Supporting an electronics and software start-up

During its first five years of business, Devtank, an open source test and measurement company, has really been making the most of the support on offer from our Enscite team and our wider network of contacts. From free training in business skills, to funding, collaborative projects and mentoring.

How it all began

Devtank was founded in 2014 by four engineers and specialises in bespoke test and measurement solutions. Initially it worked almost entirely with a large American client, but in 2017, the firm started to look for more clients closer to home.

Tim Telford, Devtank’s Hardware Director, explains how the relationship with the Enscite team began: “We wanted to try to raise the profile of the company and find more UK-based businesses to work with. We approached the Enscite team at the University and initially I attended several workshops — in areas such as marketing, business and finance — to improve my ‘soft skills’. I’m an experienced engineer but when you start to run a company, you need to learn a whole new set of skills!”

Unlocking university expertise

This training led on to more workshops for other Devtank employees and the development of a Knowledge Exchange for Innovation (KEI) partnership with the University of Derby. A KEI involves a business, a recent graduate and an academic working together on a project and is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund.

Devtank also took on a student intern from the University in 2019 and are now working with undergraduate students from the Business School. Tim explains:

“Last year I went into the University to give a presentation to students about our company and what we were trying to achieve. I set a project for the students, asking them to come up with ideas about how to raise the profile of Devtank and win us new customers. Following that, 13 students came to visit our workshop and were all very enthusiastic. They are coming back in a few weeks’ time and by March (2020), they will be ready to present their ideas to us; I’m looking forward to it.”

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Making the right contacts

Enscite also arranged for Devtank to have a business mentor: Martin Rigley MBE, CEO at Lindhurst Engineering, a successful design and manufacturing company based in Nottinghamshire.

“Martin has been so influential,” says Tim. “We were so impressed with him that we’ve continued working with him, even after the original mentoring programme finished. He comes in regularly to provide guidance and direction; he’s helped us get all our processes in order, and now he’s even become a client! This all came off the back of initial meetings with the University.”

Devtank are now working with the University and Martin Rigley’s company, Lindhurst Engineering, on a ‘smart factory’ project. They are installing sensors in Lindhurst’s factory which will wirelessly monitor working conditions in the factory, such as temperature and noise, helping the company to meet requirements set by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). The University hopes to get more businesses involved in this pilot, which will run from February 2020.

Going places

Devtank has made great progress in its first five years. It now works with a range of clients in the UK and abroad, from industries such as telecoms, automotive and even space exploration. It helps these companies test their prototype products so they can move on to higher volume production; delivering automated test solutions during the manufacturing process. 

“Five years ago, it was just a couple of us working out of bedrooms and garages,” says Tim. “Now there are seven of us at Devtank and we’ve just moved to a bigger unit closer to Derby, having outgrown our previous one.

"We have had seven new enquiries in the last month, which is a record, and we have so much work on. We are looking to grow the team again later this year. So, we’re certainly on the right path and we’re going places.”

Tim says the relationship with Enscite and the wider University has been instrumental to their growth: “It’s been very positive; we’ve gained a lot from it — not just the training and the new skills, but brilliant contacts and networking opportunities that have led to business growth. We now have more places to go to ask for support and are working actively with the University of Derby to access more funding.”

Man working on machinery in the University's Institute for Innovation in Sustainable Engineering

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