GBSLEP awards Innovation Birmingham a £2.49m Local Growth Fund grant to create a new centre for SMEs to engage with the city’s five universities

A purpose-designed centre to make it easy for SMEs to engage with Birmingham’s five universities will be developed on land within Innovation Birmingham’s Faraday Wharf site.

The Greater Birmingham & Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership (GBSLEP) has awarded a £2.494m Local Growth Fund grant for the capital project. Subject to planning, the new facility will be open in 2016. The universities centre is the second of five new developments totalling £45million planned on the Innovation Birmingham Campus, which is visible from the A38M Aston Expressway. The first – iCentrum® – is a 3,874sqm (41,700 sq ft) technology incubation and collaboration building, which will open in March 2016.

The universities centre will be designed by AHR Architects’ national technology team and delivered by Midlands headquartered Thomas Vale Construction Ltd, a Bouygues UK company. A planning application will be lodged this summer. The centre will feature state-of-the-art video conferencing, offices, training and meeting space, co-working and collaboration space. The centre will be designed and operated to promote a much greater interaction between start-ups and SMEs (less than 250 employees) and the city’s five universities. International evidence suggests that true connectivity and communication between universities and business can add 8-10 per cent in increased, sustained growth.

Andy Street, Chairman of the GBSLEP said: “Having a dedicated, neutral centre where SMEs and researchers, staff and students from the five local universities can meet and collaborate on projects will be a new asset for the city region. Innovation Birmingham will work with Aston University, the University of Birmingham, Birmingham City University, Newman University and University College Birmingham to drive activity that will resonate with SMEs.

“The technology and digital sector is one of the GBSLEP’s target growth areas, and this £2.94m Local Growth Fund grant award will lead to many new relationships and projects being forged year on year, which will contribute to the regional economy.

Dr David Hardman MBE, CEO of Innovation Birmingham said: “Having a dedicated centre for university engagement on the Innovation Birmingham Campus will give the city region a catalyst facility, creating a novel edge in how we can help to support start-ups and growing SME businesses. While universities already run a range of initiatives to engage with business, we will coordinate a bespoke programme that will enable SMEs that have never thought of collaborating with a university to see how it could add value.

“We are working on submitting a planning application for the new centre this summer and hope to start construction later this year. That will mean only a matter of months after iCentrum® opens in March, we will be able to open another new facility, gathering real momentum for the £45m expansion of the Innovation Birmingham Campus.”

iCentrum®, which has been under construction since January, is being funded through a £7.5m commercial loan, agreed with Birmingham City Council, to cover the main construction and fit-out costs. In addition, Innovation Birmingham secured funding from the GBSLEP’s Enterprise Zone’s Site Development and Access Fund to create additional co-working space in the new building. iCentrum® will provide space for 400 high-value skilled tech jobs at any one time, generating £25 million of GVA to the local economy per annum. The building was one of the first to start on site within the GBSLEP’s Enterprise Zone, which features 30 sites within central Birmingham.

The Innovation Birmingham Campus is currently fully let with an extensive waiting list for space from new and growing tech businesses. Significant investment has ensured its 110 technology tenants can already access 30Gbit/s broadband speeds – equalling the fastest internet connection available anywhere in the UK.

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