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Ideas Factory to be at the heart of digital ambitions

11:17 22 January 2016

The Ideas Facgory at NUA officially opened on January 15. 
Picture: ANTONY KELLY

The Ideas Facgory at NUA officially opened on January 15. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2015

It is Norwich’s newest factory with the potential to generate millions of pounds for the local economy, but instead of parts and widgets it will be a production line of ideas harnessing the creative talents of students and entrepreneurs.

New tenants

The Ideas Factory is already open to new digital creative businesses which include NUA graduate filmmakers Copper Crayon, multi- media agency A Fine Studio, animators Tee Hee, games designer Robin Silcock and UX specialist Tom Haczewski. Occupants have access to support from NUA’s Careers, Employability and Business services.

The centre also houses a fully equipped User Experience Lab, the first of its kind outside London, which is fully equipped with industry standard monitoring equipment, including Morae software and a Tobii eye tracking system. This was developed in partnership with external digital creative businesses in Norwich, particularly Foolproof and Aviva. The Lab is available for hire for regional business, and a ‘how to’ guide has been developed for UX for any businesses new to this area of research. A project that NUA has been developing with BBC Look East to help them develop their offer for younger audiences will be the first piece of work undertaken in the Lab.

Kelly Smith, who founded A Fine Studio with directors Rob Skinn and Steve Kirkendall, said the ability to offer clients state of art facilities was a huge bonus.

The three had worked together as members of the Virgin Money creative studio team when they caught the entrepreneurial bug and quit their jobs, moving into the Ideas Factory last November.

“Our office is located next door to the UX hub which can offer London level creative agency facilities for people here in Norwich,” she said. “It’s fantastic as we can start to compete.”

The Ideas Factory is a £3.1m project and part of the Norwich University of the Arts (NUA) which has received funding from the HEFCE Catalyst Fund, along with £200,000 of support from New Anglia LEP, and business partners in the digital creative business community.

At its official opening last Friday, business leaders and council officials, as well as tenant firms and other creative companies and organisations were given a taste of the part it would play in helping the area hold on to talent and generate new business opportunities both for NUA graduates and other companies keen to work with them.

The facility will incorporate an innovative User Experience (UX) design thinking into NUA courses, as well as offering local digital creative businesses the chance to incorporate UX cost-effectively into their own design and development processes.

It is the sort of technology used by companies such as Google and the lab is intended to be a place where users of all sorts of digital products will be invited to trial prototypes, using mobile phones, tablets, consoles and computers.

Rob Skinn, Steve Kirkendall and Kelly Smith directors of A Fine Studio creative agency, which is based at the new Ideas Factory in Norwich.
They are pictured in front of a mural by Norwich-based graffiti artist Rafail Kokkinos at the Grapes Hill underpass at PottergateRob Skinn, Steve Kirkendall and Kelly Smith directors of A Fine Studio creative agency, which is based at the new Ideas Factory in Norwich. They are pictured in front of a mural by Norwich-based graffiti artist Rafail Kokkinos at the Grapes Hill underpass at Pottergate

According to John Last, university vice-principal, Cavendish House has been “de-constructed from the inside” to create the new venue. Gone too is the old tobacconists on the ground floor, which is home now to the East Gallery, while tenant firms on the remaining three floors can make use of meeting spaces and boardrooms to host clients.

Sarah Steed, NUA business director at NUA, said there was a “Noah’s Ark” of creative people in the building, from animators, website designers, publishing businesses, and film makers.

“It’s an incredibly supportive community,” she said. “We felt we had a massive opportunity to create something a little bit different from the norm. You can find out how consumers interact with your products and services, pretty much anybody can come in and use it.

“The Ideas Factory is so much more than a building – we have built an events programme to support specialist business incubation, which combines professional support from practitioners who have worked with us to understand what creative business needs, and specialist input sessions on topics businesses need help with as they start out. The topics are diverse, and range from how to protect IP, to crowdfunding, and how to make it work in creative business.”

Mark Pendlington, chairman of New Anglia LEP, said the project exemplifies the spirit of creativity and dynamism which should mark out the region’s economy and also showed what the private sector can do in leveraging public sector support.

“This is an award-winning university and we need to shout it from the rooftops,” he said. “It really is a pool of talent and entrepreneurship and exemplifies what we want the East to be.

He said the Ideas Factory could help nuture talent and position the region at the centre of a global borderless economy as well as accelerating the changes in the way we do business

“We want the Ideas Factory to support the fledgling start-up community that’s already here. We want the creative industries to act as a magnet for them to stay here and grow. Whether you are a start-up or a Footsie company, this is the place for you to be successful,” he said. “We tend to lose the start ups and they have to move away from here to be successful. We want them to stay and give them a reason that this is a great place to live and work.”

<t> Watch more about the Ideas Factory in Thursday’s Business Extra during the Mustard TV News bulletin.

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