What we gained from working with UP Ventures?

19th Mar 2021

Innovation is at the core of UP Ventures and when the pandemic hit in March 2020, the company met the challenge head-on and pivoted its operations away from in-person sessions towards an online model.

Evolution has always been embedded into the DNA of how UP Ventures operates, according to company founder Danny Meaney, from the way it conducts its own business to the approach advocated to its clients and start-ups.

Danny said: “One of our biggest achievements has been spinning our model from in-person to online. We have kept the quality of the sessions and the connection-building aspect strong.

“We haven’t lost a thing by going online, during the pandemic, and  it has given us the ability to help many more businesses.”

The shift to online during the pandemic is not the first shift in strategy the company has made, having moved from a traditional accelerator model to one that works with large companies to set up and deliver digital transformation projects.

It became clear that this new way of working, which paired start-ups and scale-ups with established businesses, also had clear benefits for both the fledgling enterprises and the corporates.

UP Ventures enables large organisations and start-ups to create effective innovation and build value together, through innovation programmes, design sprints and workshops while also helping businesses get ready for investment.

The company, established in 2012, has worked with 120 start-up businesses and 20 large corporate enterprises and has raised in excess of £85 million in investment for cohort companies in the process.

Flagship projects include the Smart City Innovation Testbed in partnership with MediaCityUK and the Connected Places Catapult , the Future of Health programme with Novartis, Google and Push Doctor; the Pathfinder Accelerator with Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE); the Data Lab for Wavemaker; the Quidcover project for L&G; and GCHQ projects linked to citizen technology and data.

Danny said:  "We take the fear out of innovation for our corporate clients.

“We save them the cost of setting up infrastructure, deliver a return on investment, find entrepreneurial solutions to real market problems and open up new markets with new partners at pace.

"For start-ups, we offer wisdom, tough love and commercial opportunities.

“Getting them through the door of a large corporate is so valuable as it would normally take them months or even years to do so on their own.”

Here, we speak to three organisations of varying size and scale about how they benefited from taking part in an UP Ventures programme.


Global diabetes management company LifeScan signed up for a Pathfinder programme following the company's sale from Johnson & Johnson and move into private equity ownership.

Anna Salgado said the Pathfinder programme empowered her LifeScan colleagues to develop new ideas

The sale had been followed by a period of rationalisation as it de-merged its operations from one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies.

Anna Salgado, technical director at LifeScan, said the programme taught  participants how to innovate in a new business environment.

She said:  "The 'Scrappy and Creative' attitude advocated by UP was exactly what we needed.

"The Pathfinder programme was about more than just coming up with good ideas. It empowered people by giving them the time, a framework and tools to develop ideas into more fully formed concepts that could be assessed by the business.”

Managing partner of UP Ventures, Steve Thomas, who has over two decades experience as a senior commercial and digital innovation leader,  said programmes centred around 'learning by doing' and that established companies learned from rubbing shoulders with nimble and focused start-ups.

He said: "Large corporate companies work with us because they are looking to innovate in a different way.

"They have good talented teams within their business but they need to formalise and put a structure in place as to how they go about bringing in new initiatives or new technology, aimed at solving specific problems and that's where we come in."

SAMS (Scottish Association for Marine Science) Research Services Ltd 

SAMS Research Services Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary of SAMS,  is one of Europe's leading marine science research organisations and took two of its products through a marine-focused Pathfinder Accelerator in the summer of 2020.

Iain Gatward said the programme inspired his organisation to break into new markets

The programme, according to business development manager Iain Gatward, helped focus the team on the potential of their products as well as flag up business risks that they could prepare for.

Iain said: "The programme helped with the marketing of our products and for motivating the team to see the potential that both products had in terms of exploring potential new markets.

"UP was very good at challenging our assumptions and encouraging us to look at new markets. We selected Chile, Canada and Norway, one of which is already doing very well.

“As a business operating within both industry and academia, we are always aware of the risks associated with IP. Through Pathfinder we learned how to better manage these risks to protect the future of the business.”

"We completed an IP audit following the Pathfinder programme and identified a number of risks which have now been mitigated."

Danny said that UP Ventures’ team members had operated at director level and many had a track record of running and exiting successful businesses meaning they could take both a founder and management viewpoint.

He said: "UP Ventures has a fantastic balance of entrepreneurial drive and corporate discipline and our people know how to make projects work both as an entrepreneur and as an intrapreneur.

"We are good at uncovering quick wins for clients in terms of ensuring that talent is being utilised or if IP is being under-commercialised.

"By the end of our programmes, we often see a change in mindset amongst corporates in that their thinking moves away from risk and more towards possibilities.”


ImproveWell staff have taken part in two UP Ventures Future of Health programmes sponsored by PwC and Novartis.

The London-based health technology company has created a digital staff engagement solution which allows decision makers to collect feedback from staff throughout their health organisations. 

Lara Mott set the network gained from the Future of Health programmes has proved invaluable

Lara Mott of ImproveWell said both programmes were invaluable in expanding her network.

She said: "We joined the programme for visibility and credibility in the marketplace and to be amongst the alumni of health companies that have gone on to become leaders in their field.

"For someone like me who was trying to get in front of key stakeholder audiences, it was very useful in putting us on the map.

"If you can keep in touch with contacts that you want to work with and then show them your traction then that is hugely powerful.

“I was also lucky to work closely with Danny Meaney as our Chair for more than three years. His guidance was invaluable as we grew the business from a handful of customers to scale, and helping us to secure two investment rounds.”

Managing partner at UP Ventures, Steve Thomas, said Mastermind groups using platforms like Slack and WhatsApp remain active with collaboration between members ongoing long after programmes have finished.

He said: "We have designed our programmes to create connections and bonds. 

"In our mastermind groups, a problem is decided upon and then each member explains what skills they can bring to help solve it in collaboration with other group members."

Danny said corporates also benefited from the networking opportunities provided by UP pointing to the Novartis Future of Health programme.

Novartis gained exposure and connections and were able to embed themselves with the Greater Manchester ecosystem.

Venture building 

Venture building is a key component of UP Ventures offering and it is a key differentiating factor from other companies operating in the accelerator or consulting space.

Danny said: “Venture building is about building a long term relationship with client companies.

“We have built a number of long term partnerships with major specialist providers in design and technical disciplines, accounting, corporate finance, legal, recruitment and have also developed a very strong relationship with MediaCityUK. 

We also have one of the best networks of investors with trusted connections with HNWs, Angel networks, Family Offices, VCs, private equity and corporate venture funds.

“We are not just running one off programmes which end and that’s it. We are about providing all the services that a company needs to grow, from building a team to finding investment to even helping to build the product.

“This makes us much more hands-on and long term with the companies that we work with.”

The venture building approach was praised by Anna Salgado of LifeScan who contrasted UP Ventures’ approach with that of traditional consultants.

Anna said: “When you bring in consultants you can get a one-size fits all solution imposed on you. 

“With UP, they shared experiences of what worked and what didn’t and listened to the background of what had happened at the company.

“It felt like we had designed the programme together and it drew on the experience and resources that they had available.”

If you think your company could benefit from working with companies on an UP Ventures programme you can contact us here.

Think. Inspire. Do.
Grappling with an innovation challenge, interested in our future programmes or just want some good ol' fashioned inspiration?
Get in touch
Sign up for our newsletter
©Copyright 2023 UP | All Rights Reserved