4 min read
The Curious Lounge is Reading’s new collaboration and skills-focused tech hub
Louize Clarke, The Curious Lounge’s founder, harbours ambitions for the space that extend far beyond the provision of physical space. Clarke, who also founded ConnectTVT – a platform for shining a light on the Thames Valley’s tech ecosystem – has placed digital skills high on the agenda and wants the hub to act as a location for learning and collaboration.
We spoke to Clarke to find out more.
What’s the story of The Curious Lounge?
Louize Clarke: The Curious Lounge is a home for life-long learning. We offer a relaxed members-only cafe and comfortable meeting and training rooms that create a great environment to work, learn and meet.
A physical place to meet new people and share ideas, it’s a hub dedicated to learning new skills and running events with state-of-the-art tech – including a full AV set-up and smart locks to allow seamless entry for members.
Members can attend a vibrant programme of exceptional speakers daily. The events and training content will focus on technical, creative, digital and life skills providing the Thames Valley with a tangible new solution for addressing the critical talent shortage.
We want to make learning accessible, relevant and life-long regardless of age or background. As every sector transforms to digital, building and developing new skills won’t be a choice but a must. We need people from diverse backgrounds to work in these fields.
How are you helping your local tech ecosystem?
Our mission at The Curious Lounge is to solve the huge gap in digital skills. Not only are we building new talent pools by giving people a place to retrain and learn new skills, we are creating new and diverse pools of talent that are aligned to business because it’s driven by business.
Our proximity to Reading Train Station means we’re open to the whole of the Thames Valley and we’re inviting experts and guest speakers from across the country. We’re bringing together the local digital, tech and creative community, in addition to startups, scaleups, corporates and investors.
Additionally, we’re inviting the region’s MeetUp groups to meet at The Curious Lounge and we’ll be able to help curate the Thames Valley’s schedule to help avoid duplications. The ambition is to have workshops, events or speakers happening every single day.
At the Curious Lounge, we also talk about the big c – collaboration! We want the Curious Lounge to demonstrate that there is a way to do things differently, a new way of thinking to address the skills gap which has diversity at its heart while being driven directly by businesses.
The Curious Lounge will bring the digital, tech and creative community together under one roof with collaboration at its heart. Our membership options are made to be flexible and affordable to suit the needs of everyone.
What excites you about your region?
The Thames Valley has a rich heritage in tech. The University of Reading has been undergoing a transformation recently and we are excited to see how this will impact on the region. Clearly, more collaboration between our key stakeholders is key to innovation. What’s been missing is the glue to bring everyone together which is what the Curious Lounge will solve.
What is your local tech ecosystem’s biggest challenges, and how can it overcome them?
For too long the Thames Valley has called out the success of investment decisions made 10-15 years ago, without looking at what is required to foster future growth. Geographically the region is fragmented and initiatives are delivered in isolation, often driven by single corporate sponsors with outputs and results focussed on single locations.
Proximity to London means that the region struggles to define its identity beyond a hub with good transport links. The Curious Lounge answers all three of the Thames Valley’s key challenges by providing a neutral platform for collaboration within the region’s ecosystem.
Access to talent is cited as one of three challenges by Reading-based tech businesses in the Tech Nation report 2018. It is taking some companies six months to hire and VCs are putting pressure on our scaleups to hire or move to London but there is limited effort engaged in creating new talent pools versus competing for the same talent and creating spiralling wage inflation.
The Thames Valley is at risk of losing corporate logos as they build their teams in other locations and our region has no scale-ups to replace them. Reading has no innovation hub yet we know that innovation happens when you combine diverse perspectives and proximity.
Individuals need upskilling – soon there won’t be a tech sector because every sector will be tech thanks to digital transformation. We don’t yet know what the jobs of tomorrow will be but we do know our existing workforce will be affected, hence the urgent need to re-skill.
What’s on the horizon for The Curious Lounge?
The pace of change is going so fast. As we reflect on how much the landscape has changed over the last five years, it is critical for the Thames Valley to have a hub where people can come together to meet, learn and be curious. There is nothing stopping this model from being replicated to suit the needs of every ecosystem.
The Curious Lounge is booking content for the next five years. Our priority is making sure the content that is being shared at the Curious Lounge is relevant, up to date and exciting. This hub will offer a home to the Thames Valley’s meet-ups, and it offers learning opportunities for both talent and companies alike and most importantly allows innovation to thrive.