West of England LEP is top for business start-ups

Issue date: 14 October 2015

Sam Nwankwo

The region covered by the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) has been rated as the best of the 39 LEP areas across the country for its record on business start-ups.

According to information agency BankSearch the region Bristol, South Gloucestershire, North Somerset and Bath & North East Somerset, accounted for 2.4% of all start-ups across England. Some 757 new businesses started up in the region in August – a rate of one for every thousand people of working age. One of the reasons for the region's success is its high concentration of students and graduates wishing to set up shop in the area and the support given by the universities.

One of these new businesses, Altitude Tech Ltd has created, Sensly, a product they hope will put air quality back in the hands of the consumer.

Sam Nwanko, an undergraduate studying robotics at the University of the West of England is the founder of Altitude Tech, the latest start up from the University to present this week in the Pitch@Palace competition sponsored by HRH The Duke of York.

Sam explains the background to their business, “Setting up Altitude Tech Ltd has been an amazing learning experience. We started as an idea in a pub and have since grown into a four man operation. We had all worked for start-ups and were inspired by our bosses to create our own business and develop our 'Sensly' product concept. Sensly will test the quality of the air indoors, using gas sensors to measure a wide range of compounds that are important for human health. The information is transmitted to smart devices and a visual display lets users know about the air quality, so they can take action to improve it.

“Our multidisciplinary team comprises people from different industry backgrounds, from engineering and design, to business and marketing. We all share a passion for technology and have a common goal to create products that people need. We took a scientific approach to running a business to accomplish our goal, formulating assumptions that we could test in the real world, as we realised early on that we needed feedback from the general public to validate our ideas.

“Our first assumption was that the air we breathe is important. While on average we can survive 3 weeks without food and 3 days without water, we can only survive 3 minutes without air. We also assumed that people care about their air quality. However, current air quality monitors aren't very simple and are rather expensive.

“The 'Sensly' concept was born, and using the on board sensor information, 'Sensly' is capable of providing real time notifications to smart device and visual feedback about surrounding air quality. Sensly's connectivity also enables people to share their data and use this information to improve their surrounding air quality. On a global scale 'Sensly' can enable cities to dynamically plan their growth.

“The businesses we worked for were all based in Bristol Robotics Laboratory's (BRL) Technology Business Incubator and we pitched our idea and were given desk space within the incubator. We also got a grant from UWE Bristol to help us set up our business.

“Using the resources we obtained from UWE Bristol and BRL we developed our 'Sensly' prototype and then took the idea to Kickstarter the crowdfunding platform to validate our assumptions and test the market. The response was amazing, we hit our funding goal within 7 day and raised over £33,000 by the end of the campaign.

“None of this would have been possible if it wasn't for the assistance given by BRL and UWE, and the schemes and opportunities available within the Southwest. The Southwest region exemplifies the nation's drive to create a better, more connected tomorrow, striving to support and accelerate the efforts of those within the community that want to contribute to building a better future. It is initiatives like UWE's Team Entrepreneurship Hub and the Bristol Robotics Laboratory's Technology Business Incubator that will enable future generations to innovate and grow new businesses. I would recommend anyone with the capability of investing in such schemes to do so, as they'll be part of something great.

“We have developed our product, tested the market and we are now preparing for mass manufacture. Our next step will be to ship our 'Sensly' air quality product to all of our Kickstarter backers, and then hopefully, start working with cities like Bristol to create a mesh network of 'Senslys' that can inform us on the overall air quality in our communities, so we can begin the public debate on how best to improve our air quality together.”

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