Maximising SME impact with equal opportunities for all. On International Women’s Day, Surrey Technology Leaders interviews Caroline Fleming of SETsquared
Tell us a bit about your experience before coming to SETsquared
After receiving a First for my Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from Manchester University I went into the Energy industry as a graduate engineer with BG Group. There I received over two years of valuable experience of hands on engineering; monitoring offshore gas production wells, designing, building and commissioning gas production equipment and developing project engineering management and monitoring systems.
I then moved into the clean energy sector and started working with SMEs developing innovative clean technologies, starting from technical and project management support and moving into business support following completing a Management Diploma from Warwick Business School. I managed a variety of SME support programmes at Carbon Trust and as an independent consultant.
Moving to Surrey University has enabled me to broaden my experience of SME support to all high-tech related innovations and I have put my programme management experience to good use managing the SETSquared Surrey Incubator, Surrey Student Enterprise activities and the S100 Angel investment club.
What made you choose to come to Surrey and what attracted you to the role?
I was attracted to the amazing digital innovations that are happening at the University that have the potential to create significant positive impact in the SME community, enhancing their competitiveness and economic success. I was also attracted by the SETsquared partnership, a global number one university incubation partnership that enables significant value to be created through a network of high-tech, high-growth SMEs across the south of England.
Tell us a bit about your current role and your priorities in terms of supporting and encouraging the commercialisation of innovation at SETsquared Surrey
As Head of Incubation my role is all about supporting and encouraging the commercialisation of innovation. We look to achieve this through continually enlarging the network of SME members and the quality of the service we deliver to them. The larger the network, the stronger the community becomes, attracting in external service and opportunity providers and funders.
We have secured ERDF funding allowing us to expand out into the Enterprise M3 region with three new hubs at Farnborough, Woking and Basingstoke and will expand with four more in collaboration with Southampton University.
The SMEs are both spin outs from the University research, staff and students and those from the region who come to Surrey to take advantage of what our University has to offer. We centre our support around expert business advice but SMEs gain the greatest advantage when they utilise our research excellence and form collaborative research projects and employ our students through internships, project placements and job offers. My team puts a lot of focus on linking the SMEs to the right connections in the University and in the region to enable them to accelerate their growth. We have just secured two new funded programmes to facilitate more research collaborations between fast growing SMEs (scale-ups) and University Research Centres in core regional sectors including Digital and Space.
What are your thoughts on the future commercialisation of innovation?
Universities will continue to play a significant role in commercialisation of innovation and we at Surrey are committed to providing resource, knowledge and skills to growing our innovation impact and creating a thriving community of support for both spin-out and spin-ins, collaborating across the UK with corporations, research centres and institutes.
How does the balance look between women and men in the companies that you support?
We still see a male dominated environment in our SME community. The positive thing is that we see a much better balance in our student enterprise company, where we have an excellent diversity of students who are gaining enterprise skills and developing their own business ideas.
We believe that everyone deserves an equal chance to get access to support and we design our services to be as open and accessible to all as possible. Our Incubator has been led by a female since its inception and there are some excellent female founders in our network who act as great role models and inspire others.
Is it important to specifically support women in tech and innovation and how?
I believe everyone should be treated equally, but do also recognise that STEM has a male dominance history that creates the need for events and initiatives to encourage women to consider themselves equal in this sector. I am a STEM ambassador and have worked to encourage young female secondary school students to explore technical activities and gain confidence and love of the subject.