What is it?

Sheffield Smart Lab is a joint initiative of Sheffield City Council, Amey (a partner in the Council’s Streets Ahead project) and Amey’s parent company, Ferrovial Services. Ferrovial created a Smart Lab in Madrid, were pleased with the results and wanted to set one up in the UK. They chose Sheffield, where Amey had already been working with the Council’s Smart City Advisory Group.

The Smart Lab is essentially a competition for ideas, the best of which are then selected to go through an intensive incubation and acceleration programme. So you could almost say it’s a cross between Start-Up Weekend and dotforge, with a focus on solving city challenges.

Sheffield Smart Lab is focusing on two key challenges: Energising Sheffield City Centre and Supporting People to Live Independently. You can read more about the challenges (and the whole Lab thing) on the Sheffield Smart Lab website.

As well as tackling these challenges, the Smart Lab has a wider ambition to promote entrepreneurship and innovation and raise Sheffield’s profile as a city that comes up with clever answers to tough problems.

How is it going to work?

The competition is running on a tight timescale – submissions have to be made by 30th September. Then, up to ten ideas will be chosen to take part in a 12 week incubation/acceleration programme, starting in January 2016. The programme will be run by the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University. In April, selected ideas will be piloted in the city, with a demo day in the summer.

The competition is open to anyone, from anywhere in the world – although they’ll need to come to Sheffield to participate in the incubator.

These are interesting challenges – and they tie in with a lot of the work that people in the city are already doing. But we think there are a couple of issues to overcome:

There weren’t that many digital doers in the room at the launch – we think it’s important that as many people as possible know about this competition, so we’re doing what we can to spread the word and hope that you will share through your networks.

Idea generation and development is tough if you’re a small business or a freelancer, especially if you need specialist input to figure out how an idea might be realised. Sheffield is really good at collaboration, but finding collaborators can be hard.

So what can Sheffield Digital do? Well, we’d like to host a workshop-y, idea generation, problem debate, meet-up-y type event thing where anyone interested in the challenges raised by the Smart Lab can come along, find out more, kick ideas around and find collaborators to work on submissions. We’re aiming to do this in July – stay tuned for a date. In the meantime, it would be great to know if this is something you’d like to take part in – please comment or tweet us @SHFDigital.



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