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Q&A with Alison Mitchell, Sensor City’s Chief Executive

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Q&A with Alison Mitchell, Sensor City’s Chief Executive

Sensor City was officially opened in November 2017 by Business Secretary of State, Rt Hon Greg Clark MP. The global innovation hub successfully secured £5 million funding from the European Union and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

A joint venture between the University of Liverpool and Liverpool John Moores University, Sensor City is a highly adaptable research environment and incubator space for start-ups, SMEs and already established businesses developing digital sensor technologies and applications.

Alison Mitchell, Sensor City’s Chief Executive Director expands on Sensor City’s strategy, stakeholder ecosystem and facilities:

How was the business proposition put together for Sensor City to secure a £5 million fund from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy?

Sensor City received £5m of funding after the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) recognised the potential that a high-tech innovation hub like Sensor City would have both regionally and nationally.
The business and economic proposition was to create 300 start-up businesses and 1,000 jobs over the next 10 years by enabling innovators to design, build, test and improve their products with speed and accuracy, putting the Liverpool City Region on the map for global innovation and sensor technologies.

As a joint bid between Liverpool John Moores University and the University of Liverpool, Sensor City provides the platform for both universities to work alongside businesses and other organisations, sharing valuable expertise and knowledge to drive innovation.

How does Sensor City contribute to Industrial Strategy?

The UK’s Industrial Strategy has an ambitious long-term vision to deliver a highly-skilled economy for the years ahead. At Sensor City, we are helping to deliver on this ambition by backing innovation, creating the skills base for emerging technologies, boosting future jobs, and stimulating business growth regionally, nationally and even internationally.
Business-university collaboration is key to the success of the Industrial Strategy, and Sensor City is a wonderful example of a project that’s bridging the gap. We bring together the best academic minds and entrepreneurs, allowing the UK’s innovators to explore new opportunities and succeed through exciting collaborations.

What academic research can sensor technologies enable?

As we find ourselves constantly emerged in smart technologies and the Internet of Things (IoT), the amount of data we can retrieve, analyse and use in academic research, in addition to business growth, is staggering.

Sensors are increasingly becoming part of our everyday lives, monitoring everything from heart rates and footsteps through to temperature and pressure, we can essentially collect all that data and analyse it for future exploration and business growth. The applications of sensor technologies really are limitless, even more so in academic research.

How does Sensor City collaborate with SMEs and start-ups?

Today, many SMEs lack the expertise and support to turn their ideas into reality. In fact, many are unaware that there are resources out there, like Sensor City, to help them succeed. We provide specialist sensor and IoT related equipment, software and lab spaces, as well as business support to help start-ups, SMEs and large organisations. By providing access to equipment and facilities that they wouldn’t otherwise have access to, we enable entrepreneurs to leapfrog from idea to prototype.

Chanua Health, a start-up based at Sensor City, supports young people to engage in science and build skills and capacity to support their peers. The company designs and manages a range of projects and initiatives, such as ‘Neuro Champions’ and ‘Hacking Health’ which support individual wellbeing. Working with Sensor City has enabled the business to embed commercial elements into these projects and develop its first physical product – a 3D printed brain. The innovative model is now used by students to learn about different parts of the brain in an interactive and engaging way.

How does Sensor City foster university and industry collaborations? Are there any practical case studies of successful industry and academic collaborations?

Sensor City was originally conceived to bring industry and academia closer together – the expertise of Liverpool John Moores University and the University of Liverpool coupled with the academics and facilities we have at Sensor City is a successful collaboration in itself.

Most recently, we’ve been awarded a £3.5m grant as part of the government’s 5G strategy to investigate the opportunities of 5G community Wi-Fi in health and social care. The Liverpool 5G Consortium, headed up by Sensor City, aims to take early advantage of harnessing the potential of 5G to benefit deprived communities across the Liverpool City Region. The innovative health, social care and technology partnership is made up of Blu Wireless Technology, AIMES, Inventya, DefProc, Digital Creativity in Disability, CGA Simulation, Sensor City, Liverpool City Council, Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals NHS Trust (RLBUHT), Liverpool University, and Liverpool John Moores University.

Does Sensor City have an R&D department?

For research, development, prototyping and testing, Sensor City is equipped with over £1m state-of-the-art laboratory equipment, enabling SMEs, start-ups and larger companies to go from novel concept to working prototype.

Our facilities include an Electrical /Electronic Prototype Development Laboratory, a Virtual Reality Suite as well as technologies including PCB and CAD design, 3D printing, optical imagery and analysis, circuitry design and electronics prototyping and testing.

Through our Laboratory Access Passport Scheme, anyone can access this equipment and use it to leapfrog from idea to working prototype. We are also about to launch a new membership scheme where Sensor City members will benefit from reduced rates for hiring equipment.

What sort of equipment has been used to build the 2,500m2 hub?

The Sensor City building has become the city’s latest iconic structure. The veil of the building is composed of 299 panels of laminated glass, with a pattern that represents the flow of sensor data in digital and analogue formats.

For the iconic façade, the glass is strategically inclined at a 2° angle, meaning the top of the glazing stands forward of the base reducing the reflection of the sky on the glass. Depending on the time of day, the building receives sunlight that causes the metallic gold frit to spark and allow golden light into the building. The colour gold was chosen as it is the material associated most with electronics and electric circuitry, and so it seemed the perfect choice to signal our aspirations for the facility.

How can we help?

Join Alison Mitchell on Wednesday 7th June 2018 the QEII Centre in Westminster for our CPD Certified Science and Innovation 2018 Conference.

Our 14th Annual Science & Innovation Conference will provide you with insights into the capabilities of sensory technologies and the growth of a world class innovation hub.

Now over to you…

Are you interested in innovation funding and sensory technologies? Have you got any thoughts on how the use of emerging technology can enable innovative research? Are there any other crucial aspects that you would like to share? Tweet us using @ScienceUK, we always love to hear from you.

Do you have a team of staff at your organisation who would benefit from attending our Science and Innovation Conference? Contact Ricky Sadiq at Ricky.Sadiq@govnet.co.uk.