Winning the design work for a £27M property project helped the two engineers behind Design2e’s launch.
When Design2e managing director Dave Tyson first thought about starting up on his own, he had a fleeting vision of working from his back room, free from the day-to-day pressure of running a business. Fast-forward seven years, and he has a headquarters in the centre of Birmingham, a team of 28 and is expecting a turnover of £3M this financial year.
The trigger that fired the business when it was launched back in 2011 was the chance to engineer a project worth around £27M. Called Windsor Walk, it was a new clinical building for King’s College Hospital in London. The team behind the development knew Tyson and wanted his specific expertise on the project, so Tyson left his job as a regional director at consultant Clarke Bond and took the plunge.
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“It quickly became apparent to me that I wasn’t going to get away with a lifestyle business and spend most of my time on the beach,” he laughs.
When Tyson departed his previous firm, he was succeeded by Wayne Holt. But just a few months later, the firm had to make redundancies and Holt found himself in a similar position to Tyson: being offered work as an individual consultant. Holt sought advice from Tyson, and they agreed to team up, with Holt taking on the role of executive director.
“I asked Dave what I should do, he said: ‘either go for it alone, or we could pair up and utilise our skills,” says Holt.
They’re more prepared to give you an opportunity based around a ‘no-win, no-fee’ type of relationship
Starting with such a big project gave the firm a fee income from day one and Tyson says his “grey hair and connections” enabled them to get some feet in doors.
But after that, the decision by the pair to sign up for a business growth and development programme at Cranfield University enabled them to bring a longer-term vision. They had built several regional offices around key staff but came to see that this was difficult to manage, so scaled back to London and Birmingham. It also gave Tyson and Holt a clear marketing strategy, which enabled the firm’s list of clients to spread.
“We recognised that 60% to 70% of the industry, if not more, is two-stage tendering, or contractor design and build, so we recognised that the actual contractors are a good source of work, and they are less fussy about their entry points.
“They’re more prepared to give you an opportunity based around a ‘no-win, no-fee’ type of relationship. We used that to establish ourselves with five or six tier ones, and that relationship has blossomed out to their clientele, and they are now coming direct to us,” says Tyson.
Value for projects
Design2e prides itself on the value it brings to projects, evidence of which made it one of the Trending 20 at New Civil Engineer’s NCE100 awards. The Trending 20 are firms undertaking exciting and innovative work. Design2e has also made the shortlist for awards in low carbon categories at NCE100 and TechFest.
The firm has developed a process called ‘carbon mapping’ where it looks at a design, identifies where it thinks it can make efficiencies – both in carbon reduction and functionality – and re-engineers those areas. This does not just cover technical elements, it looks at stakeholders too.
“We start every job by looking at what success looks like for everybody, right from planner to electrician.
“We build a matrix of what success needs. Generally, there are five to 10 must haves, then we identify the next tier as ‘nice to haves’, and try
to get as far down this list as we can,” says Tyson.
We start every job by looking at what success looks like for everybody
For the Left Bank apartment blocks project in Birmingham, the firm reduced the floor slab thickness by 32%, the core wall by 30% and the amount of concrete used by 30% between first and second stage tender. The foundations were also reduced by 39%.
The carbon footprint was slashed by 30% purely by efficiency of the design. It used a double design approach using more than one software platform and two internal design teams, combined with a series of group and cross group design reviews.
With its reputation established, Design2e is now looking to get more work through frameworks and tenders, but it is still loyal to the contractors.
“I spent most of my working life working with blue chip architects doing fancy schemes and those sorts of schemes are very difficult for a small business to now get a slice of,” says Tyson.
“By going to a contractor, you sort of circumnavigate that in a way, and more importantly those same engineering skills that are used to provide some sort of architectural rocket science can be applied to provide a really economic design,” says Tyson.
Challenging engineering projects are Design2e’s forte. For example it is working hard on solving wind oscillation issues for what will be Europe’s slimmest tower in Birmingham. The 36 storey structure has a depth to height ratio of 1:12.
And to undertake those challenging projects, it looks for “smart” engineers. Whether they are apprentices, graduates or in mid-career, potential and passion are key.
It sources staff from Continental Europe as well as the UK. On the day New Civil Engineer met Tyson and Holt, the whiteboard in Design2e’s meeting room has the class notes from one of the English lessons the firm puts on for staff from outside the UK.
Tyson and Holt have a rock-solid confidence that they can deliver real value to customers. So much so, that they are thinking of making a radical change to the firm’s fee structure. They are considering an approach where they audit a project and take a slice of the cost saving the client makes if it adopts Design2e’s ideas.
“We’ll take a scheme and we’ll do an audit, for which we will charge a notional fee, recognise where the real savings are and say to the client: ‘we’ll take a percentage cut of that and show you how to get to that number,’ says Tyson. That you might say is slightly arrogant, but that’s part of the whole process,” says Tyson.
“We have tabled that to a couple of clients and really got their attention,” adds Holt.