Technology entrepreneur Simon Milner is helping spearhead a new Maker Space at the University of Huddersfield.

Simon, who grew up in Golcar and left the Colne Valley for Silicon Valley in California, is now back from the United States and has taken up a post as entrepreneur in residence at the university.

Simon, along with the university’s vice-chancellor Prof Bob Cryan, launched the new Maker Space in the university’s impressive Barbara Hepworth Building.

The aim of the Maker Space is to encourage students, entrepreneurs and small business owners from inside and outside the university to come together, collaborate and develop creative ideas. The space allows people the opportunity to use the latest technology and specialist tools and equipment they may not otherwise have access to.

The Maker Space is a collaborative project between the University of Huddersfield and Business Kirklees, Kirklees Council’s business, economy and growth service – and Santander Universities, which funds student start-ups and scholarships for people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Maker Space was officially launched at an event where students and budding entrepreneurs pitched their ideas to an audience including local business people, council officials and university academics.

Simon Milner (left) with Prof Bob Cryan

Simon said he was excited at the potential of the Maker Space and it was time for business to take off the shackles and look to the future.

“We need to get out of this crisis mode and let’s not look at problems, let’s find the solutions,” said Simon. “Collaboration is key and that’s what’s so great about the Maker Space.”

Simon believes artificial intelligence (AI) is going to prove a gamechanger for business and wider society in ways that are hard to imagine.

He says AI is to be embraced, not feared. It could fill skills gaps in companies and boost productivity, scaling expertise and make businesses function better with the staff they have.

“For 20 years technology has been pretty much AI-driven,” said Simon. “AI is already at the heart of our phones – our mobile computer – and of our online life. There’s a simple choice. It can augment humanity or manipulate humanity.

“I want to inspire the first movers and there’s no reason why Huddersfield can’t be ahead of Leeds for once. It’s just down to attitude and mindshift.”

The Maker Space will specifically be open to businesses and entrepreneurs who are engaging with Business Kirklees or the University of Huddersfield’s Enterprise Team around developing their business, with the aim of helping them learn new skills and develop ideas.

With access to a wide range of equipment – encompassing everything from 3D printers, Arduino and sewing machines to Apple Macs with Adobe creative software – entrepreneurs will be able to develop in every aspect of the creative process to spur their business along.

As well as offering access to specialist equipment, the Maker Space will provide a physical place for creatives to come together and work alongside like-minded individuals.

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The Maker Space is a £71,895 investment and Kirklees Council have contributed £30,000 of this funding through a revenue grant to help kickstart the project. This funding covers the Maker Space for an initial six-month trial period, running up to September 30 2023.

Prof Cryan said: “This is a wonderful collaborative effort and I’m really excited about the possibilities that the Maker Space holds for students and graduates from the University of Huddersfield and for the wider community.

“The resources that we are providing, from Arduino to overlockers, will lead to the creation of new opportunities, new businesses and innovation.

“I urge people to find out more and see what they can do in the space and with the resources. Hopefully we can see some fantastic businesses come out of this.”

At the event, the audience heard pitches from Emily Cliffe, of Neu Mode, a luxury fashionwear brand, games designers Alex Braekevelt, Kit Oaken and Aleks Seroka, of 5Echo2 Creative and Reon Adams-Allette, who runs a Northern streetwear brand called Allette.

David Shepherd, Kirklees Council’s strategic director for growth and regeneration, said: “This is a fantastic initiative which will allow young businesses the opportunity to work with the kind of state-of-the-art resources and learning they might otherwise not have access to.

“The Maker Space has so much to offer, and I hope to see people using it to really develop their creative ideas, products, services and business plans, and to create new connections with like-minded people – something that’s invaluable when you’re building a business.

“This is a fantastic addition to the support we already provide for small businesses, start-ups and entrepreneurs in Kirklees.”

Chris Duffill, head of business, economy and growth at Kirklees Council, said: “Business Kirklees is a support service helping people start businesses here in Kirklees.

“Small businesses are the lifeblood of the economy and the Maker Space provides a major tool to share resources and equipment that may not be widely available. Who wouldn’t be inspired by what goes on here?”

Additional images: Chris Chinnock Photography