Artist Bharti on her Italian inspiration, Walsall ‘Wunder’ & creative networking

STEAMmates: Meet Bharti Parmar –  Artist, STEAMhouse member and local innovator who’s exploring surfaces, materials and new technology.

STEAMhouse brings inventors, entrepreneurs and craftspeople together. Our exciting and growing community are sharing skills and knowledge to develop exciting new ideas and products.

We’ve caught up with artist and STEAMhouse member, Bharti, to see how STEAMhouse is benefiting regional creatives.

Hi Bharti, thanks for taking the time out of your project to speak with us today, can you tell us a little about yourself and what you are working on?

Hello, I’m an artist with a background of exhibiting work for over 25 years.  I studied in fine art (printmaking) at the Royal College of Art and have an academic specialism in C19th material culture.  Many users of STEAMhouse are designing a product; my work is much more of a discursive exploration of marquetry, craft and veneers.  I’m interested in surfaces – and what we expect them to be.

What inspired you to focus your energy into this field?

I’ve had a lifelong interest in craft, geometry and pattern.  Some years ago I heard of the Studiolo Gubbio, a room in a palace in the small town of Gubbio in Italy.  I went to visit it – it’s ‘a room within a room’, built entirely out of wood veneer using trompe l’oeil illusion and perspective to make us look again at what we are seeing.

I began research in how to use the craft of marquetry and learnt practical skills from the Marquetry Society of GB.  I then did a residency at the New Art Gallery Walsall (2014) where I made an installation of panels, artworks and artefacts in the style of a ‘Wunderkammer’ entitled The Marquetarian.

So what is it you are looking to achieve?

My project at STEAMhouse is about the poetics and mechanics of ‘repair’.  I’m interested in celebrating defects in surfaces and in making very subtle interventions in wood.  I’m working on a year long project where I’ll be fabricating artworks which uncover blemishes and natural features in materials, e.g. knots in wood, grain in surfaces etc.

How wonderful! Can you tell us where or when STEAMhouse came into your thinking?

I’m a member of Eastside Projects Associates group ESP, (ExtraSpecialPeople) and Ruth Claxton, Creative Director of STEAMhouse encouraged me to make an application.  I booked onto a tour and was hugely impressed with the organisation, facilities and possibilities of what I could achieve.  I’d used a FABLAB elsewhere to learn laser cutting and 3D printing – but that was in an educational setting sharing with students.  Here at STEAMhouse, we are all professional artists, designers and entrepreneurs and we benefit creatively from working together and sharing ideas informally in the workshops.

And what is it you have done with us so far, how did you start your journey with us?

I’ve been working at STEAMhouse for a month or so over the summer so it’s early days. I’m learning how to create digital files in order to use the various technology. Without giving too much away, I’m currently exploring several ways to make holes – from laser cutting – to manually using a very fine blade on a scroll saw.

What’s next in your STEAMhouse project journey then?

I want to learn how to use the CNC cutter!

What words of advice would you give to other innovators out there (feel free to give STEAMhouse a shameless plug 🙂 )?

If you have an idea for a project for which you have to design a prototype – but don’t know where to turn for business advice, funding or technical knowhow, book onto the next tour of STEAMhouse Birmingham, and take it from there…

Thanks Bharti, we look forward to seeing what unfolds for you and your work.

For more information on Bharti’s work visit

Feeling inspired? Get involved with STEAMhouse by checking out our upcoming events or by registering to join here.

STEAMhouse to host headline event at BBC Digital Week

Digital Cities Birmingham returns with a new series of inspiring events across the city, many of them free, including practical, hands-on workshops, masterclasses and conferences.

BBC Digital Cities will be returning to Birmingham this year for a week-long series of events for the creative industries. Starting on Monday 24 September 2018, there will be a full schedule stripped across the week, offering insights and free digital skills training.

Partners include: BBC Writers Room, the BBC Academy and BBC School Report, a digital arts and creative Hello Culture: Remix conference at Fazeley Studios, innovation and digital technology workshops at the newly opened STEAMhouse in Digbeth, and a day of events from trail-blazing digital channel BBC Three.

STEAMhouse will be hosting the headline event during BBC Birmingham Digital Week, 26th Sept, 9am-8pm.

You can join the STEAMhouse team for an epic day of creative, collaborative and high-energy designing and making. Alexa Torlo, Engagement Manager at STEAMhouse added, “We are delighted to team up with BBC to run an event at STEAMhouse, working together to tap into the city’s creative pool of entrepreneurs, where we’ll be designing, testing and prototyping new ideas in the Lab at STEAMhouse. It’s an opportunity to bring people together and explore new ways of working”.

James Hannam, Director and Owner or MakerLabs will be guiding the session, “Anyone can make, that is my whole ethos. In this session we will have a look at how you can quickly make a device that can connects to the internet and can be customised to work with most apps and platforms. People interested in the ‘connected digital world’ as well as any wannabe makers can enjoy these sessions. You’ll need to bring a smart phone (iOS or Android) and having your own laptop would be great! You’ll get to take away free software and links to guides and tutorials to make this little project even more awesome!”

