Why Tech City needed a ‘pop-up university’

Professor Paul Curran explains the thinking behind the launch of a free learning hub in Tech City

London is home to some of the best universities in the world, a rapidly growing media and technology hub called Tech City and a recent ‘pop-up’ phenomenon that ranges from cinemas to shops and restaurants. These unlikely bedfellows came together last week with the launch of City Unrulyversity, Tech City’s free pop-up university.

It is a collaborative venture between City University London and Unruly, the award-winning platform for social video advertising, based at Unruly’s headquarters just off Brick Lane in the heart of Tech City. Its mission is to inform, inspire and empower the next generation of entrepreneurs in their Tech City start-ups.

How Unrulyversity works

City Unrulyversity ‘pops up’ for two hours every Wednesday evening and offers five types of session. The core two are ‘stuff you need to know’ covering basic business or technical topics such as marketing and data visualisation and ‘masterclasses’ covering advanced topics relevant to Tech City.

These are linked closely to an area of research strength at City with ‘lean start-ups’ an early example. The other three session types are even more interactive: ‘how-to’ enabling attendees to learn a skill by means of a hands-on workshop; ‘theory meets practice’ where a leading academic and practitioner demonstrate the applicability of theory; and ‘head-to-head’ where two experts debate opposing views on a topic.

The sessions are academically challenging, fun, fast, extremely informal and relevant to the needs of Tech City companies. Some of the companies involved are the well-known names in digital media but the vast majority are start-ups led by exceptionally talented and enthusiastic entrepreneurs, fresh from the world of education. As an added incentive, those who attend five sessions will be eligible to submit an application to the Cass Entrepreneurship Fund, a £10m venture capital fund aimed at entrepreneurs with a link to City’s Cass Business School.

The driving forces behind this partnership are Dr Caroline Wiertz, reader in Marketing at Cass Business School and Sarah Wood, co-founder and chief operating officer at Unruly. Both are passionate about this novel and ‘unruly’ link between academia and small fast-growing businesses.

Reaping the benefits

The benefits to entrepreneurs of being able to meet, learn and have the space and time to be creative are clear. The benefits to City University London are perhaps less clear, unless a longer-term view is taken.

Our location in Islington, the breadth and relevance of our academic strengths, particularly, in informatics, business and journalism, and the links we have with the financial services sector of the City of London make us a natural partner with Tech City.

Existing partnerships have been guided by the benefits of employment, impact and reputation:

  • Employment through the development of skills, opportunities and ultimately jobs for both our students and for our neighbours in Tech City
  • Impact through the application of our academic research to the management and products of Tech City businesses
  • Reputation through our contribution to what aspires to be ‘one of the worlds greatest technology clusters’

To achieve these benefits we have led and worked with others on a host of activities over the past two years. They have included Tech City events for schools; partnership with Techcityinsider.net the website of Tech City and sponsorship of both the second Digital Shoreditch Festival and the exceptionally successful Hackney House that showcased Tech City during the Olympics. City Unrulyversity is the latest but certainly not the last of these partnerships.

Professor Paul Curran is vice-chancellor of City University London. City is ranked within the top 5% of universities in the world by the Times Higher Education World University Rankings. www.city.ac.uk

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