Innovation specialist helps UK economy fight back from COVID-19 with spin-out business launch

Words: Jonathan Lee, 32 West

A PIONEERING company which solves some of the world’s most challenging problems is helping the UK economy fight back from COVID-19 by launching a new spin-out business this week.

Despite the impact of the coronavirus outbreak meaning many companies are putting their plans on hold, Createc is embracing the country’s fighting spirit by going ahead with its expansion.

Createc CEO Matt Mellor said: “Like many companies we have reassessed our business plans in the light of COVID-19.

“We have thought long and hard about whether we should go ahead with our plans to create another spin-out company in this economic environment.

“But then we thought about the need to play our part in helping to boost the UK economy.

“We’ve come to the view, therefore, that it is our duty to crack on and help create jobs and economic prosperity.

“To pause now would cause further economic damage at a time when the country needs companies like ours to step up to the plate.

“People have spoken about a need to show Dunkirk spirit in these uncertain times.

“In terms of our business that means showing faith in the UK’s economic future and committing to plans which will create jobs and prosperity.”

Createc is focusing on setting up a string of successful spin-out companies to further accelerate its research and development and commercialisation of products which provide world-first solutions.

Createc’s latest spin-out, Createc Robotics, which is being launched this week, has been set up on the back of the success of the company’s radical “Elephants to Ants” approach to problem solving.

Createc Robotics, which will be based in Oxford, will be led by CEO Ben Chaudhri and CTO Felipe Belo and build on Createc’s approach of rapidly developing bespoke robots by bringing together a range of different off-the-shelf modules.

Createc’s first spin-out, Sportlight Technology, also based in Oxford, is developing the world’s most advanced sports analytics engine to revolutionise sports science and sports analytics.

Headed up by CEO Raf Keustermans, Sportlight will use cutting edge, military-grade technology, built on IP from Createc, to provide hyper-accurate, relevant and rich intelligence to professional sports teams.

While the sporting calendar is on pause due to the coronavirus outbreak, Sportlight will invest the time in further developing its world-first products.

Matt said: “Our vision is to build technologies that push the boundaries of what is possible today, to create a better tomorrow.

“The primary output from Createc to achieve this will be creating other companies. It’s the next stage in the evolution of the company.

“What we want to see is a strong and growing number of spin-out companies coming from Createc.

“We are up to two spin-outs now. We would like to be up to five in three years time, which is an acceleration that we are focused on.

“Our ambition is for Createc to be an innovation engine: an organisation which brings together research and development and entrepreneurialism in one place to systematically drive growth through technology.

“In the UK, we’re great at technology, great at research, but we could be so much stronger at building economic success on that base. Createc wants to do something about that.

“We’ve got total confidence in our spin-outs, and we’ve been further encouraged by early adopters Shadow Robotics and PaR systems, both of whom are using Createc Robotics’ first product to accelerate the development of their remote robotics products.”

Createc, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, is behind some of the world’s most advanced technologies in robotics and computer imaging.

The company, with bases in Oxford and the North-West of England, has built a global reputation for creating innovative technologies and successfully applying them in the civil nuclear, defence, rail, aerospace, security and medical sectors.

The 29-strong Createc team is a diverse mix of technical experts from fields such as Computer Vision, Robotics, Nuclear Measurement and Optics, with an agile engineering team who efficiently build prototype systems and develop them into full products.

Matt said: “We’re the team behind some of the world’s most advanced technologies in robotics and computer imaging. Our work bridges the gap between academic research and industry.

“Where the rubber meets the road, where technology is first put into practice, we provide the solutions.

“We’re constantly finding new fields where we can make a positive difference, and so far, we’ve taken on challenges from the nuclear decommissioning, transport, energy , defence and security sectors.”

Recruiting, and developing, talent will be a key factor in the company delivering on its goals. Its spin-out companies are pushing ahead with actively seeking those with the right mindset and ability to join the team and help drive the company forward.

Matt said: “We are looking to grow by further developing entrepreneurial thinking in the company and attracting talent.

“You have to be really focused on the goal to be part of the Createc team. But you also have to be completely flexible on how you will end up reaching that goal, because your initial plan is not going to be the one which ends up getting you there.

“We want people who will take ownership, be focused on the goal, make things happen, and have some capability in a lot of areas, including technology, business, people and finance.

“Flexibility, along with focus, is really important to us. When we started out we had no idea that this is the direction the business would take.

