New technical businesses operating from the York Science Park’s Catalyst building and the University of York’s Department of Computer Science are forging strong – and mutually beneficial - links.
Not only are businesses finding a wealth of young talent to tap into by offering internships and work experience to University students, but they are also forming useful partnerships with Computer Science academics.
Computer Science students in their turn are building strong CVs for the future and gaining valuable business experience. In some cases, work experience is turning into paid jobs.
Tracey Smith, Managing Director of York Science Park Ltd, said: “We are really pleased to act as a conduit to building relationships between students and business enabling networking and knowledge transfer. The ability for companies based at The Catalyst, as well as the entire science park, to tap in to the wealth of knowledge within the University not only benefits the business but also the York economy as a whole.”
Professor Jim Woodcock, Head of the University’s Department of Computer Science, said: “We are one of the UK’s leading Computer Science departments and our teaching helps prepare our graduates for the workplace. We do this by working closely with industry, thus ensuring we keep up with emerging trends in such a fast-moving and dynamic sector.
“Through this collaboration, savvy businesses tap into a wealth of young talent, offering students internships and work experience resulting in their cherry-picking future employees. But the icing on the cake is that they form mutually profitable long-term partnerships with their Computer Science academic neighbours.”
Companies that have reaped the benefits of the close physical proximity between The Catalyst and the University’s Department of Computer Science include Text Mining Solutions, Gradintel and The Distance.
Pictured outside The Catalyst left to right are: Steve Brewer, Daniel Edmondson, Fraser Anderson, Aiste Kiskyte, Tom Watson, Anthony Main, Savitri Pandey.
A speculative enquiry about work experience by Savitri Pandey, a York Computer Science Masters graduate, led to a full-time job with Text Mining Solutions (TMS) in July 2013.
Since then, the company which began in the Springboard at the Ron Cooke Hub, before moving into The Catalyst building, has offered an internship and work experience to other York students.
Steve Brewer, Director at TMS, said: “We have benefited from a very productive relationship with the Department of Computer Science and it was no coincidence that we chose to locate our business next door to such a rich source of knowledge, business support and talent, and we look forward to employing more graduates from the Department in future.
“This arrangement has rewards for both parties and most importantly resonates with our customers by addressing their unmet needs through the introduction of well designed new products and services into diverse markets.”
Text Mining Solutions offers a time-saving way of reviewing literature and identifying actionable insights using text mining principles. Its customers include both local businesses and companies headquartered overseas.
Savitri, who graduated from York with a Masters degree in Natural Computation, specialises in web design and JAVA programming. She said: “My main role involves writing JAVA code to extract information from unstructured textual data through the application of Natural Language Processing (NLP) techniques. My experience while working as volunteer helped me to develop and adapt myself for the job. It improved my personal and professional skill and also my ability to take up the day-to-day challenges at work.
“Working for a new business offers flexibility and the freedom to excel, as well as providing an opportunity to explore new ideas.”
Through the University of York Student Internship Bureau, TMS taps into high calibre student talent for bespoke new product development projects. In June, Daniel Edmondson, a third year student on the MMath Degree course in Mathematics and Computer Science, spent three weeks with the company on work experience.
He said: “I was using the text mining tools and programming to take webpages, patents and scientific abstracts, filter out the important articles and turn them into a news feed. I've gained a fascinating insight into the practice and use of text mining, and it has been a great opportunity to use my programming for something practical.
“I now have the experience of working at an emerging tech company, working closely with others to solve problems. This will prepare me for when I finish my course and settle into a career.”
TMS’s Steve Brewer is also working closely with researchers at the University, looking at areas such as intellectual property and joint bids for EU funding. He also provides presentations to University undergraduates on how to start up their own business.
Like many developing companies, Gradintel.com spent its early years as a virtual organisation with employees connected across the globe by the internet and collaborative technology.
However, when the software development company reached the stage of needing to accelerate business growth and establish a base, The Catalyst at York Science Park offered the perfect location.
