Marcus Shepherd: Inspiring innovators from the CRL


About seven years ago, U+I purchased a huge plot of land in Hayes. The site was a rather tired business park. It looked sad and unloved. But it fizzed and crackled with industrial history.

It was EMI’s vinyl record-pressing plant from the 50s to the 70s and where EMI’s Central Research Labs – a lesser known part of the EMI story – invented airborne radar and the CAT scanner.

Before we even started planning, we dug into the history of the site and looked for ways to create a new place that respected the area and its past – we’re always looking for an authentic sense of place.

And so, in homage to the amazing scientific breakthroughs and entrepreneurial spirit of the Central Research Laboratory we set up an incubator programme and offered 11 ambitious start-ups a home to develop their ideas and business.

We did so in partnership with Brunel University – the home of design and engineering. And as a testament to Hayes’ unique history – we called it the Central Research Laboratory (CRL).

Our very first cohort included technologists, designers, musicians, physicists, biologists and toymakers – and between them they created some amazing products, from prototype submarine drones and robotic gloves to digital drawing systems and modular walking aids.

Since then the programme has gone from strength to strength and last week we had the pleasure of hosting the CRL Demo Day, where we heard from the latest group of entrepreneurs who are taking part in CRL’s Accelerator programme.

These amazing and ambitious individuals are working on a highly diverse range of products, from eco-materials to innovative charging solutions, bespoke clocks, to devices that allow women to feel safer when walking home.

Hadeel Ayoub, Founder of BrightSign told us about her research, which focuses on developing assistive technology pieces to support speech disabled participants and children with non-verbal autism. Her latest, inspirational product is BrightSign – a wearable device that allows sign language to be translated into speech.

We also had the pleasure of hearing from Andrei Danescu, Co-founder and CEO of Botsandus. Andrei is an expert in Robotics and AI and has been building robots since 2004. His company develop state of the art robotics and AI products that seamlessly integrate into day-to-day life. Their latest product is Bo, a customer service robot that approaches customers at retail, hospitality and events, and analyses their needs, personalities and mood to help them with key queries.

And Bukki Adedapo showcased Gilaasi’s FineTunes, the world’s first pair of fashionable glasses that you can finetune between glasses and sunglasses with a simple double tap of the frame.

Listening to these young entrepreneurs, it is no surprise that the hardware community in London is a hotbed of creativity and innovation.

And it is this creativity and innovation that we at U+I share in common with the CRL, as it is the bedrock of what inspires our own thinking.

Along with the entrepreneurs of the CRL, we understand that there needs to be a concerted effort to think innovatively and ambitiously in order to come up with creative solutions to tackle some of the biggest issues the UK faces. Property developers aren’t often seen as innovators – but at U+I we pride ourselves on being different.

We are extremely proud and honoured to have fostered the work of those at the CRL, and it is a pleasure to be able to play a part in the stories of the amazing start-ups, whose inventions can change lives and are putting Hayes back on the map.