Universities Minister Chris Skidmore attends the official launch of the Foundry Technology Affinity Space at UWE Bristol

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Chris Skidmore MP, Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, attended the official launch of the Foundry Technology Affinity Space at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol).

The Minister, who is also MP for Kingswood, met a number of university and digital industry representatives during the visit, including Professor Jane Harrington, UWE Bristol Deputy Vice-Chancellor; co-chairs of the Institute of Coding Jacqueline de Rojas, President of techUK and Professor Bernie Morley, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bath; and Dr Rachid Hourizi, Director of the Institute of Coding. The purpose of the visit was to hear more about this new facility, which is funded by the Institute of Coding and will equip students with vital digital skills and ensure they are ready for the workplace. This is a key part of the objectives of the Institute of Coding, a £40million project funded by the Office for Students and led by the University of Bath.

Developed through a research-led design process led by UWE Bristol Associate Professor Andy King, the industry-themed Foundry at UWE Bristol is intended as an ‘other space’ on campus, where students can build their professional identity through working with industry partners on paid projects that fit around their studies. Aside from being home to UWE Bristol’s Enterprise Studios, the Foundry will also be a digital event space, hosting a high-profile calendar of technology outreach and engagement events across cybersecurity, computer science, creative technologies and STEM subjects designed to widen participation around coding and digital skills.

Science and Innovation Minister Chris Skidmore said: “As we rely more on new technologies and cyber threats become more sophisticated, the Foundry Technology Affinity Space will provide the vital skills needed to meet the opportunities and address the challenges of the future. The impressive state-of-the-art facility with its cutting edge technology will introduce a range of innovative new courses for students, enabling them to go on and compete successfully in the global digital economy.

“This builds on our commitment to tackle this issue, and this government is funding projects to design out many forms of cyber threats to online and digitally enabled products and services through our modern Industrial Strategy.”

Professor Harrington said: “We were delighted to welcome Minister Skidmore to this fantastic new facility on our Frenchay campus alongside the Institute of Coding. The Foundry is a major investment that will connect our students with globally-renowned industry partners, and will give them invaluable insight into what digital skills and innovation the future workforce will need. Deep and meaningful collaboration with industry and the world of professional practice will hugely benefit our students not just during their degrees, but in their futures as they progress into the digital industry. I look forward to seeing what our students will create in this innovative new space.”

Dr Hourizi said: “The Institute of Coding is pleased to launch and support a new Foundry Technology Affinity Space, which will serve as a gateway for students to gain critical on-the-job experience through paid work with industry without disrupting their academic studies. With employers crying out for new candidates who are workplace-ready, and students seeking valuable experiences to bolster their CVs, this new facility will enable thousands of young people to begin the first step in their career.”

The Institute of Coding is a national consortium announced by the Prime Minister in January 2018 and UWE Bristol is a full member. To help fund its contribution to the Institute of Coding, UWE Bristol was awarded £1 million from a £20 million funding pot allocated by the Office for Students (formerly known as the Higher Education Funding Council for England -HEFCE) to improve the way universities train people for digital careers.

Network for Creative Enterprise: a few highlights of achievements, challenges, learning and what next.

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In this blog post, Network Producer Vanessa Bellaar Spruijt shares an update on one of UWE Bristol’s ERDF funded programmes -Network for Creative Enterprise (NfCE).

NfCE is made up of four hubs across Bristol and Bath: Watershed, The Guild (Coworking Bath), Knowle West Media Centre and Spike Island.

Each hub has offered residency opportunities with free space and a package of business development support. By bringing together expertise from fine art to fabrication to creative technology, the network has been better equipped to share resources and provide business development opportunities to the creative sector.

Network for Creative Enterprise has enabled the partners to offer tailored events, workshops and mentoring for individuals and small enterprises to support their business development from the idea stage through to start-up and on to growth.
Over the duration of the project 138 creatives have worked at the hubs and have engaged in 35 creative development workshops and other learning opportunities.

The NfCE partnership and supported programme finishes at the end of June 2019 with an Exhibition called ‘Another Way Works: an exhibition of creative business journeys. Find out more about the exhibiton and how to get involved here.

I am the Network Producer for NfCE at Watershed in Bristol and presented recently to producers of similar projects and the Department for Culture, Digital, Media and Sport as part of Arts Council England’s Creative Local Growth Fund away day. I talked about some of our achievements and learnings and thought it would be good to also share them here (although turning a talk into a blog post is a much harder task than I imagined).

NfCE is a network working in partnership between the UWE Bristol and four West of England hubs: The Guild co-working space in Bath and three Bristol hubs: Spike Island, KWMC The Factory and Watershed. NfCE is funded by Arts Council England and the European Regional Development Fund.

