£300K boost for innovation centre proposal

15 Jul 2020

A plan for a new city centre innovation centre developed with the University and four key partners has received a £300,000 boost.  The proposed facility would offer skills training, business incubation and digital labs on a site adjacent to Bath Quays.

The proposed I-START facility on Bath College’s City Centre campus would house Bath College, the SETsquared Bath Innovation Centre, and include space for the Institute of Coding to deliver courses.

The project involves a ground-breaking collaboration between the University of Bath, Bath Spa University, Bath College, Bath & North East Somerset Council and the West of England Combined Authority (WECA).

I-START will be designed to help local people gain new skills and re-train for roles in the creative and digital sectors. It will aim to provide a more flexible approach to learning to fit around people’s busy lives, making it more accessible to those without traditional qualifications. This would help more people from diverse social and educational backgrounds gain new skills.

I-START’s learning space would be co-located with innovative start-up businesses, small and medium-sized enterprises, via the SETsquared Bath Innovation Centre, the Institute of Coding and research and knowledge exchange – spanning the digital and creative economy, robotics, social science and the arts – leading to collaboration between partners, students and businesses.

The West of England Combined Authority approved the outline business case and agreed to invest £300,000 to develop and design the project further. This will include a review of the plans in light of Covid-19.

Professor Ian White, Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of Bath, said: “We are delighted that the I-START Outline Business Case has been approved, and look forward to working with WECA and our project partners to continue to develop our plans. I’d like to thank all those involved for their hard work in getting the project to this stage.

“What we’re jointly proposing is a genuinely exciting prospect for our city, expanding the University’s world-leading SETsquared Bath Innovation Centre, improving access to our research and expertise in areas of value to the City, creating Bath’s first digital labs to accommodate new and growing businesses, and building on our experience as educational providers to enhance the future prospects of the City as a location for inward investment.

“Not only is this a project exactly what the city will need as we look to bounce back from the economic impacts of Covid-19, but it will benefit our city for years to come.”

The proposed training centre would be based next to Bath Quays, with its excellent links across the region; giving students access to growing businesses looking to expand their workforces.

West of England Mayor, Tim Bowles, said: “I am keen to ensure that all our residents, whatever their background or challenges, can realise their potential by gaining the digital skills our region needs in future.

“This focus on future digital skills is now more important than ever as we look at our region’s economic renewal, coming out of Covid-19. By offering people more training opportunities that will help them to develop the right skills that our region’s businesses need, we can give them the best possible chances to re-train and up-skill in their chosen careers.”

Councillor Tim Ball, Bath & North East Somerset Council’s cabinet member for Housing, Planning and Economic Development, said: “Now we are in the recovery phase of Covid-19, giving people the right skills to meet the demands of the future will be key to the economic recovery of Bath and North East Somerset as a whole. I’m pleased that the I-START project will take an inclusive approach to opening up further and higher education to more people in our region.”

Principal and Chief Executive of Bath College, Laurel Penrose, said: “We are delighted to be part of such a great partnership. At Bath College we are always striving to identify and address the needs of local people and employers.

“We look forward to the development of the innovation centre at our City Centre Campus and welcoming a whole new cohort of students.”

Professor Andy Salmon, Pro Vice Chancellor External, Bath Spa University, said: “It is fitting that this exciting inclusive growth project is the first time that the four essential Bath partners have combined their national and international leading strengths in skills, innovation, and business start up.

“The revolutionary part of this programme is its ability to make ambitious and necessary connections across disciplines and business opportunities at the very moment when our skills and core purposes are undergoing radical shift. This project gives us the opportunity for the city and region to move forward rapidly harnessing the formidable capacity of one great College and two excellently complimentary Universities.”

I-START will help meet the objectives set out in the West of England Local Industrial Strategy and Employment and Skills Plan.