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4 December, 2017 - 16:02 By Tony Quested

International clientele fuels Springboard growth

Fast-growing product and technology innovator Springboard has expanded into larger offices at St John’s Innovation Park in Cambridge having outgrown its space in the Innovation Centre itself.

A steady flow of new projects for international clients has required the scale-up and Springboard has built additional capacity into its new HQ at the Jeffreys building.

The consultancy started life in 2013 with the three talented co-founders Tom Oakley, David Foster and Keith Turner; headcount has grown to 14 with more hires anticipated.

It began life with one office at the Innovation Centre which saw the trio through the first few months but Springboard needed to take on several more neighbouring units as its lab and office work increased. Now the labs and offices are under one roof in a 4,000 sq ft unit which also has self-contained meeting rooms and reception area.

Oakley told Business Weekly that the project portfolio had been international from day one, and driven by recommendations (word of mouth) between major medical device and pharmaceutical companies, especially where they have run into problems with a medical device.

The first of the ‘forensic engineering’ projects saw some of Springboard’s engineers jet to Italy on one working days’ notice and it was to prove a literal springboard to growth as the consultancy’s reputation for troubleshooting and technical excellence spread across Europe and the United States.

A ‘Springboard to the rescue’ project for a Belgian client was soon to provide another eight months of work for the team and growth has been strong from that point onwards. The product had been stalled in development with technical issues, but once Springboard’s engineers and scientists had diagnosed and fixed the issues, it passed its remaining tests first time and is now on sale in 10 countries: sales are four times the forecast.

Oakley now proudly reports that more than 80 per cent of Springboard’s work is repeat business. As he says, some problems with delivery devices – injectables for example – cannot be solved “simply by throwing man hours at it”; in-depth technical insight and world-class engineers are required. And that is exactly what Springboard has provided since opening its doors.

The pedigree of the founders has certainly been a driving force for Springboard’s expansion, and from that fountainhead of knowledge and experience has sprung a burgeoning portfolio of projects for the greatly expanded workforce. 

Springboard has put much time and effort into recruiting, mentoring and training the best team possible. The diversity and depth of skills now far outstrips that of the founders and includes skills in physics, optics, thermodynamics, fluidics, materials science, biotech, mechanics, systems engineering, electronics and manufacture engineering.

This means the company now takes on cross-disciplinary projects and creates teams that have the breadth of knowledge to ensure success. Recruiting talented people is a time consuming challenge, but of even more importance is creating an environment in which they can flourish. 

The company’s focus on professional development means people have opportunities to take responsibility and grow their careers at the company. The founders’ own backgrounds include study at Cambridge, Oxford, Harvard and the Max-Planck Institute in Stuttgart and have included subjects such as Formula 1, killing breast cancers, combating international smuggling, designing tiny injection devices, getting dry powder inhalers to work and developing ink jet technologies.

They have all lived abroad – in Germany, Canada and the US – and are building on this open-minded outlook with the next generation of their team.  It is clear that they find it invigorating to create the environment in which talented engineers and scientists can apply their skills to valuable commercial projects.

“Our client base is 100 per cent international,” says Oakley; “many of our clients are headquartered in Continental Europe, we do a lot of work in the US, and we are getting inquiries from India and others as well.”

Oakley believes Springboard has benefited from its Cambridge roots. 

“Cambridge has a global reputation and a long and proud history for its innovation and technical excellence in problem solving. The cluster also has an enviable pool of talent which helps us in terms of recruiting only the best people and enables clients to put their faith in us to solve problems with medical devices and add value during their development.”

Over time, Springboard has built up its electronics skills set and capabilities to add to its deep understanding of biotechnology including stem cell science and new iterations of technology enhancing global healthcare.

This broad church of capability is exactly what the founders wanted to achieve – a turnkey capability in the segment, rather than being pigeon-holed simply for one area of expertise.

Its focus has already enabled a number of big-name clients to launch devices that they could not have otherwise, and in the process saved time and money in product development. Cul-de-sacs have been moulded into highways of success for a large number of satisfied clients.

Oakley believes another strength of Springboard is its open innovation culture. Springboard can provide a fully self-sufficient team to a project but welcomes input from clients either through brainstorming sessions or weekly updates. 

This approach enables the client to retain control of the concept while giving Springboard full rein to suggest enhancements.

“They don’t have to hand-hold us but they get to contribute; we believe in a highly collaborative approach,” Oakley says.

Springboard is also renowned for its highly ethical approach to projects. Its mantra is to work on innovation that are technically challenging but also ethical and worthwhile. Staff like to be able to say that they are working on a project that will certainly improve peoples’ lives and might, for example, lead to a cure for cancer.

This approach is helping the business recruit the highest calibre of engineers and scientists; the ongoing recruitment process is also enhanced by Springboard’s outreach activities with schools, colleges and Cambridge University.

Springboard takes great pride in helping young talent on work experience or through an apprenticeship. The company is also a member of WISE (Women in Science and Engineering) because it firmly believes that for the best talent, technical businesses should draw equally deeply from male and female skills. 

If forced to select one word to sum up Springboard’s ethos then ‘fulfilment’ comes to mind: staff are fulfilled by their work and the sense it is making a difference and clients know the Springboard team are adding value at every point along the development chain.

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