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Inspiring science and technology for the future

The Catalyst and the Ron Cooke Hub- photo by British Gypsum/Hall Image


Taking the theme ‘Open for Business’, the University joins York St John University, Higher York, Science City York (SCY) and York Enterprise, City of York Council, to showcase the range of services they can provide to promote a flourishing business environment and inward investment.

Representatives from the Department of Computer Science, the York Management School, the CPD Unit, Careers, York Conferences and the Ron Cooke Hub are on hand to highlight the range of business support services on offer at the University.

Venturefest also includes networking opportunities, an investment competition, an innovation showcase, seminars, a debate and opportunities for young entrepreneurs to showcase their potential. 

The University of York is one of the sponsors of Venturefest which opens on 16 February at York Racecourse. As Yorkshire’s major event for science and technology businesses and entrepreneurs takes place, we talk to Nicola Spence, Chief Executive of Science City York, about the partnership between the University and Science City York.

Events such as Venturefest play a key part in the city of York’s role as the UK’s first Science City. Launched over a decade ago, Science City York began as a joint project between the University of York and City of York Council to develop the region as a thriving knowledge economy and science base. SCY is now established as a company limited by guarantee, with the University and local authority remaining actively involved as shareholders together with the additional support and involvement of York St John University. Today York boasts over 500 technology companies that are helping to change the world we live in.

Pioneers in the fields of creative and digital technology, health sciences and environmental research are based at York, as home-grown companies like Xceleron, a University of York spin-off, work alongside global giants such as medical research firm Smith & Nephew. As the project and the research potential grows, so does the benefit for York and the University.  

Professor Nicola Spence, Chief Executive of Science City York

“We really understand how innovation and technology are developing in the University departments, and we understand the needs, challenges and ambitions of the businesses in and around York,” says Professor Nicola Spence, Chief Executive of Science City York. “By connecting key individuals through events such as Venturefest, as well as meetings and workshops, and by supporting the development of new infrastructure and facilities, we help catalyse and support innovation between researchers and businesses to really make things happen,” she explains.  

As major shareholders in the limited company, the University and local authority receive far more return on investment than simple dividends. Nicola cites York Data Services (YDS), a company founded in 2003 by local entrepreneurs Mark Fordyce and David Kirkham, as a shining example of what SCY can cultivate, and how it benefits the University and beyond. Formed to tackle a perceived ‘technology deficit’ within York, the company quickly secured its first long-term contract to supply connectivity and IT services to the York Science Park.

In 2011, YDS benefits both the University and the city directly, supplying key IT provisions to the Heslington East expansion and the Chocolate Works development on the former Terry’s site.

The Ron Cooke Hub and The Catalyst provide some of the most exciting space in the UK for new businesses to establish and grow. Businesses can work alongside world-leading research and knowledge transfer specialists within a 21st-century environment engendered by learning and innovation.

Professor Nicola Spence, Chief Executive of Science City York

Moreover, SCY is itself involved in the University’s £750m Heslington East expansion. An SCY-led European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) project has invested £15.5m in innovation infrastructure in The Catalyst and the Ron Cooke Hub buildings.

“These provide some of the most exciting space in the UK for new businesses to establish and grow. Businesses can work alongside world-leading research and knowledge transfer specialists within a 21st-century environment engendered by learning and innovation. Science City York is totally embedded within this vision and we look forward to continuing our commitment to maximising potential and capability within the city,” says Nicola.

The University, with a strong and proud tradition of high-quality research across departments, is the perfect partner for SCY’s grand designs. A further £2m has been secured from the ERDF programme in Yorkshire and the Humber to support two key elements of research and development at York to trial, scale up and perfect lab-based research. The first focuses on generating bioethanol from green waste materials, while the second involves the production of chemicals and biofuels from bio-based waste materials.

This is good news for the University and the surrounding areas. Add the £2m being invested in a critical infrastructure development at the nearby Food and Environment Research Agency, and by 2014, the SCY project is expected to create around 90 new businesses and 685 new jobs. Productivity of the region’s hi-tech industries is also set to increase by £37m as a result.

“SCY’s vision is to become a leading independent expert organisation on how to create economic impact through innovation, and drive economic benefit from science, technology and the creative sectors for a range of public and private sector customers,” says Nicola. And it’s not just York that is set to benefit from this research boom.

As the national economy emerges from the ashes of the global downturn, projects supported by organisations like SCY are key to reinvigorating growth.

“Innovation is widely seen as the way to drive economic growth from research and development, and government policy recognises the potential for turning new technologies into jobs, low carbon into business and scientific research into profit,” she affirms. “York has significant assets which are driving innovation in science and technology in the public and private sector, and is showing that even in an economic downturn, innovation, creativity and knowledge can drive business growth.”  

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