Connecting two universities
The experimental laboratory was created as part of the international Twin Campus project. The laboratory of the same name has been operating for several years now at the South-Eastern Finland University of Applied Sciences (XAMK), a partner of the Twin Campus. The two laboratories are expected to work together: share experiences and hold joint events.
“The Twin Campus project aims to build an effective model of cooperation between universities and industry with a view to foster the development of high-tech business and attract them to both countries. Our university pays special attention to students’ tech ideas that can make their way to market launch, and we’re looking for ways to help our students bring their innovative projects and ideas to market. To do this, we decided to create some sort of an experimental laboratory where students could work on their prototypes and build their MVPs by, among other things, using complex and expensive equipment,” says Svetlana Bazueva, head of the Technopark’s International Programs and Projects Office.
XLab provides equipment for work in the field of IT, robotics, and virtual and augmented reality. According to Meruert Nurysheva, an engineer at ITMO Technopark and XLab manager, the list of equipment was initially formed based on the wishes of students. As for the future, it will be expanded based on the results of a special competition where students will leave their requests for certain equipment. All purchases for the laboratory will be paid from the budget of the Twin Campus projects and other resources, including the university endowment fund.
“We’re not fond of bureaucratic difficulties and know that they often scare off students. That’s why we take the load of interacting with grant funds. We’re looking for ambitious and talented students and try to find ways to support their ideas and provide knowledge-based assistance. Since we have already successfully implemented a project with an endowment fund, they proposed to us that we draft a new plan to support student initiatives in 2021, which we decided to include in our XLab competition to simplify the process,” explains Meruert Nurysheva.
Joint clubs and industry
As its founders and leaders note, the ultimate goal of XLab is to bring together students involved in tech projects, as well as introduce them to each other and industry representatives. XLab has now become an attraction point for several student clubs, namely, Info Lab, GreenTech.Students, the newly established Energy Club, and many others. This was made to let clubs share their best practices, build up interdisciplinary teams, and create projects on the basis of different technologies.
XLab also actively holds educational events and meetings with business representatives and industrial partners. Since the start of the year, the venue hosted classes of the educational Backstage School project and right now – Future Energy School, the international school on sustainable energy for both Russian and Finnish students. In the future, it’ll be a venue for a wide range of case championships, hackathons, and meetings.
“We want to find industrial partners for each club so that students can deal with real challenges and thus expand their portfolios, integrate their products into production, or develop their own projects. We keep an eye out for student clubs, offer their products and solutions to our partners, and at the same time analyze opportunities for internships and work. To this end, ITMO students developed ITMO.FUTURE – a platform for communication and search for project executors. In fact, this will unite all products created at ITMO,” explains Meruert Nurysheva.
A space for trial and error
Now, several student teams from the Faculty of Infocommunication Technologies – Info Lab and Artificial Intelligence Researchers – actively work at XLab. They want to create a neural network generating pictures from the military history of Russia. This project has recently won a grant from Rosmolodezh. Another project is based on the use of VR simulations in order to train engineering specialists.
The laboratory is open to all ideas and projects related to IT technologies. It allows students to try their hand at new projects and experience cutting-edge technologies.
“We do not simply help our students to bring their ideas to life but provide them with all resources. Our motto, as we like to say it is: “What will you lose if you try?”. While you’re at ITMO, jump at all opportunities. Students come up with bold ideas and we take everyone to let our students understand that all ideas are worth a try. And if it doesn’t work out, that’s okay, failures are part of the path,” concludes Meruert Nurysheva.
The Twin Campus project is funded by the European Union, and Russia and Finland within the South-East Finland – Russia Cross-Border Cooperation Program. Its academic partners are ITMO University and XAMK (Finland, Kotka), while among project partners are Cursor Oy (Kotka, Finland), St. Petersburg’s Industry Development Fund, and Ingria Business Incubator (Russia, St. Petersburg).