£6.5m project aims to drive digital innovation in the South West

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A project worth £6.5million is being launched across the South West to expand the use of digital technologies throughout the region’s creative, health and manufacturing sectors.

The new Creative Technology Network will bring together universities and industrial partners, pooling their research and innovation expertise to develop cutting-edge practices, techniques and products in creative digital technologies.

Supported by a grant from RESEARCH ENGLAND, and led by the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol), the three-year project is a partnership with Watershed in Bristol, Kaleider in Exeter, Bath Spa University, the University of Plymouth and Falmouth University.

UWE Bristol Professor Jon Dovey is leading the project for the DCRC

As new technology, including automation and big data, raises new challenges and opportunities for businesses, this partnership is designed to respond to industry needs across the health and manufacturing sectors and the creative industries, driving productivity and resilience.

The grant is part of RESEARCH ENGLAND’s Connecting Capabilities Fund, which supports university collaboration and encourages commercialisation of products made through partnerships with industry. The funding will kick-start the project, which begins in April.

Professor Martin Boddy, who is Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research and Business Engagement at UWE Bristol, said, “We are immensely proud to be taking the lead on this exciting project which builds on UWE Bristol’s vision to work with partners to enhance innovation across the region and nationally. This new network will stimulate the regional economy and will undoubtedly lead to new products and new ways of working, all thanks to shared research experience and technical expertise.”

Professor Jon Dovey, who is Professor of Screen Media at the Faculty of Arts, Creative Industries, and Education at UWE Bristol and leading the project for the Digital Cultures Research Centre (DCRC) said, “This project will bring together the best and the brightest researchers in creative arts, technology and design to work with companies old and new to show what new kinds of value can be unlocked by the application of creative technologies.

“We are going to be working with immersive media, processes of automation and the new availability of big data to support business to find new ways of working with their customers and our citizens. Watch this space for the amazing new products and services we invent in the next three years.”

 

Do you have a hi-tech business idea? Launch Space offers free desk space for one year

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Recent graduates from across the UK who have a bright idea for a high-tech business are invited to apply for a free residency in ‘Launch Space‘ at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol).

‘Launch Space’, a graduate high-tech business incubator that provides start-ups with one year of free desk space and innovation support, is now accepting applications for new residencies that will commence from the end of October 2017.

High-tech, innovation and research focused graduate start-ups can benefit from the chance to develop business contacts, gain access to mentorship and talks by visiting companies.Press release image with logo

They are also able to access UWE Bristol’s research community, tap into student talent through work placements, internships and recruitment, and make full use of all the facilities offered on campus.

The Launch Space incubator forms part of a larger UWE Bristol innovation support programme funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). Located in the £16m University Enterprise Zone on UWE Bristol’s Frenchay Campus, alongside the Future Space technology incubation centre and the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, its residents benefit from co-location with other growing, innovative enterprises.

“We are particularly excited that, through launch Space, we can provide office space and innovation support to graduate-led start-ups. This helps the West of England to retain and nurture entrepreneurial talent and the University to build on its commitment to supporting enterprise,” said Professor Martin Boddy, who is UWE Bristol’s Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research and Business Engagement.

Residency in the incubator is available to individuals who have graduated from any UK university in the past three years. Those applying are required to have a UK-based business located or operating in the West of England (Bristol, Bath, South Gloucestershire, and North Somerset). If they are a pre-start enterprise, and have not yet registered their business, the Launch Space team can help with this process.

Interested graduates can apply for the new residencies online until 30 September 2017, with interviews planned for the first week of October. Those selected will then attend a three-day induction.

Current residents of Launch Space span a wide range of innovative technology ideas. One entrepreneur is designing an environmental mask that filters out harmful pollutants and automatically notifies the user when contaminants are present in the air. Another is designing an app to make it easier for the rental of student accommodation. The platform bypasses estate agents and removes the need to pay a deposit upfront.

Launch Space is part of a larger UWE Bristol programme that is receiving up to £2,000,000 of funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) Growth Programme 2014-2020. The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) is the programme’s Managing Authority.

Established by the European Union, the ERDF helps local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects that support innovation, businesses, job creation and local community regeneration.

Laying foundations for a solid client-agency relationship

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In an increasingly competitive world in which marketing agencies are prolific, how best should they retain clients, and how can a relationship between client and agency be set up in the first place to ensure longevity? Two academics at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) are researching this relationship with a view to advising both parties how to lay solid foundations from the start.

For the last four years, Professor Tim Hughes and Dr Mario Vafeas have endeavoured to find out what makes a successful and long-lasting relationship between agencies (creative and digital), and their clients (usually marketers).

