With help from Innovate UK EDGE's Scaleup Programme, an innovative Cambridgeshire company has restructured for rapid growth.
3D printing has come a long way. About seven years ago, Peterborough-based company Photocentric invented a new form of 3D printing technology, that enables its customers to create new products at a rate and scale that were previously unimaginable.
The key was a visual display screen: Photocentric’s unique process uses liquid resins that harden into plastic when exposed to light via an LCD screen. As a result, 3D printed objects could be mass-produced quicker, more accurately and more cost-effectively. As well as the 3D printers themselves, Photocentric makes the photo-curable materials that are used in them and now even the parts made from them.
The company had been growing quickly with support from Innovate UK, including an £870K Innovation Loan award in July 2019 for the R&D behind its large format LCD printer. However, the next steps weren’t clear. As Photocentric’s Director Paul Holt explains, “the issue for any company that is inexperienced and wants to grow rapidly is that you just don’t know the best way to grow. You need advice from experts, people who have seen and done it before. The problem is that it’s not obvious who you can turn to in your industry.”
Scaleup Programme brings clarity
The answer for Photocentric came after engaging with Innovate UK EDGE, which recommended submitting an expression of interest to join its Scaleup Programme in 2020. The Scaleup Programme is for companies with a 50%+ compound average growth rate, which could internationalise (or are doing so) and which are transforming their industries. Photocentric was accepted and Scaleup Director Chris Price-Jones, one of 22 Directors on the Programme’s Scaleup Board, began supporting Photocentric to give it the benefit of his experience and access to the wider Board.
For Paul Holt, “the profound change that Chris enabled was giving us a personalised, tailored response based on what we said we needed, rather than something generic. His advice was specific to the problem that we had, showing us how to grow our business overcoming our structural weaknesses and enabling our strengths to flourish.”
Following Chris and the Board’s input, Photocentric restructured its business units, based on a careful analysis of the skill sets that the company had within its employees, and it also introduced a new product development program, so that good ideas can become great products much more efficiently.
For Chris Price-Jones, “the skills that it takes to invent a new process or material aren’t necessarily the same as the skills it takes to grow a business. To grow an innovative business you need different sorts of talent, not just strengths in R&D: you need people who understand the commercial implications of technical development. That’s the beauty of Scaleup: we help companies to identify the barriers to growth and where the gaps are, and then we help them to overcome those barriers.”
Impressive results and bright future
In the year since it was accepted onto the Scaleup Programme, Photocentric doubled its turnover, and continues to grow at a rapid rate. It has expanded its manufacturing facility and has made a £3m investment in R&D space at a new Peterborough University campus. During 2020 it also increased its UK headcount from 115 to 160. The company has constructed a new 66,000 sq ft digital manufacturing facility, and it is now in an excellent position to achieve its three-year scale-up target of £100m turnover.
According to Paul Holt, much of this success is down to the fully funded support that Photocentric received through Scaleup. “It’s invaluable to access people who’ve done this before in similar situations - enabling growth is easier with experience. Innovate UK EDGE gave us impartial advice: it knows what it is doing.”
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Innovate UK EDGE gave us impartial advice: it knows what it is doing.”