The University of East Anglia (UEA) has won a national teaching excellence award for encouraging digital innovation, entrepreneurship and enterprise among students through the Sync the City event which draws on expertise from Norwich’s business community.
It has been announced today (6 August) that UEA has been recognised with a Collaborative Award for Teaching Excellence (CATE) by Advance HE which acknowledges how collaborating with local entrepreneurs through the Sync the City event impacts on students’ learning about the professional world.
Sync the City is an annual 54 hour hands-on workshop hosted in Norwich where teams of students, developers, designers and mentors produce a digital solution to address a social or business problem.
Teams pitch their prototype solution, along with a business model to a panel of judges to win a £3,000 prize, and the audience vote for their people’s choice winning team, who receive a £1,000 prize. Previous winners have gone on to form start-ups after the event.
Dr Alfonso Avila-Merino, who is the academic teaching lead for the event, said: “I like to think of Sync the City as a combination of Dragons’ Den and The Apprentice. We know that entrepreneurship is not simply learnt in a classroom and this event really puts students through their paces. They have lightbulb moments, make mistakes and have the valuable opportunity to draw on advice from local business people with decades of experience.
“Sync the City is one element of a whole host of support we offer students to explore and develop their own business ideas and skills. Our Student Enterprise Service hosts workshops, provides mentoring and there is also funding available through UEA’s Enterprise Fund.”
Over 500 students have attended the event since it first launched in 2014 from UEA, Norwich University of Arts (NUA) and West Suffolk College. They are exposed to a high-pressured and uncertain creative business process and can work with people from a number of sectors including corporates, SMEs, start-ups, charities and local government.
Research shows that students who are equipped with transferrable skills fostered at events like Sync the City, are more successful when they graduate. Just like graduates Callum Coombes, Nichita Misin and James Rogers who won Sync the City in 2017 and have since set up Safepoint, an app to keep lone-workers safe.
Callum said: "To be in a room alongside 100 other aspirational professionals, from engineers to designers, was brilliant, and the advice and guidance that our team received has stuck with us to this day. It's incredible to think that we attended Sync the City with an idea just a few years ago, and that idea has now grown into Safepoint, a safety platform used by businesses to protect their staff all over the world."
The event first originated from discussions led by UEA’s Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research and Innovation Prof Fiona Lettice and John Fagan who is Head of SyncNorwich. Since the first event, around 80 business ideas have been generated, spanning everything from a blind date holiday app where you enter your budget and dates and your holiday is booked for you, to an app which modernises the traditional pub crawl.
Prof Lettice said: “We love working with the local tech sector. Sync the City is a fast-paced and fun event that brings together UEA student talent with entrepreneurs and tech enthusiasts to make interesting things happen in a very short space of time. Together we build an ever more vibrant, creative and connected tech community within our region and our students gain confidence and often job offers over the 54 hours.”
The Sync the City team will celebrate the achievement at an online Advance HE Awards Ceremony in September 2020 and hope to attend the combined 2020 and 2021 Awards Ceremony in person to collect the award and meet the other winners. Sync the City 2020 has been postponed, but the team are busy planning the 2021 event, in the hope that restrictions on mass gatherings lift.