The partnership finishes at the end of June 2019. To explain a little about how we work: each hub has a producer and offers business support for creative individuals and micro companies to develop their creative idea into an economically sustainable enterprise, they are also offered free space for the duration of the programme.

Our support is shaped in two ways:
1) a pre-planned programme, including business mentoring sessions, law and tax clinics, business development bursaries and producer support.
2) a highly flexible and evolving strand of activity consisting of workshops, intensive courses and bespoke support which is responsive to residents’ needs.

Just like most worthwhile experiences in life, the success of this programme has people at the heart of it. As this resident at KWMC The Factory who has recently cut down her salaried days in order to build her own jewellery and exhibition business reflects:

“NfCE has been more to me than access to amazing facilities, information and funding. It has helped me connect with like-minded people and it’s really changed my working life being able to bounce ideas around and get inspired! I’m very proud to be part of a network with such talented and supportive residents and staff alike!”

Network for Creative Enterprise has all sorts of impact, but I think the two key achievements are:
1) Establishing a network of organisations who are all working towards a common talent development programme with the ability to share learning in real time.

Some of the hubs we are working with didn’t have mature residency programmes and the programme has enabled a more robust offering with good sharing and co-working practices thereby strengthening the talent support capacity in the region (which is the West of England). By bringing together expertise from fine art to fabrication and creative technology, we are better equipped to share resources and provide business development opportunities to the growing freelance and micro-enterprise ecology within the cultural and creative sector.

2) Creating a network of peers to support each other that will outlast the project.

We currently have 138 active residents across the hubs and over 900 people participating in wider activity. They are increasingly active in forging peer to peer relationships as our activities invite residents to the different hubs, allowing for more cohesion between the physical locations and the opportunities we each have to offer. Peer support networks are a strong focus area for our final activity on the programme.

Naturally, this complex project has a series of challenges, but I think the two main challenges are:

1) Metrics

Although, reasonably, we are asked to measure impact (in this case in the form of progress against targets) in order to justify our funding, this can be hard in our sector. Most notably, the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) defines a job as nothing less than a year long, full time contract (or two part-time posts equivalent) which is difficult to reconcile with the broader economic realities in the cultural and creative sector.

34% of the creative industry workforce is made up of freelancers. A snapshot of a part of our community shows that the majority of people are working upwards of 20 hours per week on their own business and are paying themselves a base salary in most cases, but not enough to be recognised as a job by ERDF. A smaller group have PAYE staff but typically for two or three days per week on a six-month contract which, again, does not count. Moreover, during this project most residents, businesses or sole traders, are hiring or have hired temporary freelancers amounting to hundreds of days of work but zero ‘jobs’ by the official definition.

Not being able to count the economic activity of the eco-system is unrepresentative and therefore a risk for the future funding of similar projects. We no longer live in an industrialised world, where linear rapid growth metrics apply. The creative sector with its high proportion of freelancers, so called ‘life style businesses’, cross sector collaborations and disruptive innovation is a complex mixed bag that deserves the right support at the right time to flourish.

2) Budget Inflexibility

To meet ERDF requirements the budgets for this project were very precisely created at the onset with specific activity and spend allocations. As explained, we structure the majority of our programme to be responsive to the needs and demands of our resident communities and hence some of the ideas we had at the beginning have needed to change to support development of the individual residents.

The inflexibility around budget categories and procurement thresholds means that we are regularly re-inventing the wheel around types of support as well as struggling to find capacity to produce new programmes that we would like to pay for.

We have not successfully overcome these challenges, but we have mostly found a compromise. We have shaped our programme to reach the targets we need, while working hard to protect the ability to create meaningful support. Despite the constraints we are over target on a range of categories, which is great for reporting purposes. In our world many of the residents have accelerated their businesses but it remains frustrating that this is not recognised by ERDF at present.

Clearly it is incredible and important that we have been given funding to create a programme like this and both ACE and ERDF teams have been nothing but brilliant in accommodating our programme needs, and working with a mixture of funders in collaboration is progressive. However, I also think it is important to highlight when some of the mechanisms around the funding criteria themselves do not work as well as they could do – for the sake of all of us working in the creative sector.

What is the most important lesson for us?

We are trying to support a complex ecosystem with diverse economic communities and hugely varying needs. Funding needs to be more flexible and more time needs to be built in to develop formats with participants.
We are working with people who are worried about registering with HMRC for taxes on one end of the scale, and people who need to set up a board because they have expanded their business so much on the other.
There are no linear pathways and hence we need to be as flexible as possible to allow us to offer the right support at the right time. That way we can really help businesses accelerate and grow.

