The OpTIC Technology Centre is run by the physicist and optics expert Caroline Gray OBE, who is Professor of Enterprise, Engagement and Knowledge Transfer at Wrexham Glyndŵr University. Her job title says it all, really. Academic excellence isn’t something to lock away in ivory towers: it needs to be shared with industry so that it can shine brightly in the real world.
Wrexham Glyndŵr only got full university status in 2008, but it quickly demonstrated a formidable expertise in the complex area of bespoke ground- and space-based telescope mirrors - a field in which the university still has world-leading capability. Expertise in the field of precision optical fabrication and metrology has developed over the past 16 years so the Precision Optical Systems Group based at OpTIC offers world-class capabilities for the design, fabrication and testing of bespoke optical components and systems.
“What you do with that capability is you spin it out for the benefit of the economy to create jobs and revenue,” says Prof Gray. Hence the establishment of the OpTIC Technology Centre, which is operated through the university’s own subsidiary, Glyndŵr Innovations Ltd.
“OpTIC is operated in a commercial sense as well as a research facility,” says Prof Gray. “Our aim is to support and to offer facilities for small businesses to develop and to incubate. It’s about providing the right platform for technical businesses to thrive and flourish. We offer a package that basically takes away the worry of running your own facility. It allows people to get on and develop their products.”
OpTIC is already home to a diverse bunch of tech start-ups that includes biotech companies and medical test developers. Based in St Asaph, the centre has office facilities, meeting rooms and plenty of lab space (not mention an on-site café). But its trump card is that it’s plugged right into the heart of academic, business and technical support networks.
“It’s a great place to be,” says Prof Gray. “You’re an hour from Manchester Airport and Liverpool Airport and the Northern powerhouse. It’s one road from here into all of those links.”
The resident start-ups also benefit from Glyndŵr Innovations’ closeness to Welsh Government, says Prof Gray: “We connect businesses with Welsh Government support. They’re definitely listening, and the growth of the Welsh economy is absolutely key and at the heart of what Welsh Government are providing.”
Another R&D facility based at OpTIC is the Centre for Photonics Expertise (CPE), funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). It’s an industrial challenge-led partnership between four Welsh universities that supports Welsh businesses through collaborative innovation. Photonics is integral to our daily lives through technology like smartphones, screens, telecommunications, LED lighting and renewable energy applications. You’ll find photonics technology somewhere in almost every industry sector. CPE accelerates business growth by drawing on their formidable academic capabilities to offer light-based technological solutions to businesses across Wales - at no cash cost to the company.
“It doesn’t matter whether you are providing lamps for commercial applications or whether you have high-end vacuum coating requirements for silicon chips,” says Prof Gray. “Or you might be developing an art feature that requires a certain type of lighting. Photonics bleeds across all the sciences, and it brings science to everyday life.”
Talking of which, there’s another big plus for OpTIC residents: its location. “It’s a fantastic place to live,” says Prof Gray. “You’re by the sea, you’ve got the mountains, so your quality of life is fantastic in North Wales. I think OpTIC is really driving a lot of the industrial development within this area, and is looking to do more. So I ask that businesses talk to us and tell us what they want. If you’ve got an idea that’s incubating we can point you in the right direction. We can support you make it your home. It’s the best place to be.”