Beginning in 2013, their research project initially involved interviewing 25 people on both sides of existing business relationships, to ascertain what their common issues were. Since then, the researchers have also used a combination of one-to-one interviews, focus groups, workshops and survey questionnaires to gather more data from clients and agency account managers.

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Mario Vafeas has experience working both on the client and agency side

The results reveal some of the typical challenges both sides face. “You tend to find that agencies have common complaints about their clients, and vice versa,” says Vafeas. “However things are not getting better and in fact are getting worse,” he adds.

 

The first challenge that has emerged from the research is the power imbalance between both sides. The client controls the purse strings and, because the agency is trying to hold on to the account, their creatives may not always tell them what needs to be said through fear of negatively affecting the relationship.

To counter this imbalance, one of the first things for agencies to think about is whether they are compatible with the company commissioning them, explains Vafeas. “Working with clients where there is a good fit helps the subsequent relationship,” he says.

Establishing a modus operandi on how the two will interact from the beginning is also extremely important. “Explaining to the client at the outset that they don’t intend to impose their way of working on them, but instead want them to get the best possible work out of the agency is key,” says Vafeas. “That investment needs to be made upfront,” he adds, suggesting this is more important than a detailed contract, which can sometimes be off-putting for both parties.

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Tim Hughes in one of the team’s workshops

Says Hughes: “A lot of it is about agencies understanding what clients want, and clients understanding what they need to do to get the best out of agencies.” He adds: “This is very much a co-creative process.”

It is also vital that agencies fully understand the clients’ business and that they do not tell them what they already know, say the researchers. “Making sure the creative output is exceptional is key, as many clients can get work done in-house, so if they go to an agency they want something that stands out,” says Vafeas.

Hughes and Vafeas have also observed that there is sometimes a disconnect in the way the two parties want to communicate. They have noticed that agency staff are invariably aged under 30 while brand managers are often in their 50s. The former tend to prefer email, according to the academics, while the latter prefer direct contact. “In the past, a face-to-face interaction was fundamental to building a relationship, but we are now finding this doesn’t happen so much anymore,” says Vafeas. Despite occasional geographical constraints, agencies might therefore consider a more personal approach, he suggests, in order to nurture a stronger relationship.

With a view to sharing their findings and helping practitioners, Vafeas and Hughes work with business networks such as Bristol Media and the Chartered Institute of Marketing, hosting workshops to share results and asking participants to talk about implications for their businesses. They also host seminars, including with the Design Business Association in London. They also organise workshops with individual agencies.

Finally, their findings have also led the academics to incorporate sessions on how to optimise business relationships into the University’s Business and Management degree, as they see this as a vital skill for graduates.

(This article is also published on the Small Business Charter website)

How I4G helped an education company open up the world of particles

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The Innovation4Growth (I4G) funding offers grants to businesses in the West of England wishing to develop an innovative project. The current I4G round of funding is offering £1 million for SMEs in the region.

Interactive Scientific is a previous recipient of I4G funding. The education company’s CEO Becky Sage explains how the grant helped it develop the Nano Simbox digital platform.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=leyMMS0d4C4]

For more info: http://www.innovation4growth.co.uk/. The deadline for applications is 12th July 2017.  

UWE Bristol BDAS talks to receive 100th guest speaker

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A series of lectures featuring top business executives will receive its 100th guest speaker when it restarts this autumn. The Bristol Distinguished Address Series (BDAS) evening lectures are organised by the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol), and feature some of the world’s most senior executives. The business-related talks take place in the Bristol Business School’s new £55m building on the University’s Frenchay campus throughout the academic year, averaging two a month.

Karen Blackett OBE, Chairwoman of MediaCom, will be the 100th speaker on 6th December, after the talks kick off on 11th October with an address by Sacha Romanovitch (CEO of Grant Thornton). The subjects of the talks are still unconfirmed, but past topics for BDAS have included everything from leadership challenges to the future of work. Other invited executives include Duncan Selbie (Chief Executive of Public Health England), who will speak on 15th November, and George Weston (Chief Executive, Associated British Foods) whose talk is on 22nd November.

Since 2008, highly prestigious speakers have captivated audiences attending the BDAS

BDAS_bilimoria
Lord Karan Bilimoria (Chairman, Cobra Beer)

events at UWE Bristol. Eminent lecturers have so far included Lord Karan Bilimoria (Chairman, Cobra Beer), who spoke about boldness in business, Michael Ward (Managing Director, Harrods) on the luxury industry and its challenges, and Baroness Dido Harding (Chief Executive, TalkTalk) on how Britain can lead in the digital revolution. Many other high-profile names from the business world also feature on the list of previous speakers.