Bringing together regional creative experts, makers and influencers in the digital space, you will be able to network with highly creative and like minded people, and…

  • Get to explore and try out design thinking approaches to massively enhance your services and products
  • Get a personal tour of the STEAMhouse space, and find out about our unique interdisciplinary spaces
  • Meet Richard Smith, Head of Digital Partners and Jake Bailey, Digital Agencies Engagement Manager, Distribution and Business Development at BBC Design and Engineering to find out what they’re looking for in their suppliers.
  • Guided by James Hannam, design, make and take away your very own IoT Connected Device. Making use of the STEAMhouse facilities, James will take you from design ideas to fully working internet connected product in one session*

*you will need to have a mobile phone or tablet with Byte App installed, you can download the app here.

Follow #DigiCities for the latest information on the rest of the BBC Birmingham Digital Week.

3D printing fans gather in Birmingham

3D printing enthusiasts from across the region gathered in Birmingham city centre as STEAMhouse hosted a meet-up event to share skills and encourage future collaborations.

The ‘3D Meetup’ event took place at Birmingham City University and Eastside
Projects’ STEAMhouse facility in Digbeth, and saw 3D printing professionals come together for a day of talks and to showcase creations.

The event was the first of its kind to be held in Birmingham, with attendees including printing specialists Avatar 3D and the Birmingham-based Magic Candy Factory – the world’s first 3D gummy candy printing company.

“It was fantastic to see companies showcasing products but also hobbyists displaying their projects too”, said Adam Woodall, a technology consultant and 3D printing fan who helped to organise the event.

“It was great to have a collaborative environment with companies and visitors supporting each other.”

Revathi Timms, owner of Avatar 3D printing and exhibitor (and STEAMhouse member), added, “I am really pleased that I could be part of the first launch of the 3D Meetup at STEAMhouse.

“It was encouraging to see so many entrepreneurs at the event who were excited
by 3D Printing technology showcasing their work, each offering a service to improve people’s understanding of the potential & application of this technology.

“For many years people have focused on 3D design, it is fantastic to see those design ideas are now tangible products, their ideas have come to reality.”

Based in the former car showroom on Digbeth High Street, Phase One of STEAMhouse features a range of new state-of-the-art facilities which people can access for free, ranging from 3D printers and laser cutting machinery to virtual reality technology and printing studios.

It provides a collaborative innovation space for artists, academics and businesses to work together.

For more exciting events at STEAMhouse, check out our events page, or apply to join our programme for free here.

Residents handed chance to quiz experts on future of driverless cars

“RoadsWhere were goingwe don’t need roads”, Back to the Future’s Dr. Emmett Brown wasn’t quite right…just yet anyway. We will in fact still need roads for the foreseeable future, but drivers are looking like becoming a thing of the past.

West Midlands residents are being asked for their views on the innovative new technology which will bring driverless cars to streets across the country.

A special event will be held at Birmingham City University and Eastside Projects’ STEAMhouse facility in Digbeth, to give members of the public the opportunity to ask questions and air their views on the development of the autonomous vehicles which could transform how we travel.

The event, which takes place on Wednesday 5th September from 6pm – 8pm, forms part of the Talkshop series, which invites the public to learn more about major policy decisions and quiz experts face-to-face.

Birmingham City University has already been taking part in a multi-million-pound research project to test driverless cars which aim to improve travel for blind or visually impaired people.

The £2.3 million INSIGHT project has seen a consortium of business and academic partners working to adapt driverless pods and make it easier for those with sight difficulties to travel independently.

Perry Walker, one of the founders of Talk Shop, will be hosting the event and leading discussions.

Perry said: “”Driverless cars are near enough that we can understand the issues, but far enough away that citizens can hope to influence how they happen.

This event is one of more than thirty taking place over the country, from Birmingham and Buckhurst Hill to the Wirral and Wolverhampton. All the results will be combined and sent to the Department for Transport.
Perry Walker

The event is part of Nesta’s Everyone Makes Innovation Policy programme which aims to improve public engagement with policy decisions being taken at the local and national level.

Attendees at the event will be given a discussion kit to drive debate and provide information on the complex issues surrounding the creation of autonomous vehicles.

It will focus on key questions including:

  • Are self-driving cars a good thing?
  • Will they help people who find it hard to drive?
  • How soon will they be here?
  • Will they reduce congestion and pollution?
  • Will I need to own a car at all?

The discussion will take place in STEAMhouse Phase One, which was formally opened on Digbeth High Street in May.

Based in the former car showroom on Digbeth High Street, Phase One of STEAMhouse features a range of new state-of-the-art facilities which people can access for free, ranging from 3D printers and laser cutting machinery to virtual reality technology and printing workshop.

It provides a collaborative innovation space for artists, academics and businesses to work together.

This event has now passed. Please click here to visit out events calendar to see all upcoming events.

Birmingham – The City of 1000 Trades

This blog is authored by Christopher Hay, Senior Metal Technician, STEAMhouse.

Birmingham’s history is steeped in the tradition of making, once called the city of 1000 trades our allied industries manufactured almost every type of item imaginable.

The evidence of this is obvious as you experience the city, the streets whisper stories as you walk past the architecture, like echoes of the past embroidered into the contemporary fabric. This continues today with the new ways of approaching making, the borrowing of tools, the passing of knowledge and reimagining new ways to create and collaborate.

Chris’ Story

My story started in one of those very quarters, making and working inside of Birmingham’s historic jewellery industry. We specialised in merging traditional craft-based practice mixed with digital manufacturing, rapid prototyping and digital design.

