From education to employment

Fifth showcase of digital innovation in Northampton biggest so far

Caption: Steve Walsh, head of Jumping at Jumpthink digital marketing agency delivers keynote speech on the importance of of creating a culture of innovation.

Students and businesses on the leading edge of digital innovation gathered for the fifth Merged Futures event at the University of Northampton (UON) on Friday, 30 June.

Around 200 people toured exhibits showcasing the work of university students and local firms on the leading edge of digital innovation, and also packed-out workshops highlighting local stories of digital innovation, best practice in digital marketing, and advances in education and health technology.

The largest so far with attendance exceeding pre-Covid levels, the event is organised by Digital Northants, a partnership between UON, West Northamptonshire Council (WNC) and North Northamptonshire Council (NNC).

Keynote speaker Steve Walsh, director at Jumpthink digital marketing agency, opened the day by highlighting the importance of creating a culture of innovation.

He said: “Innovation is about sharing knowledge and coming at similar issues from different backgrounds.

“By using our cognitive diversity, we can further our thinking.

“My talk, and these kinds of events, are important to try and share learning, to propel the community forward as a whole, but also to disrupt people’s thinking by coming at the same issue from different directions.”

Kardi Somerfield, UON’s Senior Lecturer in Marketing, hosted a stand showcasing students work to develop a virtual reality education experience around water safety for the Office for the Police, Fire & Crime Commission. They were supported by a crew from Northants Fire and Rescue Service who simulated a water rescue scenario which the students filmed.

Kardi added: “I think it’s a time and a place where we are all together for a day whether that’s people from very specialist digital businesses that happen to be located here, some of them big businesses, but also the sharing of practice and networking.

“Today I’ve had everything from people expressing an interest in our new master’s degree in digital marketing, some of them experienced professionals wanting to develop their learning, we’ve had people wanting to hire our students to do work, but we’ve also had approaches to work on projects with businesses.

“We’ve also spent a lot of time talking about what’s coming next, whether that’s AI or what we think will happen next with virtual reality.

“So, it’s part learning experience, a big part networking, but there’s also some business getting done here.”

Cllr Andre Gonzalez De Savage, chair of the place overview and scrutiny committee at WNC has been at all five Merged Futures events. 

He noted the presence of high-street name such as Microsoft, Amazon and Metro Bank and said: “The networking today has been fantastic, the build-up was superb, and on the day, there have been so many passionate conversations, handshakes and exchanges of business cards and contacts, you can see it really does pollenate a whole range of opportunities.

“The only pity is that it’s only one day, it could be three, it’s been tremendous.”

He added: “In the league table of innovators, Northamptonshire has to be up there with the best. And I say that because we have the passion, the enthusiasm and the energy in the county to get behind it.

“The county also brings together a large collection of very diverse businesses and destinations. Some brilliant products we know we create in Northamptonshire; from special needs learning technology, to parts running in high performance engines all over the world, and fantastic destinations like Adrenaline Alley.”

Cllr David Howes, NNC’s Executive member with responsibility for digital technology, said: “Merged Futures is a wonderful celebration of the digital innovation taking place on our doorstep.

“It’s a great opportunity for people from any background or sector to come along, learn new things, make new connections and find out what’s happening in the local scene.

“Each year this event sees new collaborations formed that help to drive our digital economy forward. We want Northamptonshire to be a county of digital start-ups and we want them to get the support to grow.”

Richard Beards, Innovation Manager at WNC managed the event and said there was a genuine buzz in the room, a good flow of people trying out the new technology being exhibited and standing room only for some of the workshops.

He added: “The aim of this event is to put Northamptonshire on the map for digital innovation.

“We want to pull people here, find the local stories about who’s innovating and give them a platform to present and promote themselves.

“Then hopefully people come here, get inspired, connect to new people, then new collaborations take place and there’s new stories to tell next year.”

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