The lectures are free to attend, open to everyone and last about an hour with opportunities to meet the speaker afterwards, and to network. The talks provide a rare opportunity for attendees to hear about the challenges, issues and decisions made at the highest level of leadership.

Many in the audience are local entrepreneurs and the lectures can give them invaluable insights for their businesses. “There are a lot of SMEs in the Bristol region that want to learn from these chief executives, as they are the major movers and shakers of UK and international business,” explains Professor Nicholas O’Regan, who is Associate Dean of Research and Innovation at UWE Bristol. Attending companies can also take part in a masterclass on the subject pertaining to the subsequent BDAS lecture.

BDAS also provides up to date practitioner-based leadership knowledge for students on the University’s post-graduate programmes, including the MBA. This is a rare privilege, says Prof O’Regan. “Few other students will have the chance to meet the chief executive of a FTSE100 company at a university, and talk to them personally. Here it happens on a huge scale throughout the year,” he says.

Bristol Business School actively encourages students to attend the series and many are able to obtain answers on subjects that may relate to their course or curriculum thanks to the talks. “We can teach topics in any module but what is talked about with BDAS is at the cutting edge as it’s not textbook thinking, but the real world,” says Prof O’Regan. “This contextualises what students are taught here,” he adds.

After each talk, the floor is opened up for questions from the audience. “The Q&A session makes the whole event interactive and is always extremely interesting as the questions are answered amazingly frankly,” says Prof O’Regan.

Overall, says Prof O’Regan, the speakers are there to share their experience and knowledge of senior leadership but also to enjoy talking to students and members of the business community. “They like to be part of what has become an exclusive club,” he says.

For more info, or to attend: www.uwe.ac.uk/BDAS

A three-way partnership to develop artificial intelligence

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A Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) between the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol), a graduate, and a financial services firm in Bristol has developed a smart system that will help customers decide how to invest their money. KTP is a UK government programme that supports companies in implementing innovative solutions to grow their business.   

Rowan Dartington (RD) is building a cyborg. Or at least this is the way the financial services firm describes a user interface it hopes will revolutionise how clients invest their money and enable it to attract more millennials to set up portfolios.

RD is one of the UK’s leading providers of personalised wealth management services. With expertise in providing advice to investors, it is also putting a lot of work into developing the algorithms behind its online service. To ensure its new interface towered above competitors, Phil McHenry, RD’s Head of Software Development, wanted to complement its developers’ skills with specific academic knowledge in data science and user experience (UX). It therefore turned to UWE Bristol.

Together, RD and UWE Bristol began collaborating on a KTP, a programme spearheaded by Innovate UK that helps companies improve their productivity and competitiveness via a partnership with an academic institution and the recruitment of a recent graduate with specific expertise. Academic expertise was provided by Dr Paul Matthews, a senior lecturer in the Department for Computer Science and Creative Industries, and Bala Goudar was recruited for the two-year project.

Goudar, who has a PhD in Climate Physics (RD colleagues came to refer him as ‘weatherman’), had a particular skill in analysing data and a keen interest in financial markets. RD introduced him to fund management, helping him adapt to the company’s way of working. “KTP helps move people from the academic to the business environment,” says RD Chief Operating Officer Ben Cooper, “but the pressures in both worlds are different.”

To cater for clients with smaller amounts to invest, many fund managers’ online systems offer ‘robo-advice,’ algorithm-generated information about how to invest. RD’s new platform, once fully developed, will also offer such a service, but it wanted to take this one step further – by making the interface ‘intelligent.’ The KTP provided the innovation and knowledge a to achieve this.

During the KTP, which began in 2015, Goudar grew his skills in data analysis in a business context. In his second year, he began designing the algorithms, which RD’s software development team implemented. By having a data expert apply his knowledge to their business, RD began to look at data in a new way. “Data is an asset that is becoming increasingly important and Bala helped us realise that you can bring together seemingly unrelated data but still find a correlation,” says Cooper.

The KTP experience at RD also gave Goudar insight into the financial services industry. “I have had to learn the way a wealth management company firm such as RD operates before building anything,” he says. “These are all skills we don’t necessarily use in academia.”

Overseeing the project from an academic perspective, Paul Matthews brought to the table, among other skills, his knowledge of UX, ensuring that the system is highly intuitive for users. He also set up focus groups between UWE Bristol academics and RD directors around machine learning. “The KTP has also given UWE Bristol a foot in the Fintech [financial technology] world, which is becoming bigger and bigger, and where there is a lot of scope for us to be further involved from an academic perspective,” says Matthews.

