Developing Real Tech for Real Businesses

Linda Smith discusses how start-ups can accelerate their initiatives and develop real technological solutions for their customers in this new guest spotlight.

The UK is home to a vast eco-system of incubators, accelerators, innovation labs and projects, all specialising in different areas of technology and with differing rules of engagement.

Incubators are a good first port of call to put the foundations of a new tech business in place, but what’s next for early-stage businesses that have completed the incubator process and are ready to scale, go to market and prepare for investment?

Each of these objectives requires specific but different support that is flexible enough to be tailored to the needs of the individual business while nudging the fledgling business along a proven path towards commercial viability.

Accelerators, Government-led catapults and scale-up support programmes are all designed to help businesses test and develop their offer, build business relationships and, ultimately, create real value in their company. The approach, type and level of support varies from programme to programme; from resources and lab space to business mentoring, industry-specific skills development, access to technology test beds, development partners and simply being part of a wider network of entrepreneurs, sector specialists, customer, and investor networks.

Time and cash are often the headline features but, if we’re to avoid a scenario where businesses are effectively conditioned to ‘programme hop’ to secure their next round of funding, how can we reshape the landscape to provide the support they need while enabling them to become financially independent?

Putting Commerciality First Means Putting the Customer First

The key lies in placing commerciality at the core of the start-up eco-system and that means putting the end customer at the heart of the programme.

Almost every tech development has a multitude of potential applications, but this means it can be all too easy for founders to get lost in the tech itself, worry about the needs of the end user too late, or be pulled in too many different directions to maintain focus.

Keeping sight not only of who the end customers are, but what their needs are and which of those potential customers may be best placed to take advantage of the technology quickly, are crucial to informing the route to market, developing the business plan and securing initial contracts, use cases and investment.

If we’re serious about digitalisation and ‘levelling up’ across the country, building on exist-ing knowledge and skills has to be part of the scale-up eco-system too. If the pandemic has proved anything, it is that real innovation can happen anywhere at anytime, so there’s no need for everyone to be based in one part of the country.

We need to build better links between individual programmes to create individualised pathways for businesses, as well as encouraging greater collaboration within cohorts and between different programmes too.

It is only by understanding the real-world challenges facing business today that the next generation of technology entrepreneurs can release the potential of technology to solve those problems.

Linda Smith
CEO & Founder, BetaDen


Thinking Local Could Help Strengthen Tech Businesses

Geography has a part to play, with real potential for complementary programmes to work collaboratively to attract and support businesses at various stages of their development. This has the added benefit of building on existing skills and knowledge-bases in a region to speed up the development and adoption of new technologies.

By playing to the existing strengths of a local population – be that in manufacturing or security expertise, for example – tech innovators can identify real-world challenges and opportunities more quickly than would be the case when working in isolation. More exposure to different requirements in turn drives the creation of more effective solutions, all while building a critical mass of demand that allows exciting concepts to move more quickly into reality.

One of the biggest barriers to the adoption of new technology is supporting the end customer to make the transition to new ways of working.

This is where digital technologies and the programmes supporting them can really come into their own. For example, the creation of digital twins allows companies to combine two worlds – one ‘real world’ and the other, a ‘digital copy’ where they can test and prove both the technology and potential use cases, helping create the business and investment case.

Building relationships between accelerators and industry bodies that allow members easier access to such ‘bridging’ technology can also be a real win-win; empowering traditional companies to trial and shape the technology they need, while informing the route to market for tech entrepreneurs and adding value for the industry body’s members.

Understanding Today’s Issues Key to Success

Of course, it’s important that accelerators, catapults and other support programmes adopt some of these changes themselves, offering cohorts a mixture of hands-on knowledge and expertise but proactively collaborating with industry partners where they can offer readymade runways.

It is only by understanding the real-world challenges facing business today that the next generation of technology entrepreneurs can release the potential of technology to solve those problems.

Offering funding, mentoring or working alongside start-up businesses to test use cases are all invaluable ways existing companies can support the tech start-up eco-system, as well as providing business advice, access to industry networks and so on. Proactively engaging with tech entrepreneurs is also a great way to get R&D projects off the ground, develop market share and even steal a march on competitors.

Collaboration is going to be crucial, but getting it right is a win-win for all concerned.

Applications for Cohort 5 of BetaDen are now open. For further details, visit


Linda Smith
CEO & Founder, BetaDen

Linda is the CEO and Founder of BetaDen, a Worcestershire-based accelerator for tech entrepreneurs and start-ups. In addition to BetaDen, Linda also helps to develop and support entrepreneurship in Worcestershire via the Worcestershire Local Enterprise Partnership. She was previously a Director of International Trade at the Department for International Trade, and an International Trade Manager for the Herefordshire & Worcestershire Chamber of Commerce. Linda is particularly interested in the security technologies industry sector.