The huge scale of the University of Essex's ambition to support hi-tech businesses and start-ups is being celebrated as the framework is completed for the £12m Innovation Centre at their Colchester Campus.

The project on the University’s Knowledge Gateway research and technology park is aiming to drive growth in the north of Essex and is being backed by £2m from Essex County Council and £2m from the South East Local Enterprise Partnership’s Local Growth Fund.

More than 50 innovative businesses will eventually make the Innovation Centre their home and the completion of the frame shows the scheme is on-track to be completed early in 2019. The building project is being overseen by Kier Construction.

Cllr Kevin Bentley, Essex County Council’s Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Economic Growth, visited the site to celebrate the milestone and review progress.

He said: “Today was a landmark in the development of the Innovation Centre which opens its doors next year. We have invested £2million into the Innovation Centre and helped to secure a further £2m funding from the South East LEP.

“It will provide excellent business facilities, space and hands on start-up support for 50 local businesses and organisations as part of the Knowledge Gateway business park development at the Colchester Campus.

“Colchester is recognised as a place where digital businesses cluster and the Centre will support further expansion of this sector by providing the right type of workspaces. Our investment into the Innovation Centre supports our commitment to drive economic growth in Essex.”

The University's Registrar Bryn Morris said: “It’s fantastic to see the Innovation Centre emerging we’re all really excited about the benefits it will bring to the local economy, the University and to our students from the spring of 2019. It will cement the Knowledge Gateway’s position as the location of choice for innovative, agile businesses in the east of England. We’re grateful to Essex County Council and South East Local Enterprise Partnership for being such strong supporters of this project.”

The topping out celebration was also attended by SELEP's Essex Vice Chair George Kieffer.

Christian Brodie, Chairman of SELEP, said: “This shows how our universities can play an invaluable role in nurturing entrepreneurship and employability through the creation of spin-outs and start-ups. As these businesses grow, the next challenge is how to keep them locally, and this is where the Knowledge Gateway comes into its own by providing the space to accommodate their commercial success.

“The Innovation Centre is exactly the type of project we want to support in our role as champions for economic growth in Essex, Southend and Thurrock, alongside East Sussex, and Kent and Medway, as part of our Strategic Economic Plan.”

The vision for the Knowledge Gateway

The Knowledge Gateway is seeing very strong interest from companies who want to move to the Knowledge Gateway to benefit from being part of a thriving business community and connecting with world-leading researchers, high-quality students and graduates, and excellent campus facilities.

The University has invested a total of £50m so far in creating the Knowledge Gateway which brings together great infrastructure, talented academic researchers, space for start-ups, and opportunities for anchor tenants to establish new regional centres.

The long-term vision is to create more than 2,000 high-value jobs within 15 years by offering a home to more start-ups, SMEs and global businesses looking to benefit from being located at the Colchester Campus.

The University’s Start-up Hub, based at the Knowledge Gateway’s Parkside Office Village, will move across to the Innovation Centre after already helping establish 20 registered businesses in the past 12 months. The Innovation Centre will also include a state-of-the-art digital suite which will help showcase Essex’s expertise in technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality.

Alongside the Innovation Centre the next phase of Parkside Office Village will be completed this autumn. More than 20 ambitious hi-tech businesses are already based at Parkside Office Village alongside Essex Chambers of Commerce, the Haven Gateway Partnership, the Institute for Analytics and Data Science, the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Business and Local Government Data Research Centre.

Essex is one of the leading universities in the UK for working with business through Innovate UK’s flagship Knowledge Transfer Partnership programme. It is working with more than 20 companies based across London, Essex and Suffolk – including some Parkside companies. The projects allow forward-thinking businesses to connect with research expertise in artificial intelligence, machine learning and virtual reality.