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FabLab brings huge opportunities for North East

The North East Local Enterprise Partnership (North East LEP) is encouraging local businesses to get behind the latest groundbreaking new venture to arrive in the region – FabLab Sunderland.

Part of a global network that started at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in America, FabLab Sunderland is a place for businesses, entrepreneurs, schools and members of the public to make and create almost anything using the technology, skills and materials available onsite.

Part business incubator, part education space, FabLab Sunderland promotes engineering, design, electronics and software development from its site at the University of Sunderland. Its focus on innovation and improving skills fits with the North East LEP’s strategic economic plan for the region that emphasises the importance of smart specialisation areas and developing a workforce quipped with the right skills for these jobs.

Part-funded through the North East Growth Deal, which is managed and delivered by the North East LEP, FabLab Sunderland aims to support and develop existing and new businesses in the LEP area, as well as inspire the next generation of engineers, developers and programmers.

Tony Canning, FabLab Manager at the University of Sunderland said: “FabLabs offer real opportunity to a wide range of people; from schools, the public and businesses, to access equipment they may not otherwise have available.

“As the first in the North East region we are keen to engage with the STEAM agenda – particularly for schools for whom we can coordinate workshops to reinforce and enhance learning. We are also keen to support businesses as a part of University of Sunderland’s Enterprise and Innovation directorate.”

Helen Golightly, Chief Operating Office at the North East LEP said: “FabLab Sunderland can play a vital role in supporting the skills agenda in the region.

“Not only is it a fantastic resource for the business community, it is already looking at ways to engage with schools through curriculum-based learning and by promoting STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) subjects, its providing the skills we need to create more and better jobs for the North East.”

Hans Möller, Innovation Director at the North East LEP said: “A key part of our strategic economic plan for the North East is built around innovation; something FabLab Sunderland excels at. We have identified smart specialisation areas and I believe all of these industries – automotive, creative and digital, life sciences and subsea – could benefit from engaging with FabLab Sunderland and supporting its work with industry and the education sector.”

FabLab Sunderland is one of 350 FabLabs across the world. They play a vital role in supporting innovation and invention; helping many new products come to market. One of the most successful is Dutch-based 3D printing firm, Ultimaker (www.ultimaker.com). Developed and built inside a FabLab, Ultimaker now sells its 3D printing products and software across the world.

The FabLab concept combines a workspace, community maker-space and learning zone – encouraging people from all walks of life to collaborate, exchange ideas and make things using the specialist equipment on site.

FabLab Sunderland aims to offer easy-access support to SMEs, connecting regional businesses with a global community of learners, educators, technologists, researchers, makers and innovators; creating new innovative jobs for people across the region.

FabLab Sunderland was included in the North East Local Enterprise Partnership’s additional proposed projects, when it announced the expanded Growth Deal with Government in January 2015. The Growth Deal will see an extra £40.6m invested in the North East economy between 2016 and 2021. This is in addition to the £289.3m of funding committed by the Government last year.

For more information about FabLab Sunderland, visit www.fablabsunderland.org