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Councillor Daniel Fitzhenry, Leader of Southampton City Council, and Sam Hobbs, Ecosystem Manager at Network Eagle Lab.

Growth

“For any new business, connections are one of your biggest superpowers”

30 November 2021

In the centre of Southampton, a once disused retail warehouse has been transformed into Network Eagle Lab – a vibrant business incubation space – thanks to a forward-thinking collaboration between Barclays and Southampton City Council.

“I hated working from home during lockdown – I just couldn’t develop the right mindset,” says James Gayle, founder of digital marketing agency Shogun Digital.

But when he “stumbled across” Barclays’ Network Eagle Lab in an online search, that changed – after just one visit to Southampton’s first coworking environment, he was hooked.

Gayle launched his company in August 2020 and moved into the city’s Network Eagle Lab just two months later. A year on, he says, “it has helped tremendously – from encouraging us to develop a more proactive mindset, to providing professional connections and access to amazing facilities.” 

At Southampton City Council, we want all of our local businesses – those that already exist, and those that are starting up – to flourish.

Councillor Daniel Fitzhenry

Leader of Southampton City Council

Councillor Daniel Fitzhenry, Leader of Southampton City Council.

Councillor Fitzhenry says that the council partnered with Barclays on the Lab to help local businesses flourish.

Anyone visiting the Lab is likely to agree. The first Eagle Lab partnership between Barclays and a local authority has resulted in a space that, with generous break-out areas and cutting-edge facilities, encourages collaborative innovation. The Network Eagle Lab has found a home in a regenerated retail warehouse in Southampton’s city centre, just a short hop from the council’s civic offices – providing a convenient touchpoint for the successful partnership.

“At Southampton City Council, we want all of our local businesses – those that already exist, and those that are starting up – to flourish,” says the Leader of the Council, Daniel Fitzhenry. “This particular site had been empty for a long time, but running the Lab was beyond our skill set. We needed a strong partner, which is what we now have.”

Since partnering with Barclays, the council has been able to expand its community support amid challenges brought on by the pandemic. The bank’s Digital Eagles helped to drive digital literacy in the local area – enabling parents and carers to catch up through virtual meetings and organising activities via social media. The city’s elderly population was a particular focus during lockdown, benefiting from care calls and access to online books and magazines.

Now, the partnership is supporting Southampton’s business community, too – aiming to retain talent from local universities and help reimagine the high street. “We call ourselves ‘the city of opportunity’,” says Fitzhenry. “So, we want to bat with the best players. Working with Barclays has enabled us to deliver a great site where people can really thrive.”

Creating connections across the city

One local resident who knows Southampton’s Network Eagle Lab inside out is Barclays’ Sam Hobbs. As the Lab’s Ecosystem Manager, it’s Hobbs’ responsibility to support its users in the most effective way.

“We do that by encouraging collaboration and networking, and by creating a really vibrant business environment,” he says. “Southampton is such a well-connected city. We have two great universities, and we’re known for digital innovation. So, it’s the perfect location for a forward-thinking business incubation space.”

Hobbs is particularly fond of the Lab’s open-plan layout: “I love watching two members doodling on a whiteboard together – this space naturally encourages collaboration.”

Sam Hobbs, Ecosystem Manager at Network Eagle Lab

As Ecosystem Manager, Hobbs helps support Network Eagle Lab users.

Southampton is such a well-connected city, so it’s the perfect location for a forward-thinking business incubation space.

Sam Hobbs

Ecosystem Manager, Network Eagle Lab

With a focus on offering funding readiness, mentoring and global connectivity to the startup community, the Network Eagle Lab also provides access to state-of-the-art equipment, including cameras, lighting equipment, 3D printers and laser cutters, and a team of engineers to help local businesses to prototype new products.

Shogun Digital has already benefited from these facilities, says Gayle. “We’ve taken a massive step up in the quality of our content,” he says. “We’ve developed a new podcast called the Authenticity Hour, which will serve as a new hero piece for us as a business and a potential new avenue for revenue.”

Gayle believes that working from Shogun’s recently customised space within Network Eagle Lab has allowed him to attract even better talent, and as a first-time business owner, he’s appreciating the opportunities to meet potential mentors.

“Starting up your own company can be very lonely,” adds Fitzhenry. “Interacting with other people can help you overcome those challenges.”

Watching local startups grow and scale

Lab take off. “We’ve attracted some really exciting companies, because of the talent being built by our universities,” he explains. “And in turn, they’re employing local people.”

Like Hobbs, Gayle also comes from the area: “I’ve always wanted to start a business and be able to elevate Southampton at the same time,” he says.

Both agree that there’s a welcoming family atmosphere at the Network Eagle Lab: “Everyone loves to chat and help each other,” says Gayle. Being surrounded by other founders on-site also gives him opportunities to share what he’s learned through the experience: “I talk to everyone in here about prioritising their social media presence, and how it can help them scale their business. I’m always happy to help.”

I’ve always wanted to start a business and be able to elevate Southampton at the same time,

James Gayle

Founder, Shogun Digital

James Gayle, Founder of Shogun Digital.

Founder James Gayle “stumbled across” Barclays’ Network Eagle Lab in an online search.

Even the dogs get along. “I bring my puppy Percy to work,” admits Hobbs. “Sometimes it feels like there are more dogs in here than people!”

Reflecting on the past two years, Hobbs says he is excited by what he sees: “Some of our businesses started with two employees and now they employ eight people – it’s amazing to watch those companies grow.” In fact, the Lab space has now had around 3.5k visitors – and its members have raised over £32 million.

Daniel Fitzhenry is equally optimistic. “In my opinion, everyone has a business in them. It’s the support they get, and the people around them, that affects how they translate that idea into something. My job is to get this city moving and it’s a pleasure to be working with Barclays Eagle Labs.”

Gayle, meanwhile, believes that it’s the space’s ability to facilitate new business relationships that makes it so valuable. “Without Network Eagle Lab, Shogun Digital would be in a very different place. We definitely wouldn’t have the same level of connections, we wouldn’t have had the same exposure to business coaches, and we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to learn from other high-performing companies. For any new business, connections are one of your biggest superpowers.”