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Coventry University - Start-Up Cafe

Background

 

The Café opened in September 2006, is the result of a refurbishment and re-purposing of a restaurant on campus. There were plans to remodel an existing restaurant on campus into a modern coffee bar and it was agreed to use this opportunity to convert it into a start-up café.

 

Case Study tags: learning spaces, refurbishment, coventry university, business start-up, west midlandshigher education

 

Context

 

Further details about the Institute of Applied Enterprise at Coventry

 

The Institute is standalone; it does not belong to the Careers Service and reports directly to a Pro-Vice Chancellor.

Of the Institute's 16 staff, 14 work on a location independent basis - i.e. they don't have individual office spaces. These have been created by Coventry in order to free up space across the campus. It has resulted in cost savings and an increase in productivity. There is an Enterprise Committee with representatives from faculties and institutes that meets every 6 weeks - campus-wide activity. Coventry's VC is very pro enterprise (enterprise is written into the corporate strategy) giving strong support from the senior management of the University.

Part of their remit is work on activities that stimulate enterprise They are selling a lifestyle and it's not sector specific. They concentrate on applied research, business services, culture and awareness building. The education base is from undergraduate to the Masters programmes. They also offer modules to students from all faculties (Add+Vantage system). The Institute supports business start ups of varying sizes, small and big.

The Institute is involved in projects in China and Africa - and it's the technology that lets this happen.

Gideon suggests that language has been a problem in the past, with some people being threatened by the word 'Entrepreneurship' -thinking that 'it's all about big businesses', and not being able to relate it to their own experiences.

 

The Enterprise activity has been runner up in Times Higher Enterprise awards two years running. This year they have been awarded Midland Business Award for the entrepreneurial university of the year.

Coventry University as a whole is very supportive of enterprise. The University wanted a space for students, alumni, staff and anyone else in the wider community who might be interested in an enterprise environment. The University offers a wide range of services in different locations on campus and there are also many other services available from other providers both at regional and national level.

 

The original Start-Up Café concept was invented by Professor Remi Walbaum (EHL); together with Professor Jane Royston (Create Switzerland) they implemented it in the Swiss entrepreneurship market. The Start Up Café concept at Coventry came from an ex-Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Director of Entrepreneurship, Education and Internationalisation at Coventry, David Gillingham, now Dean at Kaplan Holborn College. The concept of the Start-Up Café was explained to Coventry's Vice-Chancellor who immediately agreed that it would be a good idea to establish it on Coventry's campus and allocated a budget for this purpose.

Coventry University has agreed with Professor Royston of Create Switzerland to expand and exploit this concept for the benefit of entrepreneurship education in other markets. The start-up concept forms part of the Network of International Business Schools (NIBS).

 

What is it?

 

The Start-Up Café is a virtual and physical space that provides for the education and support of entrepreneurs. The physical start-up café at Coventry is a wireless, technology-rich café with a variety of furniture that can be arranged in a number of ways for a number of purposes - including social, networking and wider enterprise activities. The multi-use space provides signposting to services from other providers both at the regional and national level with attractive posters on the walls, brochures of each service, and access to the start-up café website via fixed computers and wireless broadband.

 

The idea behind the space is that students can 'Meet, Drink, Think'. They can discuss the future as entrepreneurs, build contacts and network. The Start-Up Café integrates a physical space with a virtual space enabling the activity to take place on a global scale.

 

What happens in the space?

 

The 100 capacity space at Coventry is an attractive glass-sided area extremely suitable as a coffee bar but it has neither office nor training space adjacent to it. Because the various start-up services are disp

ersed across the campus the physical café provides signposting to all of these with attractive posters on the walls, brochures and access to the start-up café website via fixed computers and wifi. The Café is a hub for awareness-building.

 

The prime focus is creating business - there is a growing tradition of Coventry students being actively involved in enterprise. Gideon and his colleagues try, with the help of facilities such as the Start-Up Café, to push students into networking with the ultimate aim of creating businesses.

 

The Institute of Directors has run master classes inside the space for students on a regular basis. The Café also acts as a venue for the Student in Business Society, enterprise activities and special entrepreneurship events. The Catering department looks after the catering aspects of the start up Café.

