CONNECTIVITY: Russ Cole, Founder and Chairman of the ESL Group, pictured at the company’s workshop at Fareham Innovation Centre at Faraday Business Park, Fareham, south Hampshire. ESL is an Internet of Things (IoT) software and solutions provider. ESL’s technology, manufactured on site, is transforming data-connected services, from cold chain logistics to assisted living.
Prompted by business advice by the centre’s in-house Innovation Director, Richard May, ESL has set up operations in South East Asia, with a £500,000 contract already in prospect. IoT is a network of internet-connected objects which collect and exchange data using embedded sensors. The centre is run by UKSPA member Oxford Innovation, which runs 24 innovation centres with more than 1,000 occupier businesses between them.
Out of the blue, Hampshire businessman Russ Cole received a panicked call from a Singapore-based strategic partner regarding a leading fast-food chain in South East Asia.
The company urgently needed the expert services of ESL, an Internet of Things (IoT) software and solutions provider, because 20% of its cakes were spoiling en-route from a centralised kitchen to 1,000 outlets across the humid country.
Thanks to clever software integration with smart sensor microchips, ESL holds the potential answer to the costly problem relating to temperature-sensitive cold chain logistics.
Within days of that call, ESL was awarded a pilot project with the local systems integrator. If successful, a £500,000 contract is the reward.
ESL, founded by Russ 24 years ago, is the latest occupier at Fareham Innovation Centre, located at Faraday Business Park, Fareham, south Hampshire, to fly the trading flag overseas for Great Britain.
This commercial opportunity would not have happened, Russ said, without the business support and advice of Richard May, the Innovation Director for Fareham Innovation Centre, Ocean Village Innovation Centre in Southampton and Portsmouth Technopole.
All three centres in south Hampshire are operated by UKSPA member Oxford Innovation, which runs 24 innovation centres with more than 1,000 occupier businesses between them.
Although ESL was already engaged with partners in the region it was Richard, having worked in South East Asia for four and a half years, who broadened Russ’ trading horizons from Western Europe to South East Asia by making additional introductions.
Previously, ESL worked predominately in the banking sector, creating high-grade integration software for global investment banks so financial transactions and regulatory reporting could be automated with greater efficiency.
With its sights firmly on the IoT era, ESL now has an office in Singapore, ready to reach into the vast territories of Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines.
These are countries keen to emulate the digital connectivity success of Singapore, which is into the third year of its $25 billion Smart Nation scheme, the most extensive project ever attempted in a city to collect and leverage data on daily living.
For example, sensors monitor the cleanliness of public spaces to crowd density and vehicle movements.
Russ said: “We would not have opened up in Singapore without the proactive help of Richard. He spoke of the commercial opportunities and pushed me in the right direction with a trade mission there in October 2016.
“I spent a month in Singapore putting out feelers and soon realised that ESL’s future is very much in that region with IoT.
"In the USA and Europe there is a lot of talk regarding IoT. In South East Asia, they are getting on with it and are very happy to buy from the UK.
“ESL’s excellent relationship with one of the largest manufacturers of semi-conductors in the world, which has an office next to us in Singapore, and a well-respected global electronics distributor, means we are being walked into very senior contacts.
“I sold the family house in March to fund our business development in Singapore. The pilot scheme we won in the cold chain logistics sector, which could pave the way for a £500,000 contract, means the risk was worth taking.
"We have since won key projects for smart lighting and smart factory with very large organisations that will roll out over the next year.
“Other monitoring applications will emerge once we have a super-cell of data. There are endless possibilities with IoT, especially as we have the technical know-how and extensive intellectual property in hardware, software and service provision.”
Richard said: “Owners of small and medium-sized enterprises who leverage deep industry experience often find they are best placed to conceive practical solutions that unlock latest technology.
"The UK continues to have a commanding position in such innovation which is the envy of many countries around the world.
“ESL is the latest firm at Fareham Innovation Centre to fly the trading flag for Britain.
"Our holistic support can be the springboard that enables occupiers to consider and win contracts around the world, including in South East Asia and the Middle East.”
Fareham Innovation Centre has 24 offices and 15 light-manufacturing workshops and is run by Oxford Innovation on behalf of owner Fareham Borough Council, with ESL moving on site in spring 2016.
All units are fully occupied, with 43 businesses on site.
Many of the centre’s occupiers are from the marine, automotive, aerospace and engineering sectors, with dozens of other businesses regularly using drop-in facilities, including hired conference and meeting rooms.
An extension, more than doubling the size of Fareham Innovation Centre, is due to open in spring 2018, with an additional 33 offices, five workshops and two conference rooms.