The jewellery quarter influenced my way of working and gave me direction as we borrowed tools from other industries and repurposed them for production. It is incredibly fulfilling to experience creating jewellery and objects that rivalled the traditions of the past with an accuracy and ease that had never seen before.

Although the new tools we had acquired had changed the vocabulary, the tradition of commercial jewellery and objects had much stayed the same.

This led to me feeling disappointed when thinking of all of the new outcomes that could be created, the new tools we had acquired were not fulfilling their potential because of the tradition that had come before. Disappointed, but never discouraged, I began to look for something new, a place where we could start new conversations and drive change to revolutionise our approach to making.


I first heard of STEAMhouse through local networks, the excitement was buzzing as my peers discussed a new type of facility, where cross collaboration and interdisciplinary making could come to life. From my perspective, STEAMhouse was looking to take fill in the parts of the story that were missing, covering new ground to achieve more than a solo maker or artist could have completed alone. A place where creatives can receive support, guidance, access to funding and collaboration opportunities – alongside the all-important makerspace.

As fate allowed, I’m now employed as a technical demonstrator, in the very project that was so exciting to me in the first place! Even being here for a short amount of time has exposed me to new formulations and ways the creative industries can move forward in today’s Birmingham.


Throughout my short journey so far with STEAMhouse, I’ve been thinking about collaborative etiquette and what it means to work in an effective co-author relationship.

It’s clear that people collaborate for a number of different reasons and in many different ways. Risk and trust are important drivers in the dynamics of collaboration, but when collaborating makers can benefit from an enhanced capacity to share ideas, as well as mutual support and encouragement as they operate outside of existing conventions and forge new approaches to thinking.

STEAMhouse is equipped with the types of machines and expertise needed to support a venture into something new. This new beginning has been skilfully planned and curated into the workshops to allow for a fertile ground for knowledge to develop and be nurtured by each member.

Having access to the different workshops both challenges and influences the way you approach your work, but what I truly believe makes STEAMhouse special is the collaborative environment created.

Accessing these incredible spaces, while engaging with others and seeing how they do so, learning from your peers and perhaps most importantly, working in a supportive, collaborative environment is what I believe will bring the best of the future here to Birmingham.

Looking forward into the future, I would like the project to develop in not only the collaborative working practice but to be equally balanced in the technical development of products. With the introduction of more digital manufacturing to produce professional ready to go products.

While STEAMhouse grows, our industry links with develop and further creatives will get involved, we will see the power of knowledge transfer in action, while inspiring the future makers of Birmingham.

To explore what STEAMhouse can offer you (all for free), check out our upcoming events or register for your free membership here.

Calling innovators: Come together to find solutions to problems faced by the elderly

A new event aiming to tackle problems faced by elderly people will see businesses, academics and artists join forces to create innovative solutions to the challenges they face, such as mobility and loneliness.

Coventry-based ExtraCare Charitable Trust, which provides an alternative to care or nursing homes with its retirement villages, has come together with Birmingham City University and Eastside Projects’ STEAMhouse to call on local innovators to join the two-day STEAMlab hack event.

The challenge – STEAMlab Urban Hack: The Future of Retirement Care – tasks attendees with finding ways to improve how elderly people are able to move in and out of ExtraCare facilities, and come up with methods of connecting residents with those with common interests or needs to increase social interactions.

Shirley Hall, Head of Innovation & Wellbeing at The ExtraCare Charitable Trust, commented:

“Our charity exists to enable better lives for older people and create living environments that improve quality of life and aid independence. To successfully deliver our vision, innovation and the integration of technology into our retirement villages is pivotal.

“For our residents living with restrictions to mobility or simple everyday tasks, it is important that they feel they have the confidence and freedom to continue doing the things they enjoy.

“Thankfully, technology has already helped enable people to live more independent and comfortable lives, lives that better aligns with the age they feel inside. For that reason, we’re excited to be part of the next STEAMhouse challenge and look forward to seeing the solutions they create.”

STEAMlab events bring West Midlands businesses, innovators and creatives together to work together and build solutions to real-world problems and challenges facing the region. The upcoming ExtraCare-supported event takes place on Tuesday 21 and Wednesday 22 August at STEAMhouse in the Digbeth area of Birmingham.

STEAMlabs are part of STEAMhouse, Birmingham City University’s new centre aimed at encouraging the collaboration of the arts, science, technology, engineering and maths (STEAM) sectors.

Creations devised during the events have the opportunity to secure funding opportunities, lead to prototypes being created or have their innovations fast-tracked.

Alexa Torlo, Engagement Manager at Birmingham City University, said:

“STEAMhouse is all about bringing together people from across the arts and tech sectors to create innovative new products which have the potential to transform lives.

“The question for our upcoming event is ‘can technologies allow care receivers to lead more independent lives?’ This STEAMlab gives us the opportunity to work together with ExtraCare retirement villages to find solutions facing this organisation.”

Innovators are given the opportunity to amend and adapt existing technology or devise completely new creations in order to tackle the challenge presented to them.

STEAMlab Urban Hack: The Future of Retirement Care is free to attend, but booking is essential.

For more information and to sign up to the event visit Eventbrite.

STEAMhouse Phase 2 to transform historic Birmingham factory

Housing, Communities and Local Government Secretary the Rt. Hon James Brokenshire MP has today (Tuesday 3 July) unveiled new plans which will see a historic part of Birmingham’s Eastside regenerated to provide new facilities for businesses, artists and academics.