With the new interface, still in development, if someone new to investing approaches RD to enquire about investment, they will first carry out a search through the online system. In the next step, the enquirer meets with an adviser to set up their portfolio. The data generated from this interaction then loops back into the platform to help feed the information provided to future investors. Through machine learning combined with human feedback, the ‘cyborg’ therefore teaches itself to yield even better advice next time.

This Partnership received financial support from the Knowledge Transfer Partnerships programme (KTP).  KTP aims to help businesses to improve their competitiveness and productivity through the better use of knowledge, technology and skills that reside within the UK Knowledge Base.  KTP is funded by Innovate UK along with the other government funding organisations.

How funding through UWE Bristol helped a panel manufacturer turn ideas into reality

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Thanks to an Innovation 4 Growth (I4G) government grant made available by way of UWE Bristol, Gilcrest Manufacturing was able to develop an extremely strong ceiling panel for use on cold storage rooms and other enclosed areas such as hygienic environments. In this video, the company’s Engineering Manager Stephen Griffiths explains how the funding, as well as support from UWE Bristol, was critical in bringing the project to fruition.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AOy91UB0h44&w=560&h=315]

UWE Bristol & TechSPARK: Showcasing innovation

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UWE Bristol has partnered with TechSpark to showcase some of our most innovative technology projects and research.

Tom-MitchellAtMixd

In the latest guest blog, we look at Dr Tom Mitchell’s electronic gloves that can be programmed for performing musicians to trigger sounds and virtual instruments using hand and arm movements.

Visit TechSpark’s website to read more about the Mi.Mu gloves and Dr Mitchell’s involvement in the technology.

How a grandfather inspired a fascination for the human mind

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To celebrate International Women’s Day, we look at Anita Gulati’s research on mindfulness and its role in enabling creative, sustainable leadership and re-enforcing resilience. Gulati works at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) and is Associate Director of its Bristol Business Engagement Centre (BBEC). She says her grandfather’s story has served as inspiration in her work.

Harbans Lall Gulati came to the UK as an Indian immigrant in the 1920s and hearing about his life has helped Anita Gulati understand why she is so interested in mindfulness and meditation. “Despite working as a doctor in a busy practice in London, every day my grandfather used to close his consultation room door for 20 minutes to meditate. I discovered this recently and it gave me a very strong sense of connection to my ancestors,” says Ms Gulati.

Her aunt, Dr Meira Chand, who recently took up yoga aged 75 ­-­ three years after completing a PhD – is now writing a novel about Harbans. Ms Gulati believes that if there were ever an example of resilience in the face of adversity, it is to be found in the story of his life.

After completing his medical training in the land of his birth, Harbans emigrated to England with the intention of working as a doctor. On arrival, he walked all the way from Liverpool Docks to London and slept in Hyde Park, only to discover that his medical qualifications were not recognised in the UK. He repeated his training at Charing Cross Hospital, and eventually requalified. The colour of his skin, however, resulted in him being shunned when looking for premises in which to practise medicine. This challenge was overcome thanks to a Jewish jeweller in Battersea Rise who let him use part of his shop as a consultation room.

Throughout the Second World War Harbans served the local community, treating the injured and assisting the poor, eventually helping to set up Meals on Wheels (the service that today still delivers meals to those who cannot cook for themselves). He also became involved in local politics, becoming a councillor for Battersea South ­– a rare occurrence for someone from South Asia in those days.

Inspiration from her grandfather and her experience as a sociologist and psychologist has ignited in Ms Gulati an interest to know more about mindfulness, a form of meditation involving focusing on the present moment. “It is perhaps my grandfather’s tale that inspired my passion for the human mind,” says the researcher. Gulati and her colleagues are now exploring why mindfulness seems to help people deal with life’s stresses, how it can sometimes make us more resilient, especially as leaders, and why alongside the notion of leadership, it has become an increasingly important concept.

Three years ago, Ms Gulati attended a conference on the neuroscience of mindfulness and scientific impact, where she met Dr Peter Malinowski after he gave a talk on the mind and meditation. “I have since been collaborating with him and Dr Carol Jarvis (UWE Bristol) to explore the role of mindfulness in compassionate and resilient leadership,” says Ms Gulati.

The three researchers have found that, in today’s uncertain world, the fastest does not always win the race (as shown in Aesop’s fable of the tortoise and the hare, believed to date back some 2.5 millennia). This idea seems to have lost currency in contemporary organisations and their research explores the challenge of learning from, and injecting some ancient wisdom into, contemporary organisational settings. “As my grandfather perhaps discovered, stopping to ‘smell the roses’ rather than rushing to ‘wake up and smell the coffee’ can impact organisational sustainability and resilient leadership,” says Gulati. “We are exploring how this works and assessing the creative tension that may emerge from this juxtaposition,” she adds.