Fraser Anderson, Director at Gradintel, said: “We are a higher education focussed business and have three major customer groups – universities, students and graduate employers – so a university campus environment with the very latest business accommodation was always part of our thinking.”
Gradintel has created a new verified data source using the Higher Education Achievement Report (HEAR), which can be adopted by universities to record academic and non-academic achievements, and by students to capture further experiences and achievements and their psychometric profiles. The aim is to provide a comprehensive talent picture to prospective employers and institutions.
Gradintel moved into The Catalyst in January and has already developed close relationships with a number of University departments, including Computer Science. This was cemented with the agreement to proceed with a Small Innovation Project - a new scheme by the European Regional Development Fund/Yorkshire Innovation Fund designed to help university academics and small businesses in Yorkshire and the Humber to collaborate. This is allowing the business to access high level consultancy from senior academics from the Department of Computer Science which will help Gradintel to grow existing customers and attract new ones.
Gradintel is also planning to apply for funding for a Knowledge Transfer Partnership next year to work with the University on the planning and development of mobile applications for their employer matching service.
The company is currently expanding its software development team and is hoping to attract several graduating York students as full-time employees. It has also recently taken on its first student intern Aiste Kiskyte, who is in the third year of a four-year MEng in Computer Science with Artificial Intelligence.
Over the 12-week paid internship, Aiste will work alongside senior and junior developers on software and web development. She said: “To get a job you need experience, to gain experience you need a job. Internships not only allow students to get out of this paradox by letting us gain extensive practical knowledge; they also help students better understand what career path and speciality to follow.”
As well as benefitting from a strong relationship with the University, Gradintel has also developed an important relationship with the Higher Education Academy (HEA) based at the York Science Park, which has helped with its national relationship with universities and adoption of the HEAR.
Fraser Anderson said: “Collaboration is a vital part of thriving within the university community. We intend to make best use of the numerous opportunities presented, but also want to reciprocate by putting something back into the local community in the shape of new jobs, paid work experience and advice/guidance to students and graduates.”
An ever-growing client list and an expanding staff saw creative digital agency The Distance moving out of The Catalyst into new offices in Skeldergate in the heart of the city in February 2014.
But the move has not meant an end to engagement with the University. For the past three years The Distance’s founder Anthony Main has run the App Challenge in partnership with the University’s Careers team. A course for all registered University of York students interested in creating the next big app, the annual event is designed to encourage growth in the emerging mobile industry.
Anthony Main said: “While students gain a lot of knowledge and skills from taking part in the App Challenge, it also allows us to interact with students and find out what they are interested in and what they have to offer. A number of the participants in the App Challenge have gone on to work for us on a freelance basis or become employees.”
The Distance started life in 2012 at the York Science Park’s purpose-built incubation space, Springboard, before moving across to The Catalyst. It specialises in ecommerce, mobile apps and digital marketing, working with a wide range of clients, from large organisations such as the NHS and Moshi Monsters, through to local York SMEs.
York Computer Science graduates working for The Distance include Tom Watson, who has just joined the company after nearly two years with IBM. Tom is no stranger to The Distance, having worked for them while he was doing his degree.
Tom, who graduated from the University of York with a Masters in Information Technology in 2012, said: “The Distance’s relationship with the University through the App Challenge gave it exposure, which otherwise meant I may not have been aware of the company. My work experience at The Distance made me realise that I wanted to work in a customer facing role, interacting with clients and solving their problems through the engagement of an expert technical team. I have now returned to York to further my career with a company consisting of fun and highly engaging people.”
While The Distance has employed a number of York Computer Science graduates on a freelance or permanent full-time basis, this summer will see a new direction with the employment of an intern from the Department of Computer Science.
Anthony Main said: “The Universities intern and summer placement programs offer students some real world experience to add to their CV. It gives employers an opportunity to ear mark future employees that they can often harness in a freelance capacity during their studies. It also gives us smaller, local employers an opportunity to cherry pick potential staff before being snatched up by the national employers.”
Find out more information on The Distance.
Any company wishing to explore work experience or internship opportunities with the University of York’s Department of Computer Science can contact Gill Cutting by email or call 01904 325432.