The Secretary of State formally announced Phase Two of Birmingham City University’s STEAMhouse project during a visit to the second city today.

The £60m plan will see Birmingham’s derelict Belmont Works, originally built in 1899, restored to its former glory as part of a major overhaul. £14million of funding has been provided by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, with £1million Local Growth Funding from GBSLEP. It is anticipated STEAMhouse will help create up to 10,000 jobs across the West Midlands region and help support the growth of the Midlands Engine.

The Grade A listed building on Cardigan Street has stood derelict since being gutted by a fire in 2007 but will now be transformed to house STEAMhouse’s permanent home. This will provide additional facilities and spaces for SMEs, as well as a new home for the University’s School of Computing, transforming the student experience for computing and digital technology students.

The Victorian Belmont Works factory served as the headquarters for the historic Eccles Rubber and Cycle Company and has since been used to produce linen clothing, bedsteads and pianos.

Work will see the building receive an extension to its rear façade to provide upgrades and new spaces, but the building will also retain many of its original features.

The Rt Hon James Brokenshire MP, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, said: “The STEAMhouse project is a fantastic example of how government investment is creating new jobs and boosting growth across the West Midlands.”

Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, said: “STEAMhouse is a brilliant example of our Local Industrial Strategy in action, bringing together creative innovators from different sectors, and creating the leaders of the future right here in the West Midlands.

“Birmingham City University is a global leader in these fields, and the next phase of STEAMhouse will provide further facilities to expand this vital work.

“As we seek to bring Channel 4 to the West Midlands, this milestone in the STEAMhouse programme demonstrates our existing expertise and our ongoing commitment to the creative industries here in the region.”

Professor Julian Beer, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Birmingham City University, said: “I am delighted to unveil our plans to develop STEAMhouse Phase Two and transform the historic Belmont Works building. STEAMhouse Phase Two will provide space for talented and innovative people from across academia, business and civic society to come together and develop ideas and products that change the world.

“This marks the continuation of the University’s commitment to the regeneration of the Eastside district of the Birmingham. I am particularly pleased that we have the backing of Government for a project that supports economic growth in the West Midlands.”


The development continues the University’s transformation of the Eastside district of Birmingham and follows a programme of investment worth over £260 million to develop state-of-the-art facilities for students and staff. In addition to the STEAMhouse Phase Two project, the University has acquired three plots of land adjacent to the existing City Centre Campus. Long-term plans for these sites will be developed in due course, with the University having applied to the City Council to temporarily use the sites for staff parking.

Once complete, Phase Two will boast a range of state-of-the-art equipment for businesses, artists and academics to take advantage of and help cement Birmingham’s reputation as one of the country’s leading start-up hotspots.

STEAMhouse’s development is in part a response to a range of reports which indicate that small businesses across the West Midlands are lagging behind on collaborative innovation.

The announcement follows the opening of STEAMhouse Phase One in Digbeth High Street in May 2018. The collaboration between Birmingham City University and Eastside Projects was formally launched by West Midlands Mayor Andy Street.

Based in the former car showroom on Digbeth High Street, Phase One of STEAMhouse features a range of new state-of-the-art facilities which people can access for free, ranging from 3D printers and laser cutting machinery to virtual reality technology and printing studios.

Set over six different rooms each space boasts its own specialist technology – much of which is unique in the region – and is equipped with dedicated technicians to support entrepreneurs in their ventures. By linking academic research and the vibrant creative arts scene in Digbeth, the University hopes to develop a new supply chain across the region.

Tim Pile, Chair of Greater Birmingham & Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership (GBSLEP), said:
“We welcome this latest milestone in Birmingham City University’s STEAMhouse project, which will create new jobs, develop new skills and drive economic prosperity throughout Greater Birmingham and Solihull. It builds on the great work of the project’s first phase, housed on Digbeth High Street, to put the region at the forefront of global innovation and creativity.

“Greater Birmingham and Solihull leads the way in sectors including advanced manufacturing, life sciences, and low carbon, digital and creative technologies. Our funding for the second phase of the development will help to bring together academia and industry in a historic, state-of-the-art facility to progress exciting new ideas and create long-term, sustainable growth.”

Register to join STEAMhouse here.

STEAMhouse has received funding from the Government, the European Regional Development Fund and Arts Council England.

Sign up to the STEAMhouse mailing list here and check out our upcoming events.

Universities and how they can help SMEs innovate

According to research, it is predicted that SMEs in the UK’s top UK cities will contribute £241bn to our economy by 2025. The research from Hampshire Trust Bank, in partnership with the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) also shows that Birmingham contributed just over £6bn in 2016 and is on course to deliver £8bn in 2025.

SMEs are the lifeblood of the UK economy and with the ability to make such a significant contribution, it’s important that they are supported to sustain growth and continue delivering new innovations to market. New and innovative business ideas are what get most entrepreneurs, SMEs and start-up businesses out of bed in the morning. With the freedom to do it their own way, these new ideas are often the foundations of a bright future.

However, innovation doesn’t always come easy. Launching a new product to market is hard. Even established, well-respected brands find it tough, costing them a fortune in R&D and marketing resources. No matter how big the ambition or great the idea, the reality for a SME to bring a new product to market can be daunting, especially with limited funds and resources. Access to the right facilities to design, build and stress test your concept can be a massive hurdle but if your new product idea can’t be properly tested or developed, where do you go from there?