“We are proud we have achieved such a strong annual growth rate of 40 per cent and are excited about the future direction of Createc and its spin-out companies.”

Createc is one of only one of four companies in the whole of the North-West of England to hold two Queen’s Awards, one for International Trade and one for Innovation.

Matt Mellor, CEO, Createc

Matt Mellor, Managing Director

Matt Mellor started his career as an academic working in research and development at Oxford University where his specialist field was in computer vision and robotics with medical application. But in writing papers, which he says were mainly “read by other academics so they could cite it in their research”, Matt could see there was a vital component missing.

“To turn that research into a product I learned that you have got to make that happen yourself to ensure others recognise the value of it,” said Matt. “That started me on an odyssey to learn about the full process of technological development. That means not just learning about technology, but also about business, people, finance – all the parts you need to make something happen which is going to make a positive change in the world.”

With that in mind, Matt moved to Cumbria and joined REACT Engineering. “REACT put the emphasis on entrepreneurship and I joined the company to apply what I had learned in nuclear medicine to nuclear engineering.” In particular, Matt was able to apply his knowledge in medical imaging to provide smart, technological solutions to the nuclear clean-up industry.

In 2007, Matt was the technical lead in setting up REACT’s own spin-out – aerial surveying company, Hi-Def, which gave him valuable experience of the process involved in setting up a spin-out business. Hi-Def went on to be a sustainable, successful business in its own right and in 2016 became part of the BioConsult SH group. Meanwhile, Matt set up Createc in June 2010, and as CEO has led the company to achieve impressive growth ever since.

Createc started out with just three members of staff – Matt, Alan Shippen and Pete Rodgers. The company’s mission was to create a profitable business out of computer vision and robotics research and development, demonstrating the value such a service adds to industry. Building on technological expertise in the nuclear sector learned from REACT Engineering, Createc developed its N-Visage® technology which went on to be used in the clean-up following the Fukushima Daiichi accident in Japan.

Closer to home, Createc used its intellectual property in computer vision to build a business opportunity and set up spin-out company, Sportlight. Earlier this year, it launched a second spin-out from its robotics expertise creating Createc Robotics.

Looking ahead, as society and industry move out of a Covid-19 lockdown, Matt sees robotics playing an ever more important role – but warns those who think it will be an overnight change, to be more patient. “Society has always overestimated what technological development will take place over a two to five-year period. But it has always underestimated what development will take place over 20 years,” said Matt.

“Technological development is an accumulation of small goals which build on top of each other. It creeps forward so that over a 20-year period people then look back and are amazed at how much the world has changed. In 20 years’ time we are going to have a lot more robots, and we will have improved collaboration between human and machine. In some areas that might involve helping to remove people from having to carry out tasks in hazardous environments. In other areas it might be giving people more senses and more capabilities.”

Createc applies its thinking and technologies to any problem to find a solution, and takes a flexible approach when doing so. This means that it can adapt for a range of industries and a range of situations. “We look at the way we can do something, not where we can do it,” said Matt. It’s an approach which has seen its solutions applied in a range of industries and settings, including nuclear and defence, rail and security. Among future growth areas for Createc are heavy engineering, major industrial and general construction.

Createc has received two Queen’s Awards in recent years, one for International Trade and one for Innovation, recognising the company’s success in developing technology. The company is also proud to have won awards for innovation from The Institution for Engineering and Technology (IET), The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA).

Createc’s strategy as it moves beyond its 10-year anniversary is to concentrate on research and development to launch a series of further spin-out companies. Two things Matt is keen to influence in the wider economy to help support the company’s ambitions are funding and leadership. “We need to make sure that the UK is more start-up friendly. And we need more entrepreneurs who want to come and run these businesses,” said Matt. “To me an entrepreneur takes complete ownership and picks their way forward and proceeds confidently in the face of doubt.”

“We have had a sustained growth rate of 40 per cent, and we are focused on continuing to grow at this rate. In the first ten years we have grown from a company with three people turning over £180,000 to 30 people turning over £3.5m. To sustain that level of growth by the end of the next ten years we would have 300 people turning over more than £60m.”

Matt has a clear vision of how the company will keep driving forward, and his motivation and appetite to lead the company to further success is clear. “My motivation comes from bringing something completely new to life which results in the world being a better place,” he said. “Seeing all the pieces come together and creating this thing which creates an economic benefit and also has a positive impact on the world is really satisfying.”