What’s a pop-up education and where can you get one?
Open minds, curiosity, comfortable armchairs and an open bar. These are just some of the things that attract budding entrepreneurs to City Unrulyversity, the pop-up university that takes over Unruly’s Clubhouse, a cosy meeting space in stark contrast to the traditional rigid classroom environment people associate with getting an education.
There are no attendance records, whiteboards, test scores or graduation ceremonies here. There’s no freshers week either. The students are a mix of people interested in business, from first time entrepreneurs who want to network to established start-up founders, from local mums with party planning businesses to start-up employees who have their own ideas.
One thing they all have in common is that they’re too busy to sign up for a traditional business degree. Caroline Wiertz, reader in marketing at Cass and co-founder of City Unrulyversity says she’s not trying to sell Cass through this project. The pop-up students are an entirely different audience. “They are here to start a business, so if they have money they’re going to invest it in a business, not in an MSC degree.” Her assumption is that these people are not going to come to university because they’ve done a degree most likely, but maybe they’ve done it in computer sciences and now they need a bit of business grounding. “It’s unrealistic that they would ever come and do an MBA. They don’t have the time or the money because they’re doing something else.”
City Unrulyversity was born purely from a desire to give back to the community. Unruly’s Sarah Wood says it’s all about offering people free access to a world that would otherwise be shut to them. “The aim is to connect entrepreneurs and academics, and help entrepreneurs who are just starting out learn from all the cutting edge ideas around process, design, and user experience that are coming out of the universities that they don’t necessarily have access to normally.” Also a co-founder of the project and a former academic, Wood says the two worlds don’t speak to each other as often as they could.
There’s also an underlying feeling that academia should try harder to prove it’s not living in a world of its own. Wiertz says Cass has a social responsibility. “Being an academic, it’s important to me that we show that we are actually relevant to this community. There is a lot of expertise within the university and it’s very up to date. It’s not true that we’re sitting in this ivory tower and we have no idea what’s going on in the real world.” Together with Unruly’s aim to help business start-up and become successful, the two ideas came together to create a unique project in London: an entirely free, open to everyone, flexible, learning environment.
It stands out from Tech City’s other hubs such as Google Campus by its focus on blending the experience of practitioners with the teaching skills of academics. Far from being a watered down version of a university business degree, City Unrulyversity’s sessions focus on the basics every person thinking of starting any kind of business should know. Their first term includes classes like “Where do entrepreneurial ideas come from?”, “How to build a strong business model in times of uncertainty”, and “Start-up branding Toolkit”.
By offering access to both successful entrepreneurs who can speak from personal experience and academics who can project a different perspective, the pop-up university gives its students a sound grounding. Wiertz says their sessions don’t have the same depth as a traditional course, but they are a good starting point for getting the knowledge people need in order to do a decent job. Wood says Unrulyversity is different because it’s about the collision of different ways of thinking. She says it’s an “unexpected, unpredictable and very stimulating learning experience.“
As with all good ideas, City Unrulyversity hit a few obstacles since its inception in the second term of the 2012/2013 academic year. Finding the time to work on the project was a big challenge both for Wiertz who does this on top of her duties at Cass as well as for some of the speakers who all come in voluntarily.
Another challenge is putting together a curriculum. Unrulyversity is very different as Wiertz and Wood can never predict who will walk through its doors for each session. Wiertz says: “We never quite know who’s gonna wander into our classroom and what level we need to teach in order to serve these guys.” Keeping track of former students without invading their privacy has also proven a hard thing to do, and they’re not quite sure who’s gone to found the next multi million pound start-up just yet.
As with all pop-up projects, the future is rather uncertain although everyone remains positive. With two more terms planned, this year is almost set in stone, but anything can happen a few years down the line. Wood hopes more people will see the merits of such projects and start other pop-up universities in London and throughout the country. Who would turn down free education?