Well, there is a resource available to SMEs that can potentially provide them with all the creative space, equipment and technologies they need to help bring their products to life. Universities not only have the facilities, but they are also a hotbed of creativity and knowledge and can help SMEs grow and develop their products.

Many universities will welcome entrepreneurs to come and use their facilities, technologies and workspaces. An investment in the latest equipment or technologies can often be too costly an investment for a SME or entrepreneur, but some universities can offer use of their state-of-the art facilities and workspaces for free or for a small charge. On site advice and expert knowledge is also on offer to help entrepreneurs make the most of the facilities on offer to them and to support them in their innovation journeys.

This is why we have created STEAMhouse, a new facility in Digbeth, powered by Birmingham City University. Our purpose built facility has been launched to help the region’s entrepreneurs bring new products to life, supporting their growth and boosting the local economy. Visitors to our facility can take an idea into STEAMhouse and work with our team to create an action plan for developing, making and commercialising their product.

Innovators are then invited to take advantage of our fabrication space and state-of-the-art equipment which includes free access to all the latest makerspace technologies including 3D printers, lasercutters, bandsaws and screenprint beds. Experienced technicians are also on hand to offer advice and guidance and support in using the equipment.

American entrepreneur and author Jim Rohn once said: “If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way. If you don’t you’ll find an excuse.” Don’t let the ‘not knowing how’ be the reason for your business goals to remain unfulfilled.

To find out more about how STEAMhouse can support your business ambitions, book onto a tour via our events page.

Not stopping at STEM! Five global STEAM initiatives inspiring our quest to transform the region…

Dr Steve Harding looks at how Birmingham can use the knowledge gained from proven international STEAM initiatives to improve skills, innovation & accelerate business growth in the area.

According to The Birmingham Economic Review 2017 Birmingham and the West Midlands is suffering from a skills shortage. Business experts have highlighted the need to not only provide basic skills such as English and maths, but broader ranging STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) skills too. As a place with high inward investment, and new opportunities such as HS2 on the horizon, investing in these broad new skills is how we can reap the region’s potential to become an even more successful economy.

However we believe that the region, and the UK, shouldn’t stop at STEM. Alongside the West Midlands’ well known strengths in manufacturing and engineering, a rich cultural and artistic heritage remains alive and well (consider the new Royal Birmingham Conservatoire at Birmingham City University, for instance). Bringing the finest artistic talent and technical brains together is essential to getting the most out of the region’s talent. Not many UK or international cities have such well balanced and diverse outlooks, which is why Birmingham has such potential to drive business innovation through interdisciplinary collaborations between industry, the arts and academia.

Adding the arts to STEM results in STEAM. Other innovative cities across the world have proven that STEAM initiatives work to improve skills, create problem solving innovation and accelerate business growth in the area. Let us introduce you to some of the projects we find most exciting, and have been our key influences when creating Birmingham’s STEAMhouse, which aims to transform business and education in the region.

1. STEAM champion – Rhode Island School of Design, Rhode Island, USA

Image Credit:

A self-proclaimed champion of STEAM, Rhode Island School of Design’s (RISD) education offering is structured to give students a well-rounded approach to their careers.

Despite specialising in art and design, students have to study a different discipline that are often STEM subjects, encouraging them to broaden their horizons and think about the potential and benefit of collaborating with different skill sets.

Over the years, RISD has been involved in many projects raising awareness of STEAM, including hosting workshops from industrial design critic Amy Leidtke that educate teachers on how to integrate art into science and maths subjects. RISD has channelled this support for STEAM into championing the official STEM to STEAM movement. It sees teachers, researchers, policy makers, students, and business people from the college collaborate on projects and events to encourage the STEAM ethos.

Other educational institutes are involved in STEAM too; faculty members of California College of the Arts (CCA) have campaigned about climate change through the initiative and carried out video work showing how badly port cities are affected by sea level rises. The institution has made quite an impact, nudging the state to introduce legislation that highlights how art and design can enhance STEM education and research.

2. STEAM collaborative initiatives – Medialab-Prado, Madrid, Spain

Medialab-Prado is a laboratory that spurs experimentation, collaboration and networking in projects that are set out to achieve cultural change, ranging from health and well being to air pollution.

It’s a citizen-focused initiative, and so allows people from all walks of life and with different areas of expertise, from science to the arts, to collaborate on projects.

Its ‘Interactivos?’ program sees citizens identify problems that need to be addressed, before putting out a global, open call for project ideas around these. Collaborators wanting to work with them can respond with proposals on what the solution can be, often giving surprising and different answers due to the different walks of life people come from. It doesn’t matter where in the world you are or where your speciality lies; Medialab-Prado is a platform for any people to work together and solve a problem.

3. STEAM event – ARS Electronica, Linz, Austria

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Few festivals bring together professionals from both science and the arts. ARS Electronica is an institute linking art, technology and society, and hosts an annual event in Linz that sees people from those domains explore a theme relevant to them all.

