One of the UK’s first ever innovation hubs, the 3M Buckley Innovation Centre (3M BIC) in Huddersfield, has reached its 10-year milestone as it reflects on a decade of supporting over 500 businesses worldwide and narrowing the gap between the academic and commercial worlds.

Carved out from a former textile mill, the £12m 3M BIC was designed to bridge the gap between industry and academia – connecting the business world with the academic world. Its vision was to give companies, particularly SMEs, access to research expertise and advanced technology and allow universities to draw on commercial capabilities.

Officially opened in May 2013, the 3M BIC is a subsidiary of the University of Huddersfield, part-funded by ERDF, as well as Kirklees Council. For the last decade it has been a leading hub for innovation and enterprise, helping businesses to innovate, connect, and grow through access to technology, expertise, grow-on space, and research & collaboration opportunities with the University.

Since 2013:

  • 55 businesses have spun in and out of the 3M BIC, with businesses residing at the centre for an average of 6.5 years, and 100% experiencing business growth during their tenure at the Centre.
  • Over £4m from the Local Growth Fund has been invested in technology as part of the Huddersfield Innovation and Incubation (HIIP), including 3D printers, Xray machines and microscopy, providing businesses with access to capabilities that otherwise would be out of reach due to limited budgets and skills in-house.
  • 3,000 3D prints have been created at the Centre in a range of materials including titanium, stainless steel, resins and nylon powder.
  • Ten researchers have been supported as part of the 3M BIC Fellowship scheme launched in 2021, providing access to advanced technologies, with many having published academic papers based on their findings.

The Centre has received national recognition, appearing in numerous government reports and whitepapers, including:

  • Business-university collaboration: the Wilson review
  • Encouraging a British Invention Revolution: Sir Andrew Witty’s Review of Universities and Growth
  • Enterprise for all: The relevance of enterprise in education
  • Industrial Strategy Made Smarter Review
  • It has also won several awards including a National Technology Award for Tech Investment, THES Entrepreneurial University of the Year and a Queens Award for Enterprise Promotion.

The National Physical Laboratory (NPL) was the Centre’s first business, setting up its North of England Hub at the 3M BIC in 2012.

In conjunction with the 3M BIC, Kirklees Council and the University of Huddersfield, the first ever Kirklees Top 100 Companies list was launched at the Centre in 2020. The 3M BIC’s Innovation Week was also the precursor to the wider West Yorkshire Innovation Festival, hosted by the West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) that takes place every Autumn.

The 10-year milestone was celebrated at an event on Tuesday 23 May, with the 3M BIC’s namesake in attendance, Sir George Buckley, former Chairman and CEO of 3M, and alumnus of the University of Huddersfield.

Sir George Buckley, who is the current Chancellor of the University of Huddersfield, said: “Innovation Centres like the 3M BIC are crucial to evolving and disrupting markets. Giving companies, particularly SMEs, access to academic expertise and technology that are otherwise out of reach due to budgets and limited skills, are invaluable to business growth, longevity and driving innovation. I’m extremely proud to have my name associated with the Centre and look forward to what the next 10 years hold.”

Commenting on the milestone, Sue Cooke, 3M BIC’s CEO, said: “The 3M BIC has always been ahead of its time, inspiring many hubs that have followed in recent years. As enablers of innovation and enterprise, we help companies innovate and develop ideas through access to our technology and links to the University of Huddersfield.

“Organisations can also build networks with our businesses and associated partners and put down roots in one of our office or lab spaces. We have built a great community over the last 10 years and are looking forward to the next 10.”

Professor Bob Cryan, CBE, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Huddersfield, said: “The University of Huddersfield has a longstanding belief in the power of business and university collaboration. Over 12 years ago, we had a vision to create a hub that would help bridge the gap between the commercial and academic worlds, actively promote innovation and enterprise, and support regional economic growth. “It has been rewarding seeing that vision come to fruition over the last decade through the 3M BIC.”

Councillor Shabir Pandor, leader of Kirklees Council, said: “Investment in innovation hubs like the 3M BIC is vital to supporting and enhancing local economic growth. Over the years, the 3M BIC has helped put Kirklees on the global map as a leading destination for innovation and enterprise by giving businesses the tools they need to grow and innovate.

“We are looking forward to continuing our partnership with the centre for many years to come, to further support the growth of our business communities not just in Huddersfield but in all corners of Kirklees – from Dewsbury, Batley and Heckmondwike in the north to areas like Slaithwaite and Holmfirth in the south.”

The 3M BIC is unique in that it offers expertise and technology for product design and development, product prototyping, product analysis and digital design housed on its Innovation Avenue. Other facilities include office and lab space for growing businesses, meeting and conference rooms, hot-desking, as well as company registration and event space discount via its membership.