 

Finance

 

Funding Sources

 

Coventry University has funded the bulk of the costs of the Café.

Catering services at the University are operated on a semi-commercial basis by the University itself under the direction of Student Services. There is a requirement for the catering within the space to make sufficient profit in order for it to be sustainable. The Director of Student Services and the Catering Manager were involved from the inception of the implementation and were extremely helpful in creating the start-up café.

 

The space offers excellent opportunities to tap into alternative sources of funding, and is available for hire by other bodies for a variety of events, including parties and weddings.

 

Cost of project

 

The refurbishment of the existing venue cost approximately £40k - this includes renovation, decoration, IT equipment and furniture, promotional/ branded materials and signage.

 

 

Technology

 

What technology is being used and how is it being used?

 

Coventry's Start-Up Café is, as is typical with its sister start-up cafés, equipped with a plasma screen with messages driven from the website and a webcam to provide an interactive interface to the other Cafés via the website links.

 

It is envisaged that as the virtual platform develops, integrated Skype conferencing will be added together with services for communicating with SMS (Short Message Service) and PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants).

 

How does the technology add value?

 

Wireless access is available to students and staff within the Start-up café on campus, guests can apply for a password for access.

 

The Start-up Café website is hosted on a server through Kaj-isis Ltd. The website provides links to other global members, providing a facility to network globally.

 

Success Factors

 

What makes the space successful?

 

The space has support from externals as well as excellent support from senior management within the University.

Keith Jones, of KAJ-ISIS Limited is very much involved. He is based at Coventry University Technology Park and had connections, partnerships with the University and others. This private sector partner has established a multi-layer website providing a virtual alongside the physical. The Start Up Café network is a virtual meeting space. The space is promoted and motivated by what the students see, not what they read.

 

What principles were behind the design?

 

The building itself was already in existence. The new space within the building has been designed to be open, flexible and welcoming. It's in the midst of the main campus so encourages footfall from throughout the campus. The general ethos of the Start-Up Café movement is that people should be able to Meet, Drink and Think. The atmosphere is very informal and yet the space can, hopefully, provide an environment in which enterprise activities can take place, some with a real purpose and focus and some as a consequence of the exchanging of ideas and mutual support of formal and informal peer networks. External experts can be introduced into the mix in order to provide perspectives on enterprise and practicalities of rolling out ideas into the marketplace.

 

What is innovative about the design? And use of the building?

 

The building itself was designed primarily as a catering outlet so, whilst an interesting circular shape with a high pointed roof it is not, it could be argued, in itself a particularly interesting building. It is the enterprise activity that happens inside it that is interesting and inspiring.

 

The change of purpose too, from a reasonably traditional restaurant to a technology-enabled flexible enterprise space is impressive.

 

What changes have you made as a result of receiving feedback?

 

As far as communication is concerned it has been found that database, Facebook and twitter announcements are much more successful contact media for students than email.

 

Anything else you wish to add

 

The Student Enterprise Building is being constructed next to the Start-Up Café and is due to open in 2011.

 

Top Tips

 

  • A small, multi-functional team can get things done with all aspects being considered. At Coventry, a small project team consisting of the Institute of Applied Entrepreneurship, Estates Management, Student Services & Catering, Computer Services and Marketing & Communications facilitated the rapid creation of the physical start-up café which opened in September 2007 - just 3 months after the VC agreed to the project.

 

  • Branding is important. Coventry's Marketing & Communications created the Start-Up Café 'Meet, Drink, Think' design and this is being used by the whole Start-Up Café organisation. These designs included the logo, posters, signage, menu boards and other items.

 

  • Providing free refreshments at events can be a great way of getting students along and participating. Free pizzas have proved particularly popular and the Café has been used for informal enterprise events that have proved to be very popular with users.

 

Lessons Learned

 

There are Second Life aspects to the virtual space but this whole area is currently treading water to some extent due to it not taking off as well as anticipated at this point. Although this is not to say that it will not take off in the future.

 

Contact Details

 

Dr Gideon Maas, Co-Director Institute of Applied Entrepreneurship, Institute of Applied Enterprise

Lisa Drummond, Entrepreneurial Culture - Project Manager, Institute of Applied Enterprise

 

Case study written end of 2009.