University-led project enhances innovation across Europe

The Birmingham City University-led Urban Manufacturing project, which is concluding after five years of collaborative research, has helped a number of major European regions to improve their innovation offering and better support collaborative spaces, SMEs and students.

Posted 18 July 2022

Representatives from BCU's Urban M project visit the new STEAMhouse innovation centre in Birmingham.

Providing support and enhancements to collaborative spaces

The Urban Manufacturing project, known as Urban M, began in 2017 with funding from the Interreg Europe Programme in 2017.

It was devised in order to develop and support collaborative maker spaces – areas designated for collaborative making, learning and sharing.

BCU initiated the project and was the lead partner due to its own successful maker space, STEAMhouse.

As well as BCU and Birmingham City Council, Urban M brought together a number of partners from across Europe, including:

  • City of Bratislava (Slovakia)
  • Vilnius City Administration (Lithuania)
  • Lisbon City Council (Portugal)
  • Fomento San Sebastian, Economic Development Agency (Spain)
  • Lazio Region (Italy)
  • City of Zagreb (Croatia)
  • Kranj BSC (Slovenia)

These partners were brought together in order to exchange knowledge, build their innovation ecosystems and in turn help makerspaces in their area to grow.

Action plans to foster change

The project saw BCU focus on the individual challenges each city has been facing through a variety of mediums, including:

  • Study visits to the partner cities
  • An international conference, held in Bratislava in 2019
  • Design thinking workshops to help cities identify the policies and initiatives they wanted to change and how they could achieve this
  • handbook to support other cities in developing policies to support their makerspaces

Following this support, each city had to produce their own action plan on how they will change their local policy in order to better support makerspaces.

New programmes, facilities and support

Over the course of the project’s five-year timespan, a number of the cities involved have introduced impactful new measures that will ensure makerspaces, and innovation in general, can thrive.

Zagreb, for example, has secured additional funding from the programme for a pilot project and  launched the Makers’ Community Hub at the Nicola Tesla Museum, which has hosted a number of successful workshops with over 150 participants, with the support of local universities, organisations and other makerspaces. 

It has also introduced a new programme to help support the development of SMEs, new activities for coworking and maker spaces, and a public call for grants for innovators.

Meanwhile, Lazio has created micro-innovation labs to support entrepreneurs, startups and SMEs in the region.

These labs offer a stimulating environment for new projects to be developed, support SMEs in understanding and utilising the latest tech, and offer a space for startups to respond to the innovation needs of businesses.

In San Sebastian, the Urban M project has helped them to enhance and strengthen their Donostia Innovation Campus, which now offers a set of established programmes for students on subjects such as innovation and business management.

There has also been a number of innovation challenges, supported by leading educational centres and businesses, that have seen over 400 students take part in different activities to bolster their skills in innovation, collaboration and the latest technologies.

“A great deal of inspiration has come from what we have learned on this project,” says Xabier Hualde from Fomento San Sebastian.

“Institutions such as STEAMhouse have made possible a strategic approach and knowledge transfer that has helped us to polish our strategy.”

Putting STEAMhouse on the map

The Urban M project culminated in the European partners visiting the University’s new STEAMhouse building, observing the centre’s state-of-the-art facilities.

Laura Veart, BCU’s Interreg Europe Project Manager for Urban M, is pleased with the progress and positive impact that the project has had.

“By bringing together cities across Europe, there has been an inspiring and impactful exchange of ideas, plans and knowledge,” Laura says.

“We have learnt from one another and, collaboratively, have helped to introduce vital new policies that will help makerspaces, creatives, SMEs and practitioners thrive.”

Laura also believes the project has been a learning curve for both BCU and the West Midlands region.

“One of the big benefits of Urban M has been taking local stakeholders, such as the Greater Birmingham Chamber of Commerce and the Local Enterprise Partnership, to see what’s been achieved in other cities and coming back to consider what could be accomplished in Birmingham,” she says.

“The project has given us a real opportunity to put STEAMhouse on the European map.”

Find out more about the UrbanM project by visiting its official website or by following UrbanM on Twitter.