Profile: The premises that helped a reinvention

How an unusually understanding landlord got one inventor's career back on track
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The Independent Online

Mike Lawton, 37, is an inventor based in Abingdon, Oxfordshire who started Futuretec Technologies Ltd in 2003 (01235 834784;

Back in 1989, at the age of 22, Mike Lawton came up with a prototype electronic keg changer for the brewing trade that was so innovative it earned him the title of "Welsh Inventor of the Year" and an appearance on Tomorrow's World. Surely the start of a successful business career? Well, actually, no. Mike found it difficult to build the right team around him and so shelved his ambitions. But redundancy last year provided the stimulus to try again and so, with ex-colleague Jolyon Tidmarsh, he set about commercialising his inventions.

New ideas flowed quickly from the partnership: more "intelligent" beer cellar equipment; safer devices for automotive paint-spraying; and even a "singing toothbrush" that senses how hard a child is brushing and plays a happy tune when the child gets it right. But the growing business encountered a common problem: they couldn't find appropriate business premises within their budget. Relocating to a facility in Wales looked cost-effective but that would have meant losing most of the team. Surprisingly, the solution came from an innovative landlord.

Now "innovation" and "landlord" are words that rarely appear in the same sentence. But John Bateman, MD of Milton Business Park in Abingdon, believes that, "Business parks should provide access to business support in the same way that they provide security or landscaping." So much so, that John has arranged for Roger Mumby-Croft, of the local university business school, to provide mentoring for tenants. Recognising the potential of the business, and after a thorough review of Futuretec's patents and potential markets, John offered rent-free premises in exchange for a modest equity stake (shares) in the company.

Sadly, this kind of deal is far from common. But operating from the right premises can pay off in more ways than one. Futuretec has now attracted a core team of 10 talented engineers prepared to work for small salaries to help establish the company. "I've no doubt," commented Mike, "that the excellent premises have helped us attract employees and investors alike."

The only drawback to the Futuretec location is the long journey each weekend to see his wife Veronika, 27, who's currently at university in Plymouth. But, ever the inventor, Mike is dealing with the cost of travel at least - he's converted a diesel engine to run on old chip pan oil and will shortly use that in his car!