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05 September 2004
Scotland on Sunday
Innovative plan is hatched to incubate firms

A NEW public-private consortium is to build a network of incubators for young technology and media companies across Scotland.

The centres will be built by Innovation Centres (Scotland), a joint venture between Caledonian Land, which is the Scottish arm of property group MEPC, and Scottish Enterprise Renfrewshire.

ICS chief executive Tom Ogilvie said he hoped to build five or six centres at a cost of GBP 6m each by 2010.

The first should be in place by early next year. The centres will be spread evenly across Scotland, with the Edinburgh area and the Aberdeen/Highland regions as likely priorities.

Each new building will be modelled on Hillington Park Innovation Centre - a well-regarded company incubator near Renfrew.

It was set up by Ogilvie four years ago, just before the technology crash which it weathered with a respectable average occupancy rate of 82 per cent.

ICS will take over the running of Hillington, which launched companies such as Damovo, the international telecom services group, and Gladstone, a sports management software company which recently moved to Glasgow. Scotland is already well supplied with office space, but Ogilvie said ICS had found a gap in the market.

Hillington differs from other incubators because legal, technology and business advice services are included in its rent.

Maclay Murray and Spens, the law firm, and PricewaterhouseCoopers, the accountancy specialists, provide advice to its tenants.

Ogilvie said: 'There are a lot of people doing this kind of thing, but we are the only people doing it this way, and we have been successful so far.'

Chris Gorman, the Gadget Shop owner and mobile phone entrepreneur, is advising the new company.

Its board includes Roger Quince, an executive director of MEPC, Grant Edmondson, the managing director of Caledonian Land, and Lorraine McMillan, chief executive of Scottish Enterprise Renfrewshire.

Ogilvie said there was nothing unusual in SE Renfrewshire setting up business centres outside its own patch to the west of Glasgow.

'There is a growing feeling in Scottish Enterprise nationally that if we have best practice in one area then that should be used,' he said.

'We have had every local enterprise company in Scotland round to look at what we have done at Hillington.'

Ogilvie said ICS would work with local agencies and companies wherever it decided to set up, and would seek to avoid turf wars. Funding for the centres will come from Caledonian Land and property developers.

'A number of developers have looked at what we do and the way we have bucked the trend,' Ogilvie said. 'They are not necessarily interested in incubation as such but in the development opportunity.'

He added that there were limits to how far the company could expand. 'If you get beyond five or six you probably start diluting the original idea.'

Hillington IC has a strong reputation in wireless communications technology. Last year it set up a project to act as a test bed for new mobile technology, with support from Microsoft, T-Mobile, Agilent and Cisco Systems.

Ogilvie has just returned from a trade mission to Tallinn, Estonia, undertaken to create international links for the wireless project.

He said: 'Tallinn already has a sophisticated infrastructure that allows free secure mobile communication, and there is huge potential there for Scottish companies, especially those developing new technology solutions in the financial services and the health sectors.'

New tenants at Hillington include Lightweight Medical, winner of the recent Shell Livewire award for young entrepreneurs, and Environcom, which recycles fridges and freezers.

The centre is also home to Mixipix, the cartoon messaging company set up by computer games entrepreneur Lesley Keen, and Tata Consultancy Services, the Indian outsourcing specialist. Gorman, who now runs the Gadget Shop chain from nearby Merlin House, was one of Hillington's earliest supporters.

DOUGLAS FRIEDDLI



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