What is CRL?
CRL (Central Research Laboratory) is London’s new home for hardware. A place for entrepreneurial designers and engineers who want to create amazing products and grow innovative new businesses focused on hardware.
We provide workspace, prototyping kit, world class mentoring and investment opportunities to help bridge the gap between prototypes and production.
We are a collaborative community of innovators, designers and inventors that share a commitment to making the world a better and more interesting place through the products we create.
We run a hardware focused accelerator programme for startups, providing an unrivalled package of support to new businesses. Alongside this we all provide coworking space. Find out more about the current teams here.
Who runs CRL?
We’ve brought together a fantastic team of experts in design, manufacturing and business to make CRL a success. You can read more about them here
Why are you called Central Research Laboratory (CRL)?
That’s an interesting story! Our inspiration for creating CRL at The Old Vinyl Factory site in Hayes came from the history of this amazing place. At its peak, over 20,000 people worked for EMI and HMV in this part of London – in skilled jobs spanning design, technology, IP, investment and manufacturing. Part of that enterprise was the old Central Research Lab (CRL). CRL was effectively the R&D division of EMI. It was a collaborative innovation hub that spawned and commercialized inventions that changed the world; from stereo sound for home use, to the first CAT Scanner and Air Bourne Radar. We wanted to recapture that spirit of innovation for the 21st Century. It’s part of our mission to reinvent The Old Vinyl Factory for a post-vinyl age.
Who are the strategic partners behind CRL?
In short, U+I, Brunel University London and the Higher Education Funding Council for England.
CRL as a company is owned and managed by U+I. U+I is one of the country’s most innovative property companies. They design, develop and invest in land and property, but always recognise that their true role is as an agent for social, cultural and economic change. U+I is constantly striving to find innovative ways to build inspiring communities in the places in which it works and the CRL is an example of that commitment in action. The Old Vinyl Factory is one of U+I’s largest and most ambitious urban regeneration projects and it needed some big thinking to make it a success. To that end, creating the CRL has been about putting Hayes back on the map again – as a hotbed of innovation in a special part of West London. But U+I couldn’t do that alone. It needed world-class partners to inform the model and make it a reality…
That’s where Brunel University London comes in, along with the Higher Education Funding Council for England. Involved from day one, Brunel has helped to shape the vision for CRL, raise the funding required to deliver our incredible incubator programme and provided access to the university’s world class expertise. And perhaps most importantly, many of the teams on our incubator programme have one or more founders who recently graduated from Brunel’s product design and engineering courses.
We never cease to be amazed by the ground breaking research, graduate talent and innovative corporate relationships Brunel generates. A big part of the CRL’s role is to help capture and magnify the fantastic work the university does.
Do you rent out desks and studios?
Yes, we've recently expanded and offer hot desking, fixed desk and studio rental opportunities. Alongside this members enjoy access to our 4 specialist prototyping workshops and the benefits of being part of our inspiring hardware focused community. Find out more about it here
and register your interest.
I’m interested in partnering with the CRL, who do I get in touch with?
We’re always open to working with partners who are passionate about design, startups and innovation. If you’ve got an idea for a partnership opportunity, or you’d like to discuss opportunities with us, email our Managing Director at firstname.lastname@example.org
I am a journalist, and I want to write about CRL and/or its teams. Who do I speak to?
I’m an investor, looking to finance high-growth startups. Are there opportunities to invest in CRL teams?
We have several exciting teams that are looking to raise funding in the near future. If you’re interested in investing in a CRL team (or teams), please email us at email@example.com
When can I apply for the CRL Accelerator programme?
Applications to the 2016 accelerator programme are now closed! We will keep our website and newsletter updated with other opportunities and will open the next round of applications spring 2017
What happens after I submit an application?
Once you have submitted your online application we will get back to you within two weeks to let you know if you have got through to the next stage of the selection process. If you do, you will then receive a detailed questionnaire and have the opportunity to upload any additional documents that you believe will strengthen your application. We will review these documents and if successful, will invite you to pitch in front of our panel, which consists of members of our core team and our key partners; Brunel University London and U+I. There were two waves of applications over the summer.
What stage of startup are you looking for?
We are sector agnostic. We’re looking for startups who are either at an early stage or currently going through the process of design for manufacture. We look for a formed team of 2 or more people with a clear vision, and ideally a working prototype (or minimum viable product) that displays genuine innovation.
Can I apply as a single founder?
From our experience we have found that single founders struggle to make the most of our programme - to accelerate, you need to challenge decisions within a team and share the load with other people to make the most progress. If you are currently a single founder, we encourage you to look for at least one co-founder before you apply. We would only accept single-founder startups if you have a plan to recruit team members before the start of the programme.
Can I take part in the programme without moving to London?