Using speeches, workshops, exhibitions and symposia, attendees together establish ways to improve human society under the overarching theme and issue of that year. Its annual Prix ARS Electronica and STARTS Prize, which awards creativity and innovation in the use of digital media, celebrates the work across these sectors, while its Museum of the Future exhibits it all year round. You’d be hard-pressed finding another institute that honours the STEAM concept in event form with such success, shown by the festival attracting  hundreds of theoreticians, artists and technologists from across the world and about 550 journalists and bloggers annually. It’s moved far from being a festival that launched in 1979 with a line-up of just 20 artists and scientists.

4. STEAM diversity – Startup52, New York City, USA

The National Science Foundation found that 84% of science and engineering jobs in the US are carried out by white or Asian males. It’s this lack of diversity that Startup52 aims to tackle while helping accelerate businesses in their early stages.

It’s StartUp52x acceleration program offers mentoring from industry and business experts to give entrepreneurs support in areas such as marketing and design. And entrepreneurs from underrepresented communities in tech, such as women, immigrants and LGBTQ people, are particularly welcomed to take part. Startup52 doesn’t only see the value in integrating different disciplines to accelerate business growth, but also different people from a really diverse range of backgrounds.

5. STEAM corporate integration – MEKTORY, Tallinn, Estonia

Image Credit: Mektory

As the brainchild of Tallin University of Technology, MEKTORY helps companies develop their products and generate new ideas by enabling scientists, students and entrepreneurs to share their expertise.

Students from different faculties are appointed as project team members along with the business itself, while scientists and entrepreneurs act as mentors, and equipment operators ensure operational safety. Carrying out at least 30 projects a year, previous projects include Mitsubishi examining the driving qualities of electric cars in Nordic countries. The projects don’t only benefit the businesses taking part; the students getting involved benefit from learning about how combining different areas of expertise can take businesses further.

Bringing STEAM to Birmingham

As a region Birmingham also has great potential for STEAM collaboration and eventually could help the UK as a whole to adopt this approach to innovation.. These five global STEAM influencers among others have inspired us at STEAMhouse to achieve a similar kind of collaboration, skills diversity, business acceleration and innovation right here in Birmingham.

In fact, STEAMhouse is currently preparing for the March 2018 launch of its new 15,000 square foot collaborative innovation space in Digbeth, Birmingham, powered by the knowledge and expertise of Birmingham City University. It will offer regional start-ups and SMEs an environment for interdisciplinary collaborations between industry, the arts and academia. It will also be a place to discover new ways of thinking, access and develop new skills and services, drive business innovation and build prototypes, supported by programs involving a diverse range of experts and entrepreneurs. And with a whole building dedicated to delivering these new ways of working, entrepreneurs have the space to apply these new approaches to help them achieve their business growth objectives.

To discover more about STEAMhouse and how it can help take your start-up or SME to the next level, get in touch

Top 10 STEAMhouse Reflections

…What the Project Manager learned during STEAMhouse’s countdown year to launch…

Table of Contents:

  • …Introduction;
    • Traverse beyond the walls you’ve (subconsciously) built around your skillset;
    • Is the Internet of Things, y’know, a thing?
  1. Learn, talk share: the collaboration theory;
  2. What if hyperconnectivity didn’t mean information overload?
  3. Boundary-breaking innovation – the only way to grow;
  4. “Deconstructing uncertainty” – meet the new pioneers;
    • What is STEAM, again?
  5. Dare to be different; dare to win;
  6. Cross-disciplinary mindset — working as a hands-on team, not flying solo;
  7. Striking up unexpected relationships (or is serendipity at play?);
  8. Open doors, attract new markets and then redefine them;
  9. Transdisciplinatory vs Interdisciplinatory — defining true values;
  10. Tangible prototype production: so close, now, you can almost touch it.


The digital revolution has changed the way people interact. With neither inhibition nor conscious acknowledgement, we reveal our lives online. Often what we don’t say reveals more about the person we are than what we do say.

It’s becoming harder to hide in your silo of domesticity. If the small community mindset still exists, it’s almost certainly online.

Through our PC, laptop, smartphone and now even through AI devices in our homes, we interact. Our lives, our dreams, our aspirations — even the humdrum of the dailies — we share them, we connect.

Right now in the UK, we share a commonality, a history, with those whom we predominantly transact. Often, they also harbour dreams not dissimilar to our own.

But here’s the rub: we’re yet to take a similar leap of faith as a national business community.

Despite (some of) the tech being available (and if we know how to find/install/use it), we resist transparency.

We set our opaqueness filter to 100%, building walls around our business.

Traverse beyond the walls you’ve (subconsciously) built around your skillset

As a small business owner, you have a fair idea of your immediate circle. Your supply chain, your prospects, influencers, perceived visibility, and, yes: your competition.

You’ve got those elements pegged; go, you!

But beyond those immediate circles? Visibility dims.

You’re now seeing in others what they see (or don’t) in you.

The clutter of an insular mindset obliterates the horizon from view.

It’s become so easy to demote ideas, we hit the snooze button on them without thinking!

Why? It’s these ideas that could drive your business forward if you’d only avail them to specialists in fields where you lack acumen.

It’s time to stop snoozing; instead, take action!

Is the Internet of Things, y’know, a real thing?

We know that the Internet of Things seems yet to have graced Blighty’s shores, at least with any real conviction…
…but we can throw it a lifeline.

We’re introducing STEAMhouse: a place where small business innovators can access the space they need — a MakerSpace — to connect, research, collaborate, sample and grow.

Clayton Shaw, STEAMhouse project manager, has written an inspirational piece called, What it means to Innovate.

