It started out as an idea to promote digital research and education at MMU and now Digital Innovation has officially opened its exciting new space – the Shed.
The building was packed with people, not only from the university, but from across the wider Manchester digital sector to officially launch the space. Guests were treated to displays and demos of groundbreaking tech and digital projects, an art exhibition as well as talks about the project and the wider digital scene in Manchester.
Exploring Digital Innovations three main areas of focus – education, research and business -Professor Jean-Noel Ezingeard, Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Strategic Planning and Research, Paul Bason, director of Digital Innovation, Cathy Urquhart, Professor of Digital and Sustainable Enterprise at MMU, Alex Connock, Professor of Digital Enterprise at MMU and MD of Shine North, Hugh Campbell Co-Founder and Managing Partner of GP Bullhound, founder and CEO of Wakelet, Jamil Khalil, and David Edmundson-Bird, Principal Lecturer in Digital Marketing Communications and Associate director of Digital Innovation were pitted against the clock to introduce the project to guests. Adding a sense of gamification to the night the presenter had four minutes to wow the crowd. After the presentations, guests were able to explore and play with the digital demos on offer across the building, from wearable tech, to Oculus rift to an exhibition from Manchester School of Art students there was lots on offer in a place that Edmundson-Bird described as “Babylon Five ,where the races will come together and start to learn and do things in really strange ways.”
While for Connock the Shed is a “palpable” realisation of a project that was once just an idea on the drawing board:
“Digital Innovation is a situation where people feel empowered to come up with exciting new ideas for a world that is essentially all now digital. It can be anything from content to tech inventions to new ways of living their lives to organising information. It is an incredible world of opportunity and that is the point behind the shed is that it brings together all the different disciplines across the university into one kind of soup of digital innovation out of which we hopefully get some tasty bits and pieces for everyone to eat,” he said.
For university staff the Shed gives them somewhere to collaborate and come together to create new and exciting ideas:
“The Shed is a physical space: there is so much happening in the virtual and physical world but actually to make it happen and make connections we need a physical space. We have got the technical ability in my school to actually support the development but we need to get in contact with the people who have got the ideas and we can make those things work so that is why the Shed is really important,” according to Keith Miller, Head of the School of Computing, Mathematics and Digital Technology.
The idea that having a space where faculties can meet and share ideas and meet with businesses interested in working with students and the university is so important was shared by David Tyler, reader in the department of apparel at MMU:
“There are people coming here who would never come to the department of apparel but they are interested in what we are doing. It also gives me a good base for working with science and engineering and architecture and other people within the university who are interested in cross-discipline studies. We are building our research programme on the fact that the university already has expertise in digital environments”
But of course Digital Innovation is about so much more than just education and research it aims to work alongside businesses and help grow and develop the digital sector and maybe even find the next unicorn business, or firms worth $1 billion to you and I, something which Campbell believes possible from somewhere like the Shed:
“An environment like this and enthusiasm from MMU to try and pull together academia, research and of course business is critical if we are going to build the unicorns of tomorrow and ensure that the graduates of our university stay here in Manchester. What we do is we connect them to the NASDAQ we don’t let them leave to the valley we just allow them to connect and if we connect those people we will keep those individuals together, we will keep jobs in the city and we will keep innovation in the city.”
But perhaps the last word of the evening should go to Khalil, the founder and CEO of the promising startup Wakelet:
“From an entrepreneurs point of view I am proud of Manchester. Look how many people are here tonight and if you look at all the different things that are just bubbling around the city now it is really energetic being in Manchester. I think we could put Manchester on the map and I want to be part of that story.”