Barclays Eagle Labs: connecting the UK’s entrepreneurial ecosystem

The Business Finance Guide recently published an article based on an interview with BioCity titled 6 benefits of a business incubator. And so, building on this popular article, we interviewed Jon Hope, Director of Barclays Eagle Labs, a nationwide network of business incubators, which focuses on early-stage technology businesses, to hear their story.

Business incubators offer a range of resources such as physical space, coaching, and networking opportunities to accelerate the growth of early-stage businesses.

The beginning of a new year is a good opportunity to take stock of what’s happened over the past 12 months and decide the priorities for the year ahead. Whether it’s planning to improve your cash position, take on new staff, or to improve relationships with suppliers, a fresh look at your finances can help you reach the next stage in your business journey. Even if the start of the year is not the beginning of your financial year, it is sensible to set aside time to regularly review your finances.


1. What is Barclays Eagle Labs?

Eagle LabsJon: Eagle Labs is a network of 24 incubator spaces across the country, with a vision to connect the UK’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, drive digital skills development, and help grow the economy with innovation and creativity.

These are physical working spaces offering access to a number of industry programmes with a wealth of products and services designed to help UK businesses. These include:

  • accelerate UK business by providing a flexible workspace and access to mentoring, a support network, community, banking support and interesting opportunities.
  • drive collaborative innovation between high-potential startup tech businesses and large traditional corporates. At each location we cultivate a community of likeminded entrepreneurs who can learn and benefit from each other, at whatever business stage.
  • Running events and activities around demystifying industry 4.0. These help individuals, businesses and corporates learn about the new and emerging tech trends (e.g. AI, blockchain, 3D printing or IOT) which are changing how we’re all working now. They also help us prepare and make informed decisions about how these things will affect us in the medium term and long term too.

2. How did the idea come about?

innovateJon: We originally ran a programme called Digital Eagles, which helped colleagues, communities and businesses develop their digital skills. We then came across the Fab Labs concept (empty space that can be turned into a workshop offering digital fabrication and electrical equipment, helping people develop skills to make the most of the technology).

One of the unique qualities of this type of space is that it enables communities —from start-ups to hobbyists — to collaborate and share knowledge.

The initial premise was to take under-utilised Barclays branch space and create a community hub by developing our own Fab Lab concept. And so, Eagle Labs was born.

We opened our first lab in December 2015. It received a lot of engagement during the weekends and evenings, but less during weekdays. To counteract this imbalance, we opened up the next lab to start-ups and made it into an incubator with office and events space too.


3. What about present-day Eagle Labs?

Jon: There are now six sites which are run out of Barclays premises, with an additional 18 sites that operate as partnerships. We’ve joined forces with other business incubators, co-working spaces, universities, and organisations with a likeminded attitude. Together we help technology businesses grow, be successful, collaborate and create more jobs.

We have 38 partners across the programme, who are either working with us to provide physical space or by supporting the programme offering. It isn’t about us telling people what to do but providing trusted connections and helping people achieve what they want through our reliable network.

We’re focused on developing a large network of founders, innovators, entrepreneurs and corporates—those who are important to a successful UK ecosystem.

In doing so, we can help drive cultural change in our organisation as well as others.


4. What are the benefits of being an Eagle Labs member?

business incubatorsJon: As an Eagle Labs resident, you not only gain access to a flexible workspace, but are also assigned an Ecosystem manager who will help you understand at what stage your business is and determine ways to support you.

We offer access to a partner network of banking colleagues, other SMEs, start-ups and larger corporations who can provide advice. We facilitate introductions for you. Our aim is to create a community and environment for collaboration—encouraging smaller businesses that have similar objectives to work together without the burden of the cost of permanent office space.

We also provide access to one-to-one mentoring and member events. For example, if people in the area need help with recruitment, Eagle Labs will organise a masterclass facilitated by a local expert or from our dedicated business mentors.

We’re not a desk rental service, we’re about supporting entrepreneurship and innovation. Our (proven) hypothesis is that we can have the greatest impact by supporting technology businesses at an early stage.


5. What does success look like?

Jon: For us, it’s a success when an early-stage business of two to three people joins and with help from the team and community around them, raises the funds needed and expands to 15–20 people, outgrowing us.

Eagle Labs success stories:
FiveAI – software for autonomous vehicles run by serial entrepreneur Stan Boland
Prowler –decision making software
Both raised a lot of money and grew rapidly from two or three people to over 20. They remain active members of our ecosystem and advise smaller businesses on their plans. It truly is about the community you create and providing younger businesses access to what we call the ‘rock stars.’


6. How can a business owner get involved with Eagle Labs?

incubatorJon: Every location partners with local business associations and serial entrepreneurs in that community, with the aim of building relationships, raising the profile of Eagle Labs and encouraging people into our hubs.

If a business wants to join, they should start by speaking to one of our Ecosystem Managers from their local Eagle Lab. Prices and options will vary from location to location, so we recommend getting directly in touch. The local manager looks at what stage the business is, determines what kind of support it’s looking for and checks that it’s keen to collaborate.

Being an active part of the community is vital for our members. What we don’t want is them to walk into the office, close the door and never speak to anyone.


7. What is your vision for the future?

Jon: We’re looking to build Eagle Labs into a large-scale community. We’ve established a business model that’s genuinely platform-related through our physical network. The next step is to reflect and consolidate, create an online community and look for other regions that need a boost.

My priority at the moment is how to interconnect our physical network and enable the industrialisation of that support and exchange across the entirety of the UK.

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