The University of Hertfordshire’s holistic approach to research-led innovation and entrepreneurship

In our latest ‘Innovators’ blog, Yanina Aubrey-Gimenez writes about how the University of Hertfordshire is providing dedicated (and multi-faceted) support to businesses and entrepreneurs.

“Starting and scaling up innovation can be an uphill battle for entrepreneurs. The journey is fraught with challenges – particularly in the beginning – and statistically, the odds are against even the most promising start-ups.

Entrepreneurs face a daunting array of responsibilities. From achieving product-market fit and managing day-to-day operations to ensuring profitability at scale, the complexity can be overwhelming, particularly for those new to business.

Finding affordable, comprehensive support can also be a challenge. Disjointed support interventions often have a lack of continuity, with constant starting and stopping leading to a loss of momentum, frustration, higher opportunity costs, and reduced trust in the effectiveness of support programmes – often leading many to abandon their plans.

A holistic and collaborative approach

Recognising the fragmentation and challenges in traditional business support structures, the University of Hertfordshire has aimed to apply a holistic approach to the business support and innovation services it provides.

The ultimate aim is to enable the development of thriving innovation ecosystems which provide entrepreneurs with a “one-stop-shop”, to address their needs throughout their entire journey; from incubation and acceleration to intensive research and development (R&D) support to access to long-standing technology transfer and innovation partnerships, including Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs).

By enlisting support from key partners, finding synergies, and working collaboratively, we have developed a system serving the full entrepreneurial and innovation journey.

Businesses working with the University are now given access to a comprehensive suite of support services, that provides appropriate interventions at every stage, ensures a seamless transition from incubation to acceleration, and fosters long-term innovation partnerships.

Our focus isn’t just on their immediate needs – but on supporting them to achieve sustained growth and development.

Building on our heritage

The University of Hertfordshire has a long heritage of supporting businesses and working alongside industry.

We were able to build on this in 2019, when the University was one of 20 universities to be awarded University Enterprise Zone governmental funding. This allowed us to pilot different flexible provisions to support SMEs looking to innovate and grow. The pandemic forced us to innovate further and come up with solutions to deliver business and R&D support remotely, resulting in a series of new programmes aligned to the University’s ambition of generating opportunities and transforming lives.

An example is our free-to-access Business Incubator Programme. A 12-month, cohort-based programme for early-stage innovative businesses, it includes guided sessions on core business areas including value proposition design and business model consolidation; plus one-to-one business mentoring and access to modern, co-working spaces, networking opportunities and access to mentoring from our business advisors and Entrepreneurs in Residence (EiR). Since launching in 2018, it has supported more than 160 start-ups to become market-ready.

Indeed, over 650 businesses – linked to our four clusters of excellence: health and care; science, medicine and technology; advanced materials and manufacturing and screen arts – have benefitted from our multifaceted support since 2019.

Our intensive Acceleration programmes for innovative start-ups and SMEs looking to scale up (which provide bespoke, wrap-around services including technical, commercial, and R&D expertise) have proved to be particularly successful.

In just two years we have run several, including a Sustainability Accelerator and a Healthcare Accelerator, supporting businesses such as Mama Bamboo, a pioneer producer of compostable nappies and baby wipes,  Go Design Services, an alumna-led creative design business, and Curenetics, a medical technology company, harnessing the power of AI to benefit patients.

We also support aspiring entrepreneurs, including our own students and alumni, as well as young entrepreneurs in our region through several bespoke initiatives. The Watford Young Entrepreneurs Programme (WYEP) is one such programme. Designed and delivered by the University of Hertfordshire, in partnership with Watford Borough Council as part of a post-Covid recovery programme, WYEP offered free, expert and tailored advice, group training and grant funding to young people aged 18-35, and resulted in 21 new businesses being launched and over 15 new products and services being brought to market.

Spinning-out success 

Successfully translating research emerging from Herts, and supporting our own university community with their entrepreneurial ambitions is also a key priority for us, and something we continue to invest in.

A great example is Fluid Pharma, which, in partnership with IP Group, developed a novel, controlled-release liquid drug formulation transforming drug intake methods for elderly and dysphagia patients that, following extensive research and funding, is now being developed on an industrial scale.

ImmuOne is another Herts success story, set to expand internationally soon after having secured several rounds of significant investment for their in vitro, ‘3D human lung’.

Our role as a catalyst and convener 

As the only multidisciplinary university in Hertfordshire, we proactively engage with diverse stakeholders in our region and beyond to ensure our effectiveness as a catalyst and convener. We are a firm believer that by developing strategic partnerships, we can be far more impactful than by working alone, and can help drive sustainable and inclusive economic growth and innovation in the region and beyond.

Our new partnership with Imperial College London and Cranfield University is a great example. It’s resulted in the Healthcare Technologies Capability Connector (HTCC), a life sciences partnership focused on enabling capacity building, fostering synergies, and accelerating the translation of relevant research and promising SME-led innovations to benefit clinicians and patients.


Universities are increasingly being called upon to support entrepreneurship and help develop and sustain innovation clusters. This is not surprising, given that universities are at the centre of knowledge creation.

As such, we are key agents in the process of translating research into commercial, scalable ventures that promote regional and national economic growth, while supporting entrepreneurial skills development and making a lasting, positive contribution to society.

By addressing the provision gaps and challenges present in traditional business support structures, the University of Hertfordshire’s approach to business support and entrepreneurship has created a thriving ecosystem providing entrepreneurs with the comprehensive support they need to succeed in the ever more competitive business landscape.

More importantly, together, we are generating real impact and are tackling some of the most pressing societal challenges of our times.”

For more information about the University of Hertfordshire’s business support services, visit their ‘for business’ hub.

Further reading