From sleep-improving headwear to AI for animals, this community of inventors is changing the future

Innovation is one of those words – thrown around with such wild abandon that often, it becomes detached from its true meaning. So I won’t blame you, amidst all this overuse, if the phrase ‘Leeds’ new innovation hub’ has faded into the noise and passed you by. 

Despite this, when a £40m state-of-the-art building springs up at Leeds Uni promising to ‘accelerate and de-risk innovation and maximise commercial returns’, it seems like time to investigate. Enter Nexus: the cure for innovation’s existential crisis. 

If you’re familiar with the Leeds University area, you may well have noticed the slab of shiny glass and metal slicing through campus. Construction on the home of Nexus – a stunning, 6500 sqm, six-floor building standing tall on Discovery Way – was completed in March after just over two years of work.

2018 04 25 Nexus Exterior 2018 04 25 Nexus Atrium

Visual presence and aesthetic of innovation? Nailed. But there’s more to Nexus than just another architectural triumph. It heralds a community of innovators located on campus, aiming to enable business from all sectors to connect with the expertise, talent and facilities at the University of Leeds. When the building’s full, it’ll work like an ecosystem, a place where business and individuals - from the technological to the biological to the ideological - come together to collaborate, incubate and thrive. 

The Nexus building is already over half occupied – and could have been at capacity by now if it weren’t for a robust assessment process that all potential members go through. It’s all about finding the companies with both high growth potential and a connection to Nexus’s areas of research expertise: health, data, environment and engineering.

2018 04 25 Nexus Reception Area
Even Nexus’ reception is impressive

A degree of pickiness makes sense when you explore exactly what Nexus has to offer its members (not businesses, members; this is a community after all). Not only are there lab spaces, theatre spaces, exhibition spaces and lounge spaces to think about, there’s unlimited potential to be accessed through the university’s leading research and diverse community of academia. 

In December, Nexus announced a one-of-a-kind partnership (for the North anyway) with professional services giant, KPMG, which is set to offer specialised business know-how to the start-ups, SMEs and entrepreneurs in its steadily growing squad. It’s yet another collaboration representative of the connective culture Nexus aims to create; a place where the right skills come together in the right places to make really, brilliantly exciting things happen. Where people can access incredible opportunities and bring crazy ideas into the realms of reality. I hope that definition of innovation works for you. 

2019 05 03 Vet Ai
New resident Vet AI uses artificial intelligence to support mental health

The most exciting news, therefore, is to be found in the businesses already instated as members of the Nexus community. The latest to be announced is pet healthcare research and development company, Vet-AI – also known as the first company in the world to use artificial intelligence to support animal health. Joining them is tech start-up, Thought Beanie, the pioneers of wearable technology, developing headwear with the power to scan brainwaves and deliver insight to improve sleep and sports performance.

If the amount of questions thrown up by the bold ambitions of those two companies is anything to go by, Nexus is primed to create a hub not just of innovation, but of curiosity, creativity, problem solving and collaborative working.

Whether the word ‘innovation’ grates on you or intrigues you, places like this will be where the dreams, jobs and lives of the future are made – and if you ask me, it’s okay to get excited about that.