It recounts how STEAMhouse has already impressed upon both the internal- and external-facing communities of BCU.

In this reflective piece, we’ll expand on some of Clayton’s most poignant reflections. When you sign up, you’ll be able to relate them to your own STEAMhouse journey.

As yet, we’re waiting for you to jump on board, bound as we are for the tangible land of the Internet of Things.

Open innovation is a paradigm that assumes that firms can and should use external ideas as well as internal ideas, and internal and external paths to market, as the firms look to advance their technology. ~Henry Chesbrough

Learn, talk, share: the collaboration theory

BCU is, above all else, a seat of learning. But it is so much more: a dynamic beast often forging a path of its own choosing. But it also has to dance to others’ tunes.

Amending positions to bring about new outcomes often means that resources – the human kind – talent-switch.

Academics and business- and marketing specialists often find themselves going where the beat dictates. That steady thrum that calls to the rhythm of their unique expertise and experience is, after all, impossible to resist.

STEAMhouse has been one such collaboration, drawing upon many disciplines from within the university itself. What Clayton has discovered during the countdown year to launch is an impressive lack of inhibition and zero vanity amongst all those involved in the project.

Lecturers, professors, doctors, directors and managers: all have pooled their knowledge to bring STEAMhouse to where it is now:

  • no guarded secrets;
  • everyone contributing their skillset, and never afraid to do so;
  • all stakeholders striving towards and understanding the same goal.

That goal, that nirvana, is a place where local businesses can experience the thrill of collaboration, just as our own project team has to date. That place is a BCU purpose-built facility in Digbeth set to change the way we think about doing business around here.

They say, “practice what you preach“. In STEAMhouse, that happens. Everyone takes turns at the lectern, with no agenda other than progress. Now, that’s what I call music 101!

What if hyperconnectivity didn’t mean information overload?

One of the issues we as a business community have is information overload. For all the good it’s done, the Internet has given marketers direct access to your streams, to your inbox.

The overwhelming glut of information to which you subscribe is enough to make you want to close the doors to let you concentrate on ‘doing’ business.

But what if there was a way to harness that information? Instead of slamming your office door on its fingers as it tries to encroach upon your workspace, what if you could make sense of it?

Through research and collaboration, STEAMhouse will promote that tranquil environment.

As well as a MakerSpace, Clayton also highlights that innovation is as important to progression as it is to simply satisfying existing market demand.

Boundary-breaking innovation – the only way to grow

It’s through STEAM innovation that STEAMhouse can have a real impact. Yes, we want the venture to help grow participants’ businesses and the West Midlands’ region wider economy.

But each project’s real focus should train on the participant themselves. As a supporting team, we can offer a mix of research and separate individual creative inputs and attributes.

They’ll all swirl around in the melting pot for a time, gestate until…
.…in a split second they meld and the magic ingrained in innovation happens.

As Clayton attests:

Innovation is what people are seeking, and they are exploring it in new ways.” ~Clayton Shaw

This quote satisfies the four tenets upon which the team built the project to form the direction we hope it takes:

  1. open;
  2. curious;
  3. inventive;
  4. productive.

New problems need new solutions; together, we can prove that >1 heads are better than 1. And if that means going off at a tangent, we can draw upon the specialist knowledge and academia at BCU to guide us.

“Deconstructing uncertainty” – meet the new pioneers

Identifying a space where research and collaboration can come together is one thing. Asking innovators and creators to open up about their ideas is another.

Why reveal brand new concepts too soon, when doing so may impact the future of your own business?

In the past, getting innovators to share their concept has been like trying to open a razor clam with the bristle end of a paintbrush.

STEAMhouse wants to help change that perception but in a safe, selective environment.

What is STEAM, again?

STEM subjects have formed a growing part of higher education for the biggest part of thirty years. Science, technology, engineering and maths – classic disciplinary subjects.

For the most, STEM topics rebuff the creative. Strict rules and laws apply to all the subjects that make up the overarching STEM field.

But does that mean that creativity has no part to play in building the future?

Maybe once it didn’t, no. But the Internet has changed that. Creating accessible, functional imagery has never been so in demand.

The visual now plays a massive part in learning. From basic coding that renders images correctly online to virtual reality, educators and marketers know that images work.

STEAM recognises the four STEM fields, but adds a fifth: Art.

STEAMhouse is a place to foster this newer way of learning in a huge Makerspace.

Dare to be different; dare to win

We know that potentially exposing oneself thus isn’t most creatives’ first choice. It’s hardly in their DNA at all. But that’s where STEAMhouse seeks to be different.

When you share your idea with STEAMhouse, it will be with academics at the university or business experts committed to the project.

We want the curious to approach us with an open mind and an inventive spirit.

One of STEAMhouse’s principles is to promote collaboration in a flexible Makerspace…
…but not at the cost of threatening your intellectual property.

We mean to solve production problems, redesign plans or find new ways to perform existing processes using STEAM disciplines.

It will mean letting your guard down to let in experts, experts who can fill in the gaps in your existing strategy or development plan.

Art humanizes technology and makes it understandable. Design is needed to make sense of information overload. It is why art and design will rise in importance during this century as we try to make sense of all the possibilities that digital technology now affords. ~John Maeda

Remember, feint hand never won fair maiden.

