A new business incubator facility at Aston Science Park - specially designed to accommodate growing SMEs within the IT and communications sector - has been opened by Coun Mike Whitby, leader of Birmingham City Council.

The iBIC (ICT Business & Innovation Centre), which is located within the Science Park's Holt Court development, provides almost 24,000 sq ft of space - and is already 60 per cent fully occupied.

"That is a sure sign not only of the science park's continuing popularity as a base for fledgling companies but also of its key role in job-creation and the on-going development and promotion of Birmingham as a city of high-tech enterprise and city of science," Coun Whitby said.

Coun Whitby, who is also chairman of the board of directors at Birmingham Technology, Aston Science Park's management company, added: "This initiative is important for the introduction of the development of technological businesses supporting Birmingham's growth in the knowledge based economy."

Since iBIC opened its doors in June, a number of companies have relocated from the science park's former Business & Innovation Centre, now being demolished as part of the park's redevelopment programme.

Newcomers include Parrot UK, a subsidiary of a French telecommunications company, Datacom, which has moved from Southampton, and The Solutions Group, previously based at Blackburn, Merlin Internet, Frank-Ann Consulting and web-designers Logica IT.

In addition to 20,000 sq ft of incubator space, iBIC provides reception accommodation, five meeting rooms, post-room and refreshment facilities, while tenants also have the benefit of networked telephony, highspeed broadband Internet access and business development and mentoring support the science park's core team.

Another advantage to tenant companies is that iBIC is located next to iCentrum, an Advantage West Midlandsfunded ICT project aimed at helping SMEs to grow and compete with their bigger rivals in the information and technology sector. Dr Derek Harris, chief executive of Aston Science Park, said: "The launch of iBIC is an exciting development not just for the science park but also for Birmingham and the wider region.

"On the bigger stage, iBIC will also make a significant contribution to the proposed Eastside Technology Park, enabling the development to become increasingly attractive to inward investment opportunities."

Stuart Webb, acting head of ICT Policy at regional development agency Advantage West Midlands, said that through AWM the project had been part funded by the European Regional Development Fund.

He added: " It is very encouraging to hear that iBIC has attracted companies that have relocated from other parts of the country. The West Midlands is gaining a reputation as a world class place to do business for leading edge ICT companies."