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Teesside University helps to spark creative business boost

15 February 2019 @TeesUniNews

 

A unique partnership bringing together the North East’s five universities has supported hundreds of small businesses, helping to boost innovation, create jobs and attract additional funding.

Creative Fuse has worked with more than 277 firms across the North East since it began in 2016. Typically for the creative industries, 90% of those had ten or fewer members of staff and around half had just one member of staff.

The project was set up to help make the region’s creative economy more resilient by sharing academic expertise to enable the sector become more innovative and grow. Importantly, Creative Fuse also supported new collaborations between creative businesses and the broader economy – ideas and approaches from creative practice have stimulated innovation in other sectors, from health and wellbeing, to future cities and ‘big data’.

Now reaching the end of its current phase, around 23 jobs are expected to have been created and at least one organisation has recently received a £100k funding boost.

Principal project investigator Professor Eric Cross said: 'Creative Fuse has developed in ways that we could not have predicted, and while its main focus has been the creative and digital sector we have had fascinating projects applying creative approaches to other areas included health, data and manufacturing. At its core has been a highly successful collaboration between the North East’s five universities – something that we intend to continue into the future. Many firms had never worked with academics before and some have described the effect on their business as ‘transformative’."

Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the European Regional Development Fund, Arts Council England and the five universities, Creative Fuse included 30 innovation pilots as part of the £4m scheme. It brought together firms and academics from Durham, Newcastle, Northumbria, Sunderland and Teesside Universities, to address industrial, commercial and social challenges.

One of those, Full Blown Metal, based at the Biscuit factory in Newcastle, has two full-time employees.

The SME, which makes a range of objects including sculptures and furniture using its patented blown metal technique, was interested in diversifying and making aesthetic-led pieces of metal which absorb heat during daytime and release it at night.

'Without Creative Fuse, we’d still be in the talking phase,' said Steve Newby from the company. 'We wouldn’t have got this far.'

After working with experts from Northumbria and Newcastle universities on the technical details and market research, the company is now aiming to have its new innovation product on the market in around 18 months.

Newcastle’s West End Refugee Service (WERS) was another recipient of innovation pilot funding. Its Skillsmatch project, developed with Newcastle and Teesside universities and Roots and Wings graphic design, matches the skills and interests of asylum seekers and refugees with volunteering opportunities, enabling individuals to apply and develop/contribute their skills when many are not allowed to work. Since the innovation pilot ended, WERS has received £100k funding from the National Lottery Community Fund towards an overall volunteering project, of which Skillsmatch is a central part.

Hannah Barnes from WERS said: 'Skillsmatch is a new way of working for WERS, it's officially our first digital project. It allows us to work with clients in a different way, and to establish new links with organisations in the local community. It's been great to see individuals start to take up roles, develop their own skills and gain confidence. We're looking forward to developing the project in the future with the help of a Reaching Communities Grant from the National Lottery Community Fund.

Through Skillsmatch, volunteer roles have so far been taken up by asylum seekers and refugees at the Great Exhibition of the North, Blackfriars at Ouseburn - A community venue run by St Vincent de Paul Society, and Scotswood Community Garden.

Other innovation pilots included:

  • WordNerds – using AI to better understand tone about products and services on social media - Sunderland and Teesside Universities
  • Shoes2Run – created a sock which analyses a runner’s gait - Sunderland and Northumbria universities
  • Intogral – using AI to classify museum collections - Durham and Newcastle Universities