security procedures for social media platforms.
During their time with EIA Hub, SALT.agency have received private office services, training, mentoring and also pitched for and won a Business Advantage Award from Lupton Fawcett solicitors.
Martin Woods, Director at SALT.agency said: "The EIA Hub team have been instrumental in our growth helping to take some of the hassle and stress out of running a business. This has allowed us to focus on what we’re good at, running an SEO company and building software. We are really pleased to have started working with one of the world’s most successful tech start-ups in recent years. This has further extended our portfolio of clients which we offer international SEO services to within the agency. It is a privilege to work with such an ambitious and well respected company in a fascinating market."
WIFIPLUG is an app controlled smart device which allows you to control several home appliances from lamps to coffee machines and even curtains from anywhere in the world. Now partnered with Apple, WIFIPLUG can even be controlled using your voice. It is the latest in a long line of businesses started by serial entrepreneur Leon Doyle.
The idea for WIFIPLUG came to Leon after watching his wife repeatedly leave her hair straighteners on accidently. Some quick research revealed that this common problem was not only a waste of energy but was also a major cause of house fires.
‘’I sold my previous company which gave me enough capital to start-up and we have now sold over 30,000 units….confirming my belief that connected devices are the future. We are now hoping to move into the US market in the next 12 months’’
As the creator of multiple start-ups and with appearances on Dragons Den and the Apprentice under his belt, Leon is passionate about business and the opportunities that new technology offers. In addition to mentoring University students who are in the process of starting up Leon is also keen to inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs.
‘’We are planning to develop WIFIPLUG so that school kids have the chance to learn how to code their own device. The Internet of Things market is set to reach $460Bn by 2020, so it makes sense to arm the kids with the tools they will need to succeed tomorrow’’.
Basing his business in the Hub has provided Leon with the opportunity to collaborate with other start-ups. Fellow tenants, Truly Creative, produced a series of 3D visualisations of the product for the website and promotional materials, Haystack Search ran the marketing campaign and Karen Vera was on hand with valuable legal advice.
‘’The atmosphere when others do well or get a big sale inspires everyone to do well. Plus the location and views really work out!’’
The company was started in 2012 by brothers Kevin and Philip Cabra Netherton and has expanded to include a further four full-time members of staff as well as two work experience students.
In the last twelve months the company’s turnover has tripled, sustaining its factor of three expansion rate on the previous period.
Philip said: "Following one year of rapid growth within the EIA Hub, the start-up has outgrown its first offices with the Hub at Queen Square and whilst staying with, EIA Hub, we’ve now transferred to larger premises, opposite Leeds train station.
"Our move to Cloth Hall Court is one of a string of exciting investments we are making in infrastructure to ensure we are prepared for the growth we expect in 2016 and beyond. We have also negotiated a number of key partnerships with suppliers such as Deutsche Bahn and SNCF, which will give us access to the best rail fares across most of our network.”
Euroventure puts its success down to its custom packages, which account for most of its sales, as well as the expert knowledge of its staff and its high standards in picking accommodation for its customers.
The company will soon be launching a sister site called Venture Britain which is aimed at non-UK residents wishing to travel by train around the UK. Philip commented: “We want to inspire travellers abroad to see that there’s more to visit in the UK outside London. Building on our expertise within Euroventure we will be able to offer completely tailored trips around the UK as well as the rest of Europe.”
Infinity Works (formerly Immedia Solutions) were one of the first businesses to join the Leeds Digital Hub, in what proved to be the perfect location to support the company’s initial start and early growth. They have gone from strength to strength ever since.
The company was launched in March 2014 by directors Tom Walton, Matt Gaffney, Paul Henshaw and Dan Rathbone. The company provides software development and implementation services, built on the principles of “Agile” delivery. It stands itself apart by addressing key business problems and challenges beyond just IT and software development.
Paul Henshaw, director of Infinity Works, believes that the Leeds Digital Hub provided an ideal catalyst for their startup business. “Having a permanent base to meet regularly, meet new potential staff members and make key contacts allowed us to build the foundations of the business, and we knew we had the support of an organisation that helps people like us in the first months of our business. We enjoyed being part of the Leeds Digital Hub, and appreciate the support we got and the contacts we made”.
Infinity Works continue to build their business in Leeds and London, and are approaching 100 members of staff as they near the end of their third year of trading. The company support a number of network activities such as Leeds DevOps and Agile in Leeds. They also now deliver a number of client services from their Head Office on Wellington Street in Leeds, as well as their office in Farringdon in London.
Managing Director Claire Shepherd is an award-winning leader in health, criminal justice and social care services to vulnerable people.
Safe is split into Safe Innovations and Safe Offender Healthcare. Safe Offender develop high quality, cost effective health and wellbeing services for offenders and other vulnerable groups. Safe Innovations design bespoke buildings and spaces to enhance environments for vulnerable groups and people.
In 2015 Safe Innovations successfully launched seedS (see picture above) a mobile treatment unit that can be used to deliver care in secure settings within HMP Leeds. seedS provides flexibility to see prisoners and offenders in an environment where privacy is not always accessible.
Safe InnOff have been based in a private office with the Enterprise & Innovation Hub since 2014 and in that time have taken every opportunity to access our full training programme and business mentor. In 2015 Claire and Karl Lenton (Creative Director) successfully pitched and won a Business Advantage Award from Lupton Fawcett solicitors.
Funky Chalk originated a number of years ago, when Rob Pearce (pictured) started a small ‘on-the-side’ business, working in the evenings and weekends, branding pool chalk for pubs with names like Fosters, Carlsberg and Carling – hence the name Funky Chalk. This branded chalk business did not go far, so Rob diversified into selling snooker and pool cues, cases and accessories. First at local pubs, then car boot sales and local markets, and then finally progressing to Ebay, Amazon and our webstore ‘Cue & Case’.
Funky Chalk has its own cue sports brand – Jonny 8 Ball, they import goods directly from factories in China, Europe and USA, rent a large warehouse and employ 6 people. Through Ben’s own admission the business only became really serious within the last 5 years, once he was generating enough income to make the transition to work on it full time.
Ben had the following to add ‘I was working on it with the help of my girlfriend and kids in the evenings and weekends, ploughing all profits back into the business to buy more stock. I plan to grow the business further by creating a trade division that supplies other retailers.
The greatest incentive of being your own boss is there are no limitations to your potential; you are in charge of your own destiny and can create something amazing that belongs to you, as a result of your own hard work, determination and persistence. Not forgetting the positive effect your business can have on the community around you and the lives of others, especially as you start to employ people.
The Creative Fashion and Textile Hub is an incubator for new businesses. It will help you grow and provide the support to becoming independent. Most importantly though, you are part of a new business community and will meet like-minded people who you can discuss ideas with and get opinions from, share contacts with, advice etc., and can inspire and motivate each other.’