We will give participants 12 hours of support from our staff and industry experts. It’s also possible that your innovative idea may qualify for one of 30 grants of £2,500 to help produce prototypes or samples. We’d be delighted if it did.

So if you’re struggling to get to that stage, why not consider cross-disciplinary collaboration? Many of those feint hands make light work.

Cross-disciplinary mindset – working as a hands-on team, not flying solo

We understand that many business owners won’t want to parade their idea or research topic in front of others. We do; we get that.

It may be that your direction towards fulfilling your potential lies along another path. And that’s absolutely fine. You know what works for you.

We have a very firm idea of what “cross-disciplinary” means to us, too.

Knowing what STEAMhouse wouldn’t become ensured that we focused on what we will offer. And what we’ll do, we’ll do it well.

This quote, lifted from our work-in-progress brief as is, explains what we aren’t about. The sentiment it pervades may help you clarify in your own mind whether STEAMhouse will work for you as it has served us:

What STEAMhouse is not:

STEAMhouse supports innovation and the development of new skills and products. Access to the workshops is only open to those involved with the business development programme.

We are not a place to carry out large-scale production of an existig product, and we are unable to offer studio or workshop hire.

Still not sure whether cross-disciplinary is right for you?

We will hold lunchtime drop-ins. There, you’ll be able to discuss your idea in confidence with our staff. From there, you can form a plan of action, or not.

Striking up unexpected relationships (or is serendipity at play?)

Work aside, there’s another reason for using STEAMhouse beyond developing your idea. Serendipity is as close to real magic as we encounter on a day-to-day basis.

In life as in Google search, we trigger the Serendipity Algorithm (yes, Google Search really has one) without even knowing it. Yet we play a huge part in informing the results that intertwine the two, our real lives and our digital ones.

Opportunities arise because of the situations in which we place ourselves. As Woody Allen said,

Eighty percent of success is showing up. ~ Woody Allen

The more situations (and online conversations) around a bespoke idea or topic you place yourself, the greater the chance you give yourself of developing thoughts, concepts and a solid reputation in that field.

Collaboration, by definition, focuses the minds of different specialists around one specialist topic. That’s a convergence of authority from different industries creating a tangent that’s possibly brand new.

You can see why artificial intelligence is also keen on developing the serendipity algorithm, what with Google’s AdWords platform being its biggest money spinner. The more relevant the conversations algorithms find, the better the chance of delivering Ad conversion.

Google can then use that source to tweak the serendipity algorithm, eliminating the random and the coincidental and hard-wiring the results of CoLab into its databases. In theory, they’ll then embed this information in their Knowledge Graph so that inquisitors will recognise you as the progenitor when your product becomes world-famous.

Open doors, attract new markets and then redefine them

By creating a new product (even if that wasn’t your intention when you signed up for STEAMhouse) you naturally step into the spotlight. Your acumen is suddenly the focus of third parties who might show interest your innovation.

Clayton recounts one such research and collaboration encounter that is already WIP due to a random (or serendipitous) meeting at a STEAMlab:

For example, at one of our recent STEAMlabs, an unexpected but potentially beneficial relationship was struck up between an artist and a company working in advanced manufacturing.

They are now working towards conceptualising and prototyping a new product that helps the manufacturing company to redefine market perceptions to attract new markets as well as opening a new door for the artist to work in an industry that would otherwise have remained outside their network.

Transdisciplinatory vs Interdisciplinatory – defining true values

The meetings of minds is the true definition of what STEAMhouse is about:

  1. to research innovative ideas;
  2. plan them with STEAMhouse and BCU staff;
  3. then collaborate with other participants to produce and realise them.

Many creatives are bound to find Makerspace and prototyping tools enticing. There’s a distinct lack of either in around the Greater Birmingham area.

What STEAMhouse can’t accommodate is a space for every creative for every idea they ever produce.

If you know a true creative, you know their capacity: they can spout hundreds of concepts in the blink of an eye. Some of those ideas are worthy of follow-up, others not so much.

So to help manage volume and project type, STEAMhouse will run as a disciplined operation. But not in the usual sense. STEAM is gathering, mm, steam across the globe. In our eyes, the concept falls under the categories of transdisciplinatory and interdisciplinatory.

What are they? Here’s Clayton to help out:

Interdisciplinatory activity identifies a problem and encourages each discipline to come up with the solution.

Transdisciplinatory action looks at developing methodologies where there is a concern that applies to both sets of disciplines but that, when reviewed together, creates a third way to solve a problem.

Clay Shirky’s quote sums this concept up a treat:

maximise both the autonomy of the individual and the power of people working together”  ~ Clay Shirky

Tangible prototype production: so close, now, you can almost touch it

The great thing about STEAMhouse is that it’s not only a place for research and conceptual thinking. With its dedicated tooling and machinery, it’s also a place of action.

One of the biggest barriers to growth is actually producing a product that you can give prospective manufacturers or marketers to touch.

As a standalone digital, conceptual project, your big idea could remain just that: a plan in the cloud. When you bring that idea to life in a workshop, your concept takes on a whole new dimension.

Manufacturers don’t have to imagine what you’re pitching at them. They can feel it, touch it, fall in love with it.

You’re safe in the knowledge that what they’re holding contains not only your idea (and growth strategy), but also the input of exceptional third party creatives, machinists, experts and academics.

If you’re ready to get on board with that opportunity, we’re setting off full STEAM ahead. Care to join us?

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