STEAMhouse – Birmingham’s innovation centre and maker-space

Background to engagement activity

STEAMhouse is Birmingham City University’s unique innovation centre, inspiring knowledge exchange collaboration between the arts, science, technology, engineering and maths (STEAM), and supporting long-term sustainable economic growth, productivity and job creation in Birmingham and the region. STEAMhouse was established in partnership with Birmingham-based arts organisation Eastside Projects which allowed BCU to extend its reach and understanding of the regional freelance/micro-business ecosystem.

Engagement activity undertaken

Levels of business innovation across the UK including the West Midlands are low by international standards. Compared to the 39 Local Economic Partnerships (LEP) nationally, WMCA LEPs are ranked 6th, 14th and 19th against new-to-firm products/services and 23rd and 30th against process innovation. STEAMhouse responds to this situation by providing a centre for innovation, creative thinking, prototyping and business development.

Since its 2018 launch, STEAMhouse has become a catalyst for research partnerships, collaboration and engagement between business, the public and third sector, skills development, enterprise and entrepreneurship, IP and commercialisation opportunities.

STEAMhouse a strong partnership with its community of members – mostly sole traders, micro-businesses or start-ups from the creative and arts sectors. Knowledge exchange is central to the membership experience – delivered by both STEAMhouse / BCU and through peer-to peer collaboration and creative knowledge exchange between members.

Members are able to participate in a regular and diverse programme of events that include innovation labs, collaborative workshops, networking events and inspirational public talks. Technical workshops have helped members develop the knowledge needed to prototype using digital software, hardware and production processes. The popular Maker Monday sessions have provided a fortnightly slice of online inspiration from guest speakers and BCU staff in the creative and tech worlds.

Knowledge transferred

The STEAMhouse Knowledge Exchange strategy is delivered through a team of professionals each offering a different focus and potential benefit to stakeholders and partners:

  • Academic Engagement – collaboration with members on product development and innovation directly and through STEAMlab events; knowledge exchange with other BCU academics to embed the STEAM approach into BCU research and curriculum development; knowledge exchange through international research and development around the STEAM approach.
  • Business Advice – STEAMhouse offers a range of business focussed advice aimed at supporting Members in developing their business ideas and providing a gateway to BCU’s portfolio of business support services which further supports knowledge exchange with BCU academics.
  • Artistic Advice – The partnership with Eastside Projects has unlocked knowledge of the equipment required to establish a makerspace and knowledge of the approaches needed to support artists/creatives.
  • Technical Support - STEAMhouse has a dedicated team of technicians who are specialist in areas such as computer-aided design, wood and metalwork and print. They work collaboratively with Members and academics on prototyping and design in the STEAMhouse workshops.

Evidence of impact

STEAMhouse has made a significant impact in the local business community, particularly the arts and creative sectors. Between opening in May 2018 and the completion of STEAMhouse Phase 1 in March 2020:

  • 257 businesses have been supported with prototyping new products, including 65 new businesses.
  • 400 applicants registered as STEAMhouse community members.
  • £75,000 awarded in small grants for IP advice and prototyping support.
  • 18,000 visitors welcomed for events, workshops and using the workshop facilities
  • 34 Research collaborations between Members and BCU academics

Dates of activity

2018 - 2020