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Culham Innovation Centre celebrates milestone as it supports growth of businesses in fusion energy

Now firmly established as the ‘hottest’ address for science and technology businesses, Culham Innovation Centre in Oxfordshire celebrated its 23rd anniversary on Monday 12th February with a champagne reception for past and present customers – many of whom are pioneers in fusion energy and high tech engineering.

Providing flexible office and laboratory space along with in-house business support services and events, the centre has been instrumental in incubating innovative start-ups and, in turn, furthering the growth of the fusion supply chain and the development of potentially world-changing technologies.

Based within the UK Atomic Energy Authority’s (UKAEA) Culham Campus near Abingdon, Culham Innovation Centre has supported over 150 early stage businesses since it opened in 2001. It is estimated that businesses currently or previously located at the centre now employ a combined total of over 600 employees.

Jo Stevens, Managing Director of Oxford Innovation Space – which manages the Culham Innovation Centre – said: “We are proud to have supported so many companies to start, scale and graduate from the Culham Innovation Centre over the last 23 years. Some of our most notable graduates such as Tokamak Energy and Reaction Engines are developing cutting-edge technology and creating substantial job opportunities. Our Culham centre demonstrates the integral role innovation centres can play in building communities of SMEs, driving local economic growth, and supporting the government’s ambition for the UK to be a science and technology superpower.”

One of the first businesses to start their journey at the Centre was Tokamak Energy, which is making groundbreaking strides in developing practical applications of fusion technology.

Speaking at the event, David Kingham, Executive Vice Chairman and Co-founder of Tokamak Energy, said:

“Culham Innovation Centre was the ideal location for the early growth of Tokamak Energy when the company emerged as a spin-out from UKAEA – it was the perfect place to start a bold, hard-tech, company. We wanted to remain on the same site for the first few years as one of our founders was still employed by UKAEA – and we benefitted from the flexibility of the Innovation Centre as we grew to employ more than 10 people. We wanted all the services provided by the Centre, so that we could concentrate on growing the business, tackling our technical challenges and hitting our milestones. We “graduated” from the Centre after three years and now, 10 years later, have raised over £150m investment and employ 260 people, nearly all in Oxfordshire.”

The latest business to join the community at Culham is Oxford Sigma. Established in 2019 by university friends Jonathan Musgrove and Dr Thomas Davis, the advanced materials technology company, which predominately works in the fusion sector, moved into the Culham Innovation Centre in September 2023. Starting out as a consultancy service, the company has now expanded into technical development.

Jonathan Musgrove, Chief Operating Officer and Co-founder of Oxford Sigma, explained: “Culham is the key place for fusion in the UK, so Culham Innovation Centre was the right place for us to be. As well as being close to all the right companies and people, being here has opened us up to a network of support, including access to specialists in areas like finance. The centre really brings start-ups together to collaborate and discuss challenges, while the centre management team are always willing to provide additional help with those little day-to-day things.

“An industry is not built just on one or two companies, but a whole supply chain and we at Oxford Sigma are part of the growth of that supply chain and this exciting sector. Fusion is one of many future forms of energy to help meet Net Zero ambitions. There has been a lot of strides in some areas, proving that this could be a realistic energy source in the future.”

Fusion energy has great potential to deliver safe, sustainable, low carbon energy for generations to come and is based on the same processes that power the sun and stars. The technology used for fusion energy at the Culham Campus requires temperatures approximately six times hotter than the sun’s core, which is what makes it quite literally the hottest address on earth.

Tim Bestwick, Deputy CEO of UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA), said: “The Culham Campus is developing rapidly as a global hub for the commercialisation of fusion technologies, and the Culham Innovation Centre plays a central role in this mission – providing flexible accommodation and important support to growing businesses. UKAEA is delighted to have Oxford Innovation as a long-standing partner on the campus as we all look to support innovators, drive economic growth, and grow the commercial side of fusion technology, which could be a key part of providing the future low-carbon energy needs of us all.”

However, it is not just innovators in the fusion sector making Culham their home. Another ambitious start-up currently benefitting from this community of businesses is Active Needle, which moved in to the Culham Innovation Centre in April 2016 and has been going from strength to strength ever since. Founded in January 2016, the medical device company uses innovative needle technology that enables needles to be more visible and precise in biopsies and drug delivery, while reducing pain for patients. This multi-award winning technology is gaining commercial traction as highlighted by the recent license agreement for use in low pain, skin-based applications.

Ian Quirk, CEO and Founder of Active Needle, said: “The local ecosystem is crucial to the success of a business and the Culham Innovation Centre is very well located for medtech start-ups. Being based in a fully serviced office saved us valuable time in our early days and it continues to provide us with the flexibility we require. We’ve tripled in size since we first moved here, but we’ve been able to easily scale-up our office space within the centre as we’ve grown. We’ve also benefitted from the specialist support services and events offered through the centre.”

Oxford Innovation Space runs the UK’s largest network of innovation centres. Working closely with universities, local authorities, science parks, developers and investors, the company creates dynamic environments for entrepreneurs to innovate, collaborate, develop their technologies and grow their businesses.

For more information on Culham Innovation Centre, visit www.culham-ic.co.uk

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Covid-19 Statement

Update – 11 August 2022

Our Innovation Centres remain operational and accessible, and provide a safe environment for our staff and customers. We continue to assess the risk of COVID-19 alongside the latest guidance from government. In the meantime our Innovation Centre remains COVID-19 Secure and fully open for business. Our detailed risk assessment can be found here.