The strength of the cultural sector is its diversity and therefore flexibility is vital.

What next?

On 6 June 2019 we will launch an exhibition ‘Another Way Works’ showcasing the unique maps of a selection of 12 creative business journeys that have taken place with support from Network for Creative Enterprise. This will be a chance to reflect on the programme and interrogate some of the business development stories in depth.

For most of June, the exhibition space at KWMC will become a place to share key learnings and insights from the NfCE programme, in the form of visual display and through a series of live events, including workshops. There will be activity for producers on these types of programmes as well as residents who enrol on these types of programmes. We will also focus on peer networks and signpost to other business support opportunities in the West of England.

The more we actively seek to recognise and celebrate difference, the more chance we have to create long-lasting and meaningful impact, networks and a vibrant creative ecosystem that is recognised for its economic worth as well as everything else.


Launch Space graduate incubator recruiting now

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Have you graduated in the last three years in the UK and have a business idea you’d like to put into action?

Launch Space provides free desk space and business support for graduate-led, innovative and high-tech businesses at various stages on the start-up journey.

Launch Space is part of a wider entrepreneurial community based on our Frenchay Campus, housing the Future Space incubation facility and the Bristol Robotics Laboratory – making it a great environment for graduate start-ups to flourish.

In just 18 months, Launch Space has supported over 50 businesses, with over £1.8 million funds raised by its residents and employment created for more than 90 people.

Launch Space is now well established in the regional start-up community, and is recognised for its unique ability to connect start-ups with the support and collaboration of the wider university and business communities.

Find out more and apply today to grow your start-up business. Launch Space is supported by the ERDF.

If you have any questions, please get in touch via email: launchspace@uwe.ac.uk or call +44 (0)117 3286168.

Scale Up For Growth (S4G): Scale up support for your business

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Scale Up For Growth (S4G) is a new programme offering grant funding and workshops to businesses in the West of England with ambitions to grow, expand and scale. £800,000 of funding is available with grants from £10,000 to £40,000 for businesses in the West of England that are looking to expand and scale. They can be used to fund 37.5% of growth projects or initiatives for businesses.

Deadline for grant applications: Midday, Thursday 7 March 2019

The grant scheme is open to businesses in any sector that want to grow and scale up their business. Applicants must be small or medium sized enterprises and based in Bristol, Bath & North East Somerset, North Somerset or South Gloucestershire.   

Businesses can also register to attend Business Growth Workshops – further information can be found on our website.   

The S4G programme is delivered by UWE Bristol, NatWest and Foot Anstey. S4G offers eligible businesses access to grants, training and expert support to help achieve their full potential, create jobs and overcome barriers to growth.

Register today www.scaleup4growth.co.uk

Invest – Connect – Explore 2019

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Following on from a successful inaugural event in 2018, the University Enterprise Zone is delighted to announce Invest, Connect, Explore (ICE) 2019.

ICE 2019 offers you the chance to meet the ambitious businesses based in UWE Bristol’s University Enterprise Zone and hear about the support available to growing and innovative businesses across the region.

ICE 2019 will take place on Wednesday 8 May from 16:00 – 19:00 in the University Enterprise Zone, Frenchay Campus.

You can discover how you and your organisations can invest, connect and explore partnerships and collaboration.

UWE Bristol’s University Enterprise Zone (UEZ) offers innovation and business development to entrepreneurs, innovators and high-tech businesses. It also provides support, incubation and scale-up space for them to flourish. Through access to modern facilities, expert knowledge and collaboration, we make the out of reach, reachable.

To register for this exciting event complete this registration form

For further information, please email UEZEvents@uwe.ac.uk

£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.”

 

Launch Space at UWE Bristol attracts 23 graduates start-ups after just six months

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Launch Space, a high-tech business incubator for graduates based at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol), has attracted 23 residents since launching in June 2017.

Based in the £16m University Enterprise Zone, Launch Space provides recent graduates from across the UK with free desk space for one year, innovation support and access to UWE Bristol researchers and facilities.

Professor Martin Boddy, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research and Business Engagement, said, “Launch Space is already becoming a vibrant and inspiring community of hi-tech entrepreneurs. The University is a key innovation hub in the West of England and we are delighted to announce that each business at Launch Space has recently been given the chance to apply for a grant of up to £6,000 to help with research and development.”

Entrepreneurs interacting in UWE Bristol's Launch Space

Current projects based at Launch Space include Tegru, a company developing a face mask for cyclists that includes built-in filter technology designed to reduce intake of harmful particles.

