A thriving innovation centre near Fareham is to mark record occupancy levels with a celebration of achievements.
Award-winning Fareham Innovation Centre, which provides occupiers with advice and support to help them start and grow their businesses, is already 70% full after launching just over six months ago (April).
To celebrate success to date, the £5.3m centre by is hosting an Open For Business event on Wednesday, November 11.
Occupiers at Merlin House, next to the former military Daedalus airfield at Lee-on-the-Solent, are mainly from the marine, automotive, aerospace and engineering sectors.
With 15 light-manufacturing workshops and 24 offices, from 200 sq ft to 800 sq ft, for between one to 10 people, the centre is managed by innovation centres specialist Oxford Innovation on behalf of owner Fareham Borough Council.
The Solent Enterprise Zone, the first such zone in the South to be given the special designation by Prime Minister David Cameron, is positioned to bring hundreds of new jobs and investment to the area with a focus on the engineering, aerospace, aviation and marine industries.
Guest speakers at the event include Chris Allington, Oxford Innovation's managing director of business and innovations centre, Gary Jeffries, chairman of Solent Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), and Councillor Seán Woodward, Fareham Borough Council's executive leader.
In the run-up to the event, they paid tribute to the success of Fareham Innovation Centre.
Mr Allington said: "We are increasingly a nation of entrepreneurs, with figures showing that 4.6 million people are now self-employed in Britain, a record high. The 70% occupancy, in the space of just six months, is a reflection of this can-do business culture. Our role here at Fareham Innovation Centre is to support start-ups and early-stage firms and help them grow so they can eventually fly from the nest with the strongest of wings."
Mr Jeffries said: "Solent LEP's aim is to support the creation of 1,000 small and medium enterprises, as well as unlocking 500,000 sq m of new employment floor space, with a focus on supporting growth in the marine, maritime and advanced manufacturing sectors. The achievements to date at Fareham Innovation Centre show that LEP's strategic economic plan for the Solent is starting to bear fruit."
Cllr Woodward said: "The high occupancy level in such a short time has exceeded everyone's expectations and it is only a matter of time before 'full house' is called. We are grateful to Oxford Innovation, as the operator, for its expertise in operational management and attracting customers. The Open For Business event will provide an ideal opportunity to thank everyone involved in making the centre a resounding success."
At the centre, which was built by Fareham Borough Council with support from the Homes and Communities Agency, 150 new jobs are set to be created as part of that vision.
Occupants enjoy various benefits, including a 100% business rate discount worth up to £275,000 per business over a five-year period for being within an Enterprise Zone.
Thanks to the achievements to date at the centre, the council earned plaudits from the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB). It was awarded the Most Innovative Small Business Friendly, Programme, Campaign or Project at the 2015 FBS awards.
The centre is also forging strong links with neighbouring CEMAST - the recently-launched Centre of Excellence in Engineering & Manufacturing Advanced Skills Training.
CEMAST is the main learning centre for more than 900 students in apprenticeship programmes with partner companies such as BAE Systems, GE Aviation, Virgin Atlantic, Coopervision, Burgess Marine and Jensen Motorsport.