It is possible to complete the programme without living in London, however you will be required to attend sessions on site and in central London for the first three months. Commitment to the programme and the community are key to get the most of your time here. This is an important part of the selection criteria for the startups we take on board.
How long is the programme?
The programme lasts 9 months, starting at the begining of October 2016.
Is the 9 month programme compulsory?
Throughout the duration of the programme, it is compulsory that you attend all of the planned sessions. During the first three months in the Accelerator phase, we develop your business model and route to market. The following 6 months in the Runway phase are designed to be very flexible and adaptable to your business needs.
I have other commitments, so can I join the programme for less than 9 months?
It is important that you are fully committed to the programme, but it has been designed to ensure that if necessary you can continue to do some freelance or part-time work. The programme starts with an intensive 3 months phase (8-12 hours a week on-site). The remaining six months then becomes more adaptable based on the needs of your business.
What happens during the programme?
Our approach is very practical and adaptive. We will provide you with tailored content, specifically designed to meet the needs of hardware startups. Every session will be hands-on allowing you to work on your business with clear tools, targets and guidance from top mentors and speakers as well as mix and learn from the other startups.
We deliver support in a number of ways, including:
- On-site masterclasses and workshops
- 1-2-1 sessions with mentors
- 1-2-1 sessions with our core team of product and commercial experts
- Knowledge sharing sessions between start-ups on the programme
How is the programme structured?
The complete programme lasts 9 months, with an induction at the end of September 2016 and then running until June 2017.
The programme is split into 2 phases, the first being a 3-month Accelerator phase starting October 2016, that focuses on product and business development. We use lean startup methodology to develop a scalable business proposition. We focus on helping you to define your vision, product-market fit and execution strategy. This is primarily delivered on-site by our team of experts and mentors in business, design and mass manufacture.
- Intensive business development support, focused on: product-market fit, business model development, user research, marketing and brand strategy, operations (accounting, legal, IP) and financial modelling
- Product development support focused on: rapid prototyping, identifying core technologies, understanding the product development process
- Delivered through: Office hours with experts, interactive workshops, masterclasses, inspiring experience sharing, mentoring sessions
- Dedicated pitch training and support to prepare a killer pitch deck
- An opportunity to pitch for up to £100k equity investment from CRL partners.
The next phase is what we call Runway, which lasts for the remaining 6 months of the programme. During this phase we concentrate on product development, raising investment and preparing for mass production. You will learn, first-hand about design for manufacture, supply chain management and distribution, on visits to Shenzhen, China and European manufacturers. This also enables you to get a detail product costing based on volume production.
- Increased support on product development, including: design for manufacture (DFM), embedded systems, computer aided design (CAD), supply chain & logistics, materials, mass production
- Visits to UK, European and Asian manufacturers, including a two week trip to Shenzhen, China
- Crowdfunding coaching and support before, during and after the campaign
- On-going introductions to investors and private investor pitch sessions
- Opportunity to exhibit and pitch at the CRL Hardware Showcase ...and the CRL team, on-site and available for the full duration of the programme, dedicated to making your business a success
What is the value of the programme?
The programme’s value stems from all elements of it being designed specifically for hardware startups, from the physical space in which it’s run to the people delivering support.
Key benefits include:
- An initial £5k startup grant to help cover living expenses
- High spec’ rapid prototyping equipment on site, and if we don’t have something you really need we will source it for you (within reason!)
- Prototyping materials costs (again within reason)
- Dedicated, full-time access to our on-site experts, who become an extension of your team. Our skills cover crowdfunding, mechanical design/ engineering, prototype engineering, seed investment, project management, business model development, product and UX design, sustainability, mass manufacturing experts, marketing and PR.
- Access to a 1-2-1 mentor who has extensive experience in either startups or is an investor in startups
- Free software from Autodesk including license to Fusion 360
- Free accounting software for a year
- Pitch training
- Extensive links to angel and VC investors (we set up private meetings with appropriate investors at the right point in your businesses development)
- Rent free desks for up to 4 people for 9 months with 24/7 access
- Fully funded trip to China for 2 weeks for 1 person to go over the DFM, mass production and supply chain of your business
What other facilities are there at CRL?
- 24/7 access with 24/7 onsite security
- Free parking
- Access to the Vinyl Cafe and Vinyl Lounge meeting space
- Free bike hire
What is lean startup methodology?
We focus on using lean startup methodology which covers lean manufacturing, design thinking, customer development and continuous innovation to determine what your customers want, as well as a scientific approach to making decisions. This method also allows you to develop an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) in an efficient and cost effective way.
Do you help with investment?
The programme is designed to help you gain investment in order to continue to scale your business after the programme is completed. We help you to define a killer pitch deck and improve your confidence and public speaking skills through our pitch training sessions. We also provide teams with a chance to pitch for up to £100k investment from CRL partners halfway through the programme. Throughout the programme we will proactively identify and help with applications for relevant support funding, such as competitions and grants, as well as making introductions to our extensive network of angel and VC investors.