The incubator is also home to Bio Loop, a venture working on a system to convert waste milk into electricity. Run by a graduate from UWE Bristol’s Team Entrepreneurship degree, Bio Loop is working with a dairy company to help process waste milk using microbial fuel cell (MFC) technology to produce electricity. Bio Loop is collaborating with experts on development of a system using MFC technology developed at Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL)*.”

Another start-up is building an app called ‘Bunk’ that acts as an intermediary between landlords and tenants with the aim of improving the rental experience. Bunk will be powered by Blockchain technology, originally designed for the bitcoin digital currency, which allows digital information to be distributed but not copied and removes the need for a middleman in financial transactions. The model moves away from the current cash-heavy deposit system and allows customers to take out a monthly payment plan with an insurance company instead.

Launch Space has also attracted GigaTech, a company designing a configurable MIDI controller for music makers, Seatox, a business making beauty products out of seaweed, and Bonnie Binary, an enterprise developing a ‘soft’ games controller partly made out of textiles.

“For these graduate start-ups, working from this space is an enriching experience, given the flurry of activity around,” said Launch Space Incubation Manager Kim Brookes. “It is also important for the region, because the minute you give opportunity for innovation and creativity to thrive together, you could be creating a new industry, and this promotes the innovation economy”.

Launch Space forms part of a larger UWE Bristol innovation support programme that is receiving up to £2 million from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). Located alongside the Future Space technology incubation centre and the BRL, residents benefit from co-location with other innovative enterprises.

Those wishing to apply for a place at the incubator can do so here. Applicants are required to have a UK based business located or operating in the West of England (Bristol, Bath, South Gloucestershire, and North Somerset. The Launch Space team is on hand to help pre-start enterprise with the process of registered their business.

Dunissa: how two psychology students’ food stall helped them prepare for the world of business

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Dunya Elbouni and Melissa Sargeant share a love of cooking and baking. While studying for a degree in psychology at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) they often compared recipes, posting their meals on Instagram and blogging about food, with a dream of one day running their own food-related business.

They never imagined the extent to which the University could support them in setting up such a business enterprise, especially as they were not on a business course.  They were therefore pleasantly surprised to find out about UWE Bristol’s £20 challenge.

The scheme involves the University lending would-be entrepreneurs from any faculty £20 to set up a business with the challenge of generating as much income as possible in a week. Participants can keep any profit they make, with a prize awarded to the most innovative team. Melissa and Dunya took part, setting up a sushi and cupcake stall on the Frenchay campus. Working just two hours a day for four days, the pair made £400 profit and came second in the competition.

DUnissaFollowing their success selling food on campus, Dunya and Melissa were encouraged to apply for the University’s Innovate Internship. This offers budding entrepreneurs with support to set up and run a business venture. Successful candidates are given £1000, provided with desk space (if required), and allocated a mentor who helps them set and achieve goals.

The pair pitched their idea of setting up a food stall at St Nicholas’ Market, based in Bristol’s city centre, as they saw an opportunity to sell fusion Middle Eastern and Malaysian cuisine. Gaining a place on the programme, they used the money to buy cooking and serving equipment, produce flyers, rent the space for a pop-up stall and, of course, to buy the ingredients.

Calling their business ‘Dunissa,’ a contraction of both their names, they served an array of food and drink over a six-week period in the summer. Their fare included halloumi fries, Tabbouleh and meals such as Beef Rendang (a spicy meat dish).

“We definitely learned how hard it is to run a business and it wasn’t as easy as we initially thought,” says Dunya. “I learned a lot about time management, teamwork and the importance of networking and learning from other traders,” she adds. Their allocated mentor had previous experience working with market stall holders. “He taught us about retailers, how to track our business and helped us with the marketing side,” says Melissa. “Most of all, he acted as a sounding board, and helped us with teething problems, given that he had previously encountered some of the issues we came up against,” she adds.

The market stall was a huge success, and running their own business gave them confidence when it came to applying for jobs after graduating in 2017. Melissa subsequently got a job in PepsiCo’s marketing department. “Going into the interview and being able to say that, at such a young age, I had worked as an entrepreneur who handled buying, selling, marketing, and made a profit, gave me the edge,” says Melissa. “Even now when I mention it in the company, it’s very different to what some of the other graduates have done,” she adds.

Dunya, meanwhile, landed a job at Screwfix head office, also working in its marketing department. “A lot of the interest I have for business came from that internship and running our food stall,” says Dunya. “It took us out of our psychology [course] and more into the business field,” she adds.

As well as offering a Team Entrepreneurship business degree course, UWE Bristol actively encourages and supports students wishing to set up business ventures as part of, or alongside their studies. To find out more about these opportunities, click here.