The welcoming reception of our relaunched Cambridge Eagle Lab

A beginner’s guide to Eagle Labs

22 March 2024

Since its launch in 2015, Barclays Eagle Labs has supported more than 13,000 businesses. Matt Corbidge, Head of Strategy, Digital and Customer, Eagle Labs, explains how the network has evolved from “providing 3D printers to driving business incubation and creating virtual connectivity at scale” – and how funding from the UK government will help even more founders in future.

Back in 2015, Matt Corbidge was part of a team that was looking for a better way to support the UK’s entrepreneurial community. “We wanted to see how we could get behind tech businesses, help boost the UK economy, stand out from our competitors – and make better use of underutilised branch space,” he explains.

Corbidge says these ambitions created the “perfect recipe” for his team to set up Eagle Labs – a Barclays-led initiative that supports founders of UK startup and scaleup businesses in the technology and innovation space. Providing entrepreneurs with the connections, tools, programmes and workspaces they need to accelerate growth, Eagle Labs works to support ambitious tech talent and reduce the barriers to entry of entrepreneurship.

Matt Corbidge, Head of Strategy, Digital and Customer, Eagle Labs

Matt Corbidge, Head of Strategy, Digital and Customer, Eagle Labs.

Around eight years on from its launch, Eagle Labs has supported 13,812 businesses. The companies supported by Barclays have raised an impressive £3.7bn in equity or fundraising, which Corbidge, the Head of Strategy, Digital and Customer, Eagle Labs, admits is a “pretty nice way to show how we’ve scaled”.

He explains that the network is able to help participating organisations in a broad range of ways. “First and foremost, we provide these founders with opportunities to collaborate and connect,” he explains. “At a local, regional and national level, we can give founders the connections that they need to help them grow, often through a suite of external partnerships and mentorships.”

3 Key statistics about Eagle Labs

To stimulate further networking, Barclays also has an online ‘Demo Directory’ tool, which helps startups and scaleups connect and engage with a selected group of attested investors. “The online platform allows businesses to share their information on the directory, and investors can browse and connect with the founders that they might want to work with.”

Interactive opportunities aside, building knowledge and skills is essential for those who want to take the next step when scaling their business. To support this growth, Eagle Labs run 21 virtual growth schemes throughout the year. From the Female Founder Accelerator – which helps innovative women-led tech firms to progress – to the Scaleup Programme – which supports companies tackling society’s biggest challenges – there’s plenty on offer for businesses at varying levels of growth.

Equipping founders with knowledge and skills

“We really pride ourselves on the breadth of growth programmes that we’re able to provide both virtually and in-person,” Corbidge says. He explains that the accelerator content leans into a range of vital themes that are relevant to startups and scaleups – such as “gaining access to international markets, navigating the UK’s funding landscape and exploring themes around corporate innovation or diversity and entrepreneurship”.

“We made the conscious decision to offer these programmes for free,” he says. “As a startup or scaleup, funding is really important. There’s no requirement for you to bank with Barclays; you just need to apply and be accepted onto a programme.”

He adds that the pandemic helped to accelerate Eagle Labs’ virtual-first proposition, as the team “wanted to make sure that geography wasn’t a barrier for businesses trying to access support”.

From the beginning, we wanted to support founders and the entrepreneurial ecosystem. While that remains true to this day, the way that we do it has evolved.

Matt Corbidge

Head of Strategy, Digital and Customer, Eagle Labs

This move seems to have helped drum up even more interest within the entrepreneurial community. Internal Barclays data has found that, collectively, the accelerator programmes received a staggering 3,836 applications from interested founders between January and December 2023 – and 2,188 people have gone on to secure spaces in the same time frame.

Improving diversity in entrepreneurship is a core goal for Eagle Labs, and these accelerators aim to make a significant difference to founders at the start of their journey. Corbidge explains that, in 2023, 54% of founders who have self-identified as diverse received support from the bank’s growth programmes. “While there’s more work to be done, we’ve made decent progress.”

A national network of labs

As part of the network’s comprehensive offering, virtual-first tools and programmes are complemented by a group of co-working spaces and incubators dotted around the UK. From Portsmouth and London to Sheffield and Glasgow, these Eagle Lab premises have office facilities that allow innovative founders to work and collaborate with others. “We’ve managed to build a national network of 37 physical lab sites, which we’re really proud of,” Corbidge explains.

He says that Eagle Labs tends to target areas with already-thriving tech ecosystems when scouting out new locations. For example, “areas with good tech startup companies and local investor networks and locations with universities that bring in a supply of talent”.

Along with setting up physical locations in big cities, Eagle Labs has been able to support smaller rural UK towns – such as Whitehaven in Cumbria – by partnering with other larger corporations and local councils. Corbidge says: “You may not think of Cumbria as a classic hub of digital tech, but we’ve managed to support some exciting businesses there.”

Connecting ecosystems and doubling down on partnerships

Over the years, the concept of Eagle Labs has evolved to keep up with emerging business demands – and it is not slowing down. “We’ve been on quite a journey,” Corbidge reflects.

Looking back on its early days, he says: “Our initial idea was to put 3D printers into vacant Barclays branch premises and allow businesses to use these facilities to develop prototypes. Now, we’ve gone from providing 3D printers to driving co-working spaces and business incubation to creating virtual connectivity at scale.”

This evolution has allowed Eagle Labs to reach significantly more businesses through its online learning tools and accelerators. Corbidge says that its physical spaces could previously support between 500 and 750 businesses per year back in the day. Between January and December 2023, Eagle Labs has been able to support 5,233 businesses, primarily through the network’s digital channels. “From the beginning, we wanted to support founders and the entrepreneurial ecosystem. While that remains true to this day, the way that we do it has evolved.”

Looking to the future, Corbidge and his team are keen to tackle their ambition to “share our expertise, provide support and break down barriers for company founders”. He says: “We’re conscious that Eagle Labs doesn’t have all of the answers, so we want to increase our collaboration with other businesses and organisations to support the entrepreneurial ecosystem.”

Further expansion of the network will be made possible by the Digital Growth Grant, which Eagle Labs secured from the UK Government’s Department of Science, Innovation and Technology. This two-year, £12m investment is designed to stimulate growth in the UK tech sector. “We activated our Digital Growth Grant offering back in April 2023, and, so far, it’s gone from success to success.”

Among other things, this funding has enabled Eagle Labs to launch the Product Builder Programme – an accelerator for early-stage startups that informs them about designing and testing a minimum viable product.

The Digital Growth Grant has allowed us to scale and broaden our offering, enabling us to triple the number of entrepreneurs we can help.

Matt Corbidge

Head of Strategy, Digital and Customer, Eagle Labs

“It’s super exciting. With its help, we can deliver support across lots of different sectors within the tech economy, including through initiatives like the Eagle Labs Academy – a digital learning platform helping founders to start and grow their businesses. And we’ll do that at scale.”