Innovation Weekender 2021

EIRA Innovation Weekender 2021 with participating logos

An exciting three day virtual course for students to address real-life business challenges with industry mentors and develop a new skill set to take with them beyond university.

The EIRA Innovation Weekender was held in April 2021 as an intensive, virtual course for students from five different universities to work together to solve business challenges set by three industry partners.

In total 28 students from across the EIRA network participated in the event to produce innovative and creative solutions to real life business challenges set by the industry sponsors: Suffolk MindVisit Kent and KFG EnviroSmart Solutions.  All of these challenges were around topics of sustainability, tourism and mental health in a Post-Covid world.

A range of skills development workshops were delivered online to develop innovation and creativity skills, and enable team building and pitch practice in a fun environment.  Students were divided into six mixed groups and were asked to work together to think innovatively towards the challenges faced by the industries right now. Industry specialists were able to deliver fun and creative sessions with the emphasis for students to be inspired, make new connections, learn new skills and have the chance to win prizes.

The Challenge

The Innovation Weekender was designed by partner universities’ enterprise teams to meet the following objectives:

  • To prompt participants to develop their innovation and creativity skills to produce solutions to real life business challenges of an industrial partner.
  • To develop skill sets of students with regard to creative thinking, commercialisation, presentation skills and team working.
  • To develop students’ knowledge and understanding of real world industry
  • Use of an industry partner who would be able to bring real world sector experiences to the groups by setting their own specific challenge.
  • To encourage design-led thinking and bring together a variety of academic disciplines in an intense/focused environment supported by business mentors and innovation & enterprise educators focused on external challenges promoting entrepreneurship.


The Approach

Supported by EIRA, our university partners (the University of Essex, the University of KentUniversity of East AngliaUniversity of SuffolkNUAWrittle College and Harlow College) recruited students for the Innovation Weekender.

The taught workshops were delivered by the four company speakers, and were also supported, guided and mentored by the University staff in attendance virtually.

Nominated staff members from Suffolk Mind, Visit Kent and KFG EnviroSmart Solutions were also on hand to provide advice and assistance to the teams as they navigated their way through their industry challenges for the whole weekend.

The final afternoon of the event featured team presentations of solutions to senior managers from the industry partners. Due to COVID-19, the judging panel was able to proceed virtually. The 28 students were all highly engaged and all worked extremely well in their teams, and coped with the unusual demands of the pitching via an internet link. The judges were all very pleased from the well-structured pitches with fantastic ideas for digital solutions that met the needs of their target markets.

One pitching team was selected as an overall winner, with prizes awarded to first and second place, and all participants received Sanjeev Sandhu’s (speaker) Book “How To Be A Well Being” and a “Happy” T-Shirt from The Art of Brilliance.

The Result

The Innovation event was a great opportunity for the Universities to work collaboratively with their wider partners and enterprise staff to create a course that will improve their student’s transferable business skills past academia. The EIRA project was also a great opportunity for students to work with others from different courses and institutions to increase their innovation and creative skills. This was evidenced in the student feedback from the Innovation Weekender course.

Comments from students included:

“The Innovation Weekender was jam-packed with insightful talks and rigorous team-work. I feel like I climbed a mountain by the end of it – but the view was great!”

“EIRA gave me more of an idea of what I REALLY want to do with myself”

“The weekender was extraordinary, I have learned so many new skills, and how to better yourself in presentations and other areas of design.”

“Highly recommend to everyone there are so many valuable skills to take away with engaging workshops and lots of team work.”

“The Innovation Weekender is an amazing opportunity to expand your knowledge, learn new skills and network with others. I recommend it to any student who loves to challenge themselves!”

“Absolutely amazing experience, with lots of opportunities to learn, network and build our skills. Thank you!”


 Next Steps 

The three lead universities (Essex, East Anglia, and Kent) have undertaken post project reviews and will use the feedback from the participating students and industry sponsors to ensure that the Innovation Weekender continues to improve delivery for next year in what they hope will be under better circumstances.

EIRA would like to congratulate all the students for their enthusiastic participation in the 2021 programme and thank our industry sponsors, as well as all the staff members who helped facilitate this project across the region and adapted so well to hosting this event during the pandemic.

With special thanks our company speakers:

Jonathan Bannister – Make Happy – “Design Thinking”

Kayla Conley – “Practical Guide to Pitching Online”

Paul Swaddle – PocketApp – “Developing a Digital Solution”

Sanjeev Sandhu – Art of Brillance – “The Art of Being Brilliant”