Record investment for SETsquared firms as incubator shrugs off pandemic-induced market turmoil

May 21, 2021

Businesses based at SETsquared, the acclaimed incubator backed by the University of Bristol, raised record levels of investment last year despite the coronavirus pandemic’s huge impact on financial markets.

Funding from private and public sources totalled £616m, up 40% on 2019. Private investment accounted for 90% of the total raised, with the remainder from publicly funded R&D grants and debt finance. 

Last year’s investments ranged from all-important pre-seed and seed funding – typically up to £1m – to a £118m series E fundraising by semiconductor company and SETsquared Bristol alumnus Graphcore .

SETsquared was set up in 2002 by a small group of research-intensive universities in the South of England with a mission is to help turn innovative sparks into a thriving, commercial businesses.

It has since supported more than 4,000 hi-tech start-ups, helping them raise more than £2bn in investment.

It has also been named three times as the world’s number one university business incubator.

SETsquared innovation director Simon Bond, pictured, said: “The record-setting £616m reflects the hard work of hundreds of committed founders and innovators across the SETsquared ecosystem who are developing technologies which will transform the future, from the way we live, travel and learn to the way we care for each other and our environment.

“2020 was a challenging year for everyone. It shows that even during a global pandemic, strong ventures with good university connections, ambitious teams and the right support, will continue to raise investment. 

“As lockdown begins to lift in the UK and we dare to hope that the worst of the pandemic is behind us, I’m pleased that the majority of SETsquared’s member companies emerged stronger and, as the year’s investment figures show, many continued to grow.

“2020 will be remembered for many things, and I’m proud that one of these will be the way our member companies successfully navigated the through the crisis.”

Among SETsquared Bristol members securing funding last year was LettUs Grow, which raised £2.35m to further develop its patent-pending indoor aeroponic growing facilities, pictured, designed to address global food security and sustainability concerns.

LettUs Grow co-founder and CEO Charlie Guy said“This investment gave us the platform to really accelerate in 2020 and scale-up the delivery of our game-changing technology to farmers across the country.”


Another SETsquared Bristol member to raise essential funding was SpaceForge,  which is developing production methods for materials in space that are not possible to create on Earth.

The firm, which started in a garage in Bradley Stoke, received £600,000 from a range of sources including Bristol Private Equity Club. 

SpaceForge benefitted from an investment programme staged by SETsquared and funded by Innovate UK which aimed to secure private angel investment alongside public funding.

SpaceForge founder and CEO Joshua Western said: “It was amazing to receive this funding at such a critical time for our company.

“It enabled us to create jobs and start development of a new product called Fielder – an innovative method for satellite recovery which can rendezvous with returning satellites and catch them rather than them burning up in the atmosphere and leaving harmful debris or ending up in the sea.

“The environmental benefits are huge, as we also have a method of refurbishing and reusing them.

“We’re seeing rising demand from around the world for new technologies to help farmers grow crops in ways that mitigate against the effects of climate change and ever-increasing extreme weather events.”

Universities in the SETsquared network include Bath, Exeter, Southampton and Surrey as well as Bristol.

SETsquared Bristol is based at the city’s Engine Shed innovation hub.

Comments are closed.


Reach tens of thousands of senior business people across Bristol for just £120 a month. Email for more information.