Pop along for an education

Helena Pozniak signs up for an unruly university class for entrepreneurs

As higher education goes, a pop-up university is as fun as it gets, says Professor Neil Maiden, of City University London. He's just taught one of the first sessions at the headquarters of one of the buzziest companies in Tech City – an area renowned for its new media start-ups. A room full of early-stage entrepreneurs, "booted and suited types" and other young professionals joined him just off Brick Lane at the social video advertising company Unruly Media. During a two-hour session, Maiden taught a series of creative approaches to developing apps, complete with short exercises underpinned by academic theory. Still to come is a line-up of weekly classes aimed at entrepreneurs on a range of topics from digital story-telling to risk management.

"It's quite rare to have something this exciting – universities are normally slow moving beasts," says Maiden, a professor in systems engineering. "How we currently engage with Tech City is like the Wild West frontier. We are all feeling our way."

He ended his class with a couple of practical exercises either drawn from academic theory or adapted from the university's postgraduate course in innovation, creativity and leadership. Software developer Anne Jang liked the session so much she's signed up for more and will go on to research techniques she picked up on creative problem solving in the software design process. "It was pitched at just the right level," she says. "The exercises were practical and quick – and gave us techniques to analyse and come up with solutions during the design process."

It's easier to describe these free sessions by what they are not. They're not classes in specific skills, they're not simply lectures open to the public, as provided by many UK universities, and nor are they a substitute for degrees. They endeavour, according to Dr Caroline Wiertz, of Cass Business School, who came up with the idea, to bridge the gap between business and academia – on comfy sofas.

She and co-founder Sarah Wood, of Unruly Media, conceived the "pop-up" style sessions – which they've named "Unrulyversity" – and implemented them in just a few months. They already have a series of sessions mapped out for the rest of the academic year and a string of academics lining up to teach them. "It sounds cheesy, but I just think it's the right thing universities should be doing – it's a much-needed rigorous educational offering for small start-ups with few resources," says Wiertz, whose research focuses on how social media and word of mouth affects consumers. She believes institutions have a responsibility to support and educate entrepreneurs, and she's adamant the weekly courses will remain free of charge. She launched the programme with a seminar alongside Bruce Daisley, UK director of Twitter. "Anything that broadens the scope of learning is fantastic," he says. "Too often it is hard for outsiders to penetrate the fortresses of inside knowledge. These are people who were getting access for the first time."

Cass stands to gain by the project too. Wierzt's postgraduate students have already enjoyed internships within Unruly and Cass hopes to broker ongoing relationships with other Tech City start-ups. Typically her students target large organisations when they graduate, but Wiertz hopes this collaboration might divert a few to younger companies.

And this is a good way of reaching out to the entrepreneurs, developers and designers who will benefit, says Wiertz – they are more likely to walk through Unruly's doors than those of the university. "Most of these people aren't going to do a traditional Masters over two years – their businesses could have been and gone before then," says Maiden, who believes London universities are well-placed to support this burgeoning sector.

Nurturing entrepreneurs is a subject close to Wood's heart: there's already space for start-ups at Unruly's premises. "We want to make sure the next generation of entrepreneurs have access to knowledge and expertise to help them create a global business," she adds. She should know; her own business has grown from three employees in 2008 to 130 now. Wood, who is also a postgraduate lecturer, firmly believes academic research has a role in business. "Unrulyversity wants to bring that powerful combination to a new generation of digital entrepreneurs. As a business owner it's the most exciting learning opportunity you could imagine."

Some sessions sound more glamorous than others. Storytelling in the Digital Age, for instance, is getting everyone in the business of viral marketing and video sharing very excited. "It's such a steep learning curve, how to connect at speed and turn viewers into loyal customers," says Wood. And there's a buzz about a future joint class from a Penguin publishing director and a City University London publishing academic about turning books into online games and vice versa.

However, the less sought after evenings, such corporate governance and risk management, are every bit as important. "[It's] the stuff entrepreneurs don't really want to think about," says Wiertz. In fact, the value lies in attending the whole course, Wood argues, which gives an end-to-end education in issues around a digital start-up. Developers need to understand commercial and creative aspects and sales teams need to understand how long the design process takes. "The value of joining up the dots, the cross-disciplinary nature of the course, is integral to its value," says Wood.

And in an industry that moves, as Wood says, "at a crazy pace" will a pop-up university pop back down again when it's run its course? Wiertz sincerely hopes it will be here next year in some form, and knows this depends on a fresh, relevant programme and format. "Universities these days are extremely creative about how they teach. I think everybody is surprised at how applied and fun it is. Our goal is to do everything we can to help small start-ups with few resources succeed."

footballLIVE City face Stoke, while Warnock returns to Palace dugout
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
gadgets + echSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind the scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
The slice of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding cake and the original box from 29 July 1981
newsPiece of Charles and Diana's wedding cake sold at auction in US
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Financial Technical Consultant (C++, C#, Finance, MSc, PhD)

£50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Financial Technical Consultant (C++, C#, F...

Year 3 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Year 3 Teacher Required We are curr...

Year 5 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Year 5 Primary Teaching positionRands...

Junior Analyst - Graduate - 6 Month fixed term contract

£17000 - £20000 Per Annum Bonus, Life Insurance + Other Benefits: Clearwater P...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone