There’s a new university in town. But this is no conventional educational enterprise. City Unrulyversity is a free pop-up university bringing the academic expertise of City University London and Cass Business School to the heart of Tech City. It’s only halfway through its first term, but the collaboration between City and social video company Unruly looks set to run for a while yet.
A business school traditionally associated with the City of London and the financial services sector might not seem an obvious partner for London’s fast-growing creative digital industries. But Cass, while retaining its links with the City of London, has broadened its academic expertise considerably in the last few years, hiring more management faculty and embracing entrepreneurship.
Cass already had experience of working with small dynamic businesses within financial services. Now it has brought in a range of new skills and expertise, particularly in entrepreneurship, and wants to make sure it engages with the digital revolution on its doorstep.
That makes sense. After all, Tech City may be more of a state of mind, with its spirit permeating through London and beyond, but its origins lie right next to Cass, in Old Street and its surrounding streets. Alongside better-known names like Google and Mind Candy, there are thousands of startups in the area that want access to the resources and support services we offer.
The idea for City Unrulyversity emerged from a conversation between Caroline and Sarah Wood, co-founder of Unruly (and member of our TechCityInsider100). “It was a collaborative effort from the get-go. One essential ingredient for success when Cass interacts with Tech City businesses is that Cass co-operates with the rest of the university, whether that’s arts, engineering, or informatics. We also want to work with central or local government, academic institutions, and other organisations, private or public sector. The objective is to educate and inspire Tech City entrepreneurs, and we have to go beyond the business school to do that.”
Unruly offers up its premises on Princelet Street E1, just off Brick Lane, for the Unrulyversity sessions. There are several different session types, including master classes on specific topics, hands-on how-to sessions, and discussions that bring academic and practitioner perspectives together. First-term sessions – lasting to the end of June – cover business models, user innovation, word-of-mouth marketing, digital storytelling, and visual analytics. Sessions in May include a head-to-head debate on leadership, led by Cass professors Cliff Oswick and Andre Spicer, plus a class on start-up finance and funding your new venture.
The mix of attendees – entrepreneurs from Unruly’s start-up incubation space The Hive and other early-stage companies in Tech City, Cass alumni, academics, and Unruly staff – makes for good networking too.
Peter Richards, co-founder of Glean.in, a firm that’s developed a Twitter marketing campaign tool for event organisers, is one enthusiastic City Unrulyversity “student”. He has attended several sessions so far, including one on data visualisation, led by Jason Dykes, professor of visualisation at City’s geoinformatics centre. He is now planning on offering internships to City University students with a strong skill set and theoretical background in data visualisation.
Besides the City Unrulyversity initiative, Cass and City University offer a range of resources for Tech City entrepreneurs.
Attend five Unrulyversity classes, for example, and you become eligible to submit an application for funding to the Cass Entrepreneurship Fund, a £10m venture capital fund that supports entrepreneurs across the Cass network. There are also the facilities of Cass’ Peter Cullum Centre for Entrepreneurship, with incubator space, coaching and mentoring support. And the London City Incubator helps early-stage high-growth businesses prepare for investment.
You can sign up for a City Unrulyversity session at www.cityunrulyversity.com.