Business Technology

Why Camden Market partnered with a business incubator based on a double-decker bus

6 min read

06 August 2015

Former deputy editor

Business incubator IncuBus Ventures has forged a partnership with Camden Market, which has been designed to discover local retail innovations and help the North London town become a startup hub.

Retail is the fastest growing industry sector in the UK, a fact revealed by Real Business’ very own Hot 100 2015 campaign, which discovered the 100 British companies achieving scale at a rapid rate.

Among the retail firms generating speedy growth were furniture seller JB Global and sportswear website Sportsshoes.com, effectively showcasing the diversity of offerings on the market.

As such, the latest project from business incubator IncuBus Ventures will focus on the retail industry and is going to run in partnership with the famous London entrepreneurial haunt that is Camden Market.

The incubation will span a three-month period and begin on 21 September, and applications are now open before they’re whittled down to just 18 successful candidates. And while retail is the focus, with entrants from the worlds of food and drink, fashion and more welcome to enter, the campaign is also open to firms servicing the retail industry, whether that’s a technology provider or something else.

Opening up on the project to Real Business, IncuBus co-founder Rishi Chowdhury revealed that he and business partner George Johnston had been working with startups for seven years, with both previously at enterprise collaboration firm Huddle, which is where they got the idea.

“We had built enough contacts and partners which was really helpful on a consultancy basis. From there we wanted to create an incubator with a proper programme and make it accessible,” he explained.

Noting that accelerators and incubators are traditionally difficult to access, those interested in IncuBus are required to pay a fee of £3,000 to join, which means you’re only going to get people that are truly committed to the task ahead. 

As Chowdhury put it, this “filters out people that won’t be able to complete [the course]”.

When Chowdhury and Johnston started out, they decided to buy a bus, which they stripped out and turned into an office space. It was certainly a talking point, but a savvy one that means the business secures exposure from advertising displayed on the outside wherever it may roam.

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Commenting on how the partnership with Camden came about, Chowdhury said: “While we were looking for a place to keep the bus, we looked at Camden and secured a partnership a year ago. We were based in Camden, next to the market, from September 2014 to March this year and since then the bus has moved and travelled to host events and activities.”

But what’s in it for the North London town? He continued: “We kept the partnership going to turn Camden into a startup hub and it’s helping to integrate with communities. We decided to do a retail-focused incubator to play on strength of Camden Market.

“There’s a lot of grassroot retail stuff in the market and there’s been more development locally with malls, cinemas and retail outlets. One of the things you get with the incubator is a great chance to test products and get early traction and feedback from one of the most popular markets in the UK.”

For example, a startup could have the opportunity to run a stall, whether that’s based around beverages or clothing, for a week to get an idea of customer interest. That aside, Chowdhury also outlined any analytical companies enrolled on the incubator, which may have hardware and software to test, could have sensors or other tech added to the market.

In exchange for the fee, those enrolled onto the course will have a workspace next to Camden and a full programme for the three months, with the goal of helping rising companies to reach the next stage of growth, whether that’s funding or access to accelerators.

Workshops over the period will include networking with firms including Burberry, Innocent , Google and Camden-headquartered ASOS, which achieved a 27 per cent sales increase for the four months leading up to the end of June.

Discussing IncuBus’ own plans to scale, Chowdhury, said: “We want to be across the UK and run a few cohorts. We’ve done one in Moorgate, as well as Camden and Old Street. The plan is to do vertical-focused incubators and we’ll have two running next year hopefully, targeting different hubs like London and Manchester.

“We work with many companies and depending which ones come on board, we can do it in different countries around the world and establish ourselves in the space we’re in. Taking on 18 applicants with the new incubator will mark the largest to date and the next step is 20. We’re absolutely out to scale each time.”