Ipswich Waterfront Innovation Centre (IWIC) launched at University of Suffolk
Standing proudly beside the University of Suffolk’s library, the freshly-revamped Atrium building is a part of the establishment’s commitment to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects.
But delve deeper into the £5.5million facility and you’ll find the Ipswich Waterfront Innovation Centre, or IWIC for short, which thanks to a special tie up between the university’s academics, students and local businesses, could put Ipswich on the map as a hub for tech-based businesses.
By providing space for students to set up businesses, launching partnership projects between firms and bridging the gap between arts and technology environments, the centre is set to have wide-ranging commercial benefits.
But just what is the centre and how will it work?
“One of the things we are trying to achieve around here is to set up a framework where almost every student on our courses will have an industry mentor throughout their study,” said Professor Mohamed Abdel-Maguid, head of department for science and technology at the University of Suffolk.
“They have this basic engagement from the day they walk in. All their projects will be inter-linked with industry and they will contribute to their assessment.
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“Then we have a focus on digital engineering and bridging the gap between technology and the arts – putting the tools, environment and experts together that will allow people with ideas and artists to launch them into functioning projects. We feel that is the way forward for artists.”
The technology the Atrium building has to help to achieve this includes 3D printers and industry-standard computer design programmes.
Perhaps crucially, that industry contact from the outset will give STEM-subject students the chance to see what their course projects mean in the wider world, serve internships and put themselves in the spotlight as future employees for firms based in the area.
But the IWIC’s remit is much broader than just giving students a leg-up.
“The big thing we are trying to achieve is to create a discovery environment where we have academics, students, financiers and businesses integrating together without barriers,” Prof Abdel-Maguid said.
“We want to remove the walls around industry. They [businesses] will be able to come into this place, swap their cards, do their own business, as well as integrating with like-minded people which hopefully will build the community. That is the core thing we want.”
And it is that tie-up between students with fresh ideas or existing businesses working together with their tools and expertise that IWIC bosses hope will come to define the centre and its legacy.
“Innovation only happens when you have people from different walks of life, terrific experts, achieving ideas in an environment that is conducive to taking ideas and turning them into variable products and services,” Prof Abdel-Maguid added.
Digby Chacksfield, chief executive of the Eastern Enterprise Hub which will be working alongside the IWIC, said: “It’s all about collaboration and making unexpected connections with people that might be in a completely different sector of industry, but you get together and come up with a new product.
“Anything that helps a start-up start up is important.”
This year’s Tech Nation report has already identified Ipswich as an emerging technology cluster where research and businesses are having a national and international influence in the industry. And the IWIC is all about helping to develop the Waterfront into that go-to area for the sector.
What it means for Ipswich
Stef Thorne, head of research and enterprise services at the university, said: “There are other innovation centres across the country, and for technology I think people would go to Cambridge or London.
“They don’t have to any more – they can come to Ipswich and we will be one of the tech clusters in the UK.”
And the long-term benefits the collaboration is targeting includes more jobs being created locally and more progression opportunities for those based here, as well as attracting and retaining industry talent to Ipswich.
Mark Pendlington, chairman of New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “The launch of the Ipswich Waterfront Innovation Centre is a hugely proud moment for the University of Suffolk, in a year full of proud achievements. It’s also an enormous boost for Ipswich and the wider economy.
“This new centre will attract the best talent among students and businesses across Suffolk and beyond, further enhancing the reputation of Ipswich as a UK centre of excellence for science, technology and innovation.
“The LEP is very proud to be working with the University of Suffolk to help put the east at the leading edge of this sector, which contributes so much to our success story.”