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22 October 2014

Personality of the Year: Simon Bond

SetSquared's new innovation director is dubbed Personality of the Year by GUV.

Author: James Mawson, editor-in-chief

There’s a nice acceptance speech made at the University of Arts by author Neil Gaiman that basically said the challenges of life can be answered by making “good art”. What type of art is is less important than doing it, he said.

For Simon Bond, innovation director of SetSquared, the incubator representing the UK universities of Bath, Bristol, Surrey, Southampton, and Exeter and winner of this year’s Global University Venturing Personality of the Year Award, his version of making good art appears to be helping startups emerge.

Bond said: “Every colleague at SetSquared is wired the same. We have one or two bad days of course but every morning I bounce out of bed because there is always the companies, which are a sanity check on the cycle of politics and heritage of a university.

“Personally, I’ll not be rich doing this but feel like the richest man. I love business and only one thing is better: helping the 30 to 40 others in our incubator. There is a vicarious, adrenaline thrill involved.”

It helps the experience that so many startups do well with SetSquared’s help. Over the past decade it has incubated more than 1,000 companies with a survival rate of 90%, and has helped those firms raise over £1bn  ($1.7bn) in external fundraising.

Bond’s own entrepreneurial experience started suitably young, while a left-wing student studying Latin American politics and history. Learning from his father, an antiques dealer, Bond set up a publication on doll collecting before beginning a corporate career at China-based network equipment maker Huawei, satellite equipment company Nynex and what is now Alcatel-Lucent. He then returned to the entrepreneurial life by founding more startups, including City Television, which aimed to have an even mix of shopping channel, video juke box and studio phone-ins to attract viewers and then advertisers and was subsequently acquired by Einstein Group after the dot.com crash.

As Bond said, he had “hit 40 then found myself post-marriage and after the sale of my TV broadcasting business in Bath [UK] with an 11-month contract [to be director of the city university’s business accelerator]. The future wasn’t certain and you need perseverance to do anything for 10 years.”

Looking ahead for the next 10 years, Bond said these types of awards (it also recently won praise from UBI’s analysis of incubators) helped raise SetSquared’s profile internally and externally and gave a mandate for growth.

He added SetSquared would be looking to add new members, “which will be thrilling”, and potentially a fund to back its startups. He said University of California raising a $250m fund to back startups from its different campuses – a model similar to SetSquared’s - “shows what’s possible”.

Bond said he also wanted to continue developing SetSquared’s links to industry through the Open Innovation Programme, which looks to marry large corporates and organisations to some of the smaller firms and innovative ideas passing through the incubator. The programme is still in its early days, but has so far attracted BAE Systems, Barclays, CGI, Freescale, Johnson & Johnson, Philips Innovation Services, Sony, South West Water and Ericsson, among others.

One example, Bond gave of this collaboration was the support given to Dan Murray, a PhD student of phycology (the study of algae), who had found a way to use it to clean swimming pools. The local utility, Wessex Water, and Stirling Dynamics in Bristol raised more than £500,000 funding for Murray’s research.

And having been promoted to the top job this year, Bond is back to making the art he knows best: running the business.


Other nominations: Tom Hockaday (Isis Innovation), Russ Cummings (Imperial Innovations), Sean Flanigan (AUTM).

Copyright Mawsonia Limited 2010. Please don´t cut articles from www.globaluniversityventuring.com or the PDF and redistribute by email or post to the web without written permission.

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