You take a ‘6% option’ in each company at the start of the programme, what does that mean?
In this context, an option agreement simply creates the legal right to claim a pre-defined percentage of the total shares in a business (in this case your start-up) at a future point in time.
There are two reasons for doing this:
- By giving CRL the right to a stake in the business, you are recognising the value offered by the fully-funded programme and facilities you receive. You can read about this here.
- By using a simple option agreement – rather than taking the shares up-front – we reduce the upfront paperwork required.
On entry to the programme we - Central Research Laboratory (Hayes) Ltd - ask for an option over 6% of the ordinary shares of your company. We have to utilise that option either:
- Within 12 months of the end of the programme
- Prior to you raising equity investment of £100k or more ...whichever is the earlier of the two.
If you have any further questions about these arrangements, please get in touch with us here
We want to launch a crowdfunding campaign ASAP, how do you support this?
Preparation is the key for a successful crowdfunding campaign and our job is to ensure you are fully prepared before launching. At the CRL we have 2 crowdfunding coaches who can help you to set up and launch a successful campaign.
The following are some of the key things we will help you prepare prior to launching:
- Building a community of early adopters around your product
- Developing your campaign plan and strategy
- Creating a bill of materials (BOM) for the final product (i.e. knowing what it will cost to produce and the margin you can expect to achieve)
- Finding and auditing an appropriate manufacturing partner and putting in place the required legal agreements
- Putting a solid IP strategy in place
- Performing extensive design for manufacture analysis on your product
- Understanding the logistics of how you will get your product into the hands of consumers
- Identifying a distribution and logisitics partner
The PR strategy and community building process is absolutely key to a successful campaign and in our experience typically takes 3-6 months to build.
Whilst we understand your eagerness to launch, so that you can get funds to continue, launching too early can really harm your business. We think it’s much better to thoroughly prepare the campaign to ensure its success. We also advise that you try and raise equity funding alongside a crowdfunding campaign. This is because, in most circumstances, the money raised from your campaign will not be enough to deliver to your customers.
What happens after the programme?
Once you become part of the CRL family, it’s for life! After completion of the programme, you will still have access to our network, feedback and support systems. We would also welcome you to stay with us by moving into our follow-on co-working space after the programme ends.
Is the £5k startup grant enough, don’t Hardware business need much more capital to be successful?
Funding is of course, a concern for many startups. We know that any hardware business needs considerable capital in order to release their first product. Whilst other comparable programmes do give more initial funding, this still is not enough investment to cover all the costs.
Our approach is to focus on the business development and strategy which ensures you have an investable business to then go and get the money you really need to deliver.
If you join the CRL programme with a proof of principle prototype, we don’t think you need to spend tens of thousands of pounds developing it. Your main focus should be on developing a business model that proves you have a market for your product and then a strategy to gain traction with early adopters.
The cash needed to develop full working prototypes can come from the next round of investment. Many of our current cohort have spent less that £5k developing their MVP.
In part, this is made possible because we cover the equipment and materials costs involved in developing prototypes as part of the programme, significantly increasing your capital efficiency. Our on-site team can also significantly reduce your reliance on expensive external consultants and contractors.
Do you help with visas?
We don’t have a dedicated package or process to help you apply for visas. However we are happy to treat this case by case and will support you where we can.
Is accomodation provided as part of the programme?
We do not provide accommodation as part of the programme.
I’m not on the CRL Hardware Accelerator, can I access your equipment, facilities or expertise?
Check out our equipment list here
. Occasionally we can make machine time available for external clients. If there’s something you’re keen to use, or you’d like to commission a member of our community to help you make something, get in touch with our workshop manager, Alex at firstname.lastname@example.org Events, workshops and in-house expertise
If you’re looking for an inspirational space to hold your own event, interested in teaming up to put on one, or would like support in developing and running a design related event or workshop, we’d be happy to help.
We’ve got a lot of in-house expertise to tap in to, covering sustainability and the circular economy, design thinking, manufacturing, investment and more. If you’d like to find out more about this, book an event space or arrange a visit then email our Design and Impact Manager at email@example.com
We’ll also be looking to hold our own events so keep an eye on our events
page for these or sign-up to our newsletter to get updates.
Can I have more information about the startups / products CRL is supporting and investing in?
Of course! Our current cohort of start-ups is listed here.
If you want to get in touch with one of our teams, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
and he’ll put you in touch or invite you to an open day.
I want to buy a product produced by one of your teams, who do I get in touch with?
Great! Some of our teams already have products in the market, whilst others are still at the research and prototyping phase. If you have a sales enquiry, please get in touch with our CRL Director at email@example.com
I have more questions, what shall I do?
Make sure you double check the FAQs as there are many questions answered here. However you you still can’t find what you are looking for, please get in touch by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org