The University of East Anglia’s new Enterprise Centre is a building that was designed to break records. It has an impressive list of sustainability credentials that mean it has been dubbed the UK’s greenest commercial building. It is one of the first to achieve both Passivhaus and BREEAM outstanding accreditation – which are awarded to buildings that use very little energy – and it has been designed to achieve a 100-year lifespan.
But the university also hopes to exceed expectations in the quality and innovation of the teaching carried out within the space. The centre, which was completed in June but officially opened last month, includes teaching rooms with adaptable furniture and writable walls that can flip between “lecture mode” and “workshop mode”; a 300-seat lecture theatre; and a careers office specifically for students who want to start their own businesses.
There are also offices for local entrepreneurs and businesses; hot desks that can be rented by companies; and a collaborative lab for university staff and local enterprises to brainstorm ideas.
The vision for the £15 million building, which was largely funded by the European Union, came from the Adapt Low Carbon Group, a commercial wing of the university that provides consultancy services to help businesses reduce their impact on the environment and funding for low-carbon companies.
“The building is without boundaries, and it brings people from the business and academic community into contact in the way in which it works,” said John French, chief executive of Adapt.
Businesses must adopt low-carbon working practices to work at the Enterprise Centre. For starters, the building does not allow microwaves or non-eco kettles. LED lighting is used throughout the building, and surface lighting on desks is automated so that it switches on only when there is low natural light. A number of companies, ranging from quantity surveyors to financial advisers, are already based at the centre.
In the teaching wing, rooms can be booked for any classes across the university’s curriculum, meaning that most students will have the opportunity to experience the Enterprise Centre over the course of their degree. But there are also two entrepreneurship courses situated within the space: an MA in creative entrepreneurship, which used to be based at the institution’s London office, and a new MSc in enterprise and business creation, which launched this year in conjunction with the opening of the building.
Kevan Williams, course leader for the MSc, said that the first cohort of 16 students joined last month and the one-year full-time programme focuses on students “doing enterprise” and networking with companies.
“There are lots of postgraduate courses in entrepreneurship, but quite often they’re more about the study of entrepreneurship. This very much has a focus on helping students start their own business,” he said.
“A key part of that is creating an enterprise community around the course. So having the students in an enterprise centre is exactly the right thing to do.”
Students have already benefited from working alongside businesses, he added.
“One of the businesses in the centre is a financial services company who actually said: ‘We’re running some workshops for our clients next year, would your students like to attend?’ Businesses and students working in the Enterprise Centre together allows for that interaction, which I think is going to be so important,” he said.
“We’ve also funded some of the hot desk spaces so our students can spend time working in the business area as well as their course being taught in the teaching area.”
He added that students can choose their own “exit route” at the end of the course, which could involve studying existing business modules, presenting a business plan to potential investors or doing research or consultancy around someone else’s business idea. Those who excel can extend the course and spend six months based at the Enterprise Centre to launch their idea.
Dr Williams said that the course was launched with the aim of providing an alternative career path for students disillusioned by traditional options.
“I’ve taught business for a while, and in the past I’ve often asked students, ‘Would you create your own business?’ Quite often they would say ‘yes, but not now’ because they didn’t yet feel they knew enough,” he said.
“In the UK, the assumption was that starting your own business was something you did in your forties, after you’d worked elsewhere. But now a lot of people see starting their own business as an alternative to joining a graduate scheme of a big company. That’s a real trend in the marketplace.”
£15m – the cost of the Enterprise Centre, which will include a 300-seat lecture theatre
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