Three Men in a Basement

Can three people, in a disused research unit, kick-start a new technology company in two weeks with only £2,000? That’s the challenge we took on in conjunction withd The Media Centre, to spearhead a two-pronged initiative to fuel digital entrepreneurship and tackle the skills shortage.sofa-smaller

The brainchild of Elder’s joint founding director Chris Gillespie, the task will see him and two students from The University of Huddersfield attempt to turn a complex tech concept into a reality, in only a fortnight, with the support of The Media Centre.

The aim is to inspire young talent to put their development expertise to powerful use; proving strong digital ideas can soon become a reality. The programme will also provide intense mentoring to help boost the entrepreneurialism and future employability of the students involved.

Elder Studios has experienced rapid expansion since it was founded in 2012. What began as a three-strong business – based at The Media Centre, Huddersfield – has quickly grown to a team of 21. But finding good quality talent has continued to prove tough.

Chris explains: “The digital skills shortage has been widely reported upon. But in recent times I’ve been increasingly worried about the extent to which this is holding the industry – and the evolution of the wider economy – back.

“I also teach part time at the University of Huddersfield so have first-hand experience of how capable their students are. But, despite our industry’s labour struggles, good quality placements are few and far between. Our whole landscape is so incongruent. So I set about devising a way to bridge the gap and encourage a different way of working.”

“The two week challenge doesn’t just offer these students a paid placement,” continues Chris. “It also gives them a valuable opportunity to advance their skills, under the guidance of a practised mentor, whilst working on a live project, with the potential for a local job at the end of it!  It also showcases that in the space of a two week holiday and with minimal investment, a digital business can get off the ground. I hope this will stimulate others – the UK needs more tech entrepreneurs!”

For the next fortnight, this micro development team will be based in what is The Media Centre’s former Digital Research Unit. Equally renowned for its commitment to developing new talent, this not-for-profit organisation has donated the workspace, furniture, high speed broadband and utilities to enable this venture to take place.

The Media Centre’s CEO Brent Woods explains: “I’m inspired every day by the array of talent within our business community. The Media Centre supports well-established organisations, expanding SMEs, co-working ventures, start-ups, graduate entrepreneurs and ambitious students. And it is particularly exciting when some of these individuals come together to collaborate. We thought our space would provide the perfect creative hub for Elder’s initiative.”

The success of the project – to bring to life an open data concept for private sector companies supplying to the public sector – will only become clear when the finished product is taken to market. But Chris believes the real achievement lies in bringing everything together to make the two week challenge happen.

“Like many Universities, Huddersfield produces some incredible graduates. But a number are either lost to large, city centre, tech powerhouses or forced into non-tech roles to pay the bills. We have to do something to prevent this black hole of skills.

“The enthusiasm and energy of the two chosen students is fantastic. I have every reason to believe they’re on to something brilliant, and I can’t wait to see what comes next. And who knows, given we’ve brought together our passion for tech, innovation and skills development, this could become a long-standing programme of investment for Elder’s directors.

“Our two week challenge wouldn’t have been possible without the support of The Media Centre though – we’re delighted that they’ve acknowledged the potential in our idea.”