Work Experience at PROTO

PROTO: The Emerging Technology Centre is Europe’s first dedicated centre for emerging technology, funded & managed by Gateshead Council with support from the North East LEP, European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) & the Digital Catapult: North East & Tees Valley.

Located in Gateshead on the south side of the River Tyne between the Northern Design Centre and Gateshead College, PROTO provides free hot desking (9am-5pm, Mon-Fri), 24hr co-working space for an affordable monthly fee, dedicated private offices & state-of-the-art facilities for VR, AR and immersive technology experiences only available in a few places across the UK.

This is the place that Will Crumpton did his work experience with his uncle, Paul Lancaster (Founder & Director of Plan Digital & Newcastle Startup Week).

Will, please tell us what you knew about PROTO before you arrived?

I knew very little about PROTO, actually. I knew it was a company that specialised in VR and AR, but that was about it. I was excited to be there, so I could learn more about the place.

What were your first impressions of the building? Was it what you were expecting from a place to work?

Whilst I wasn’t expecting it to be completely informal, I was surprised by how relaxed everything was. For instance, the entrance to the building is completely open to the public, where you can come in and work on things for free. It was a really laid back place to work, and a great place to spend a few days getting to know people.

Had you heard of hot desking or co-working before? What do you think of this as a way of working instead of a traditional office?

Whilst I have little experience in offices in general, I had no idea that this way of working was a thing. It was great – as well as doing my work, I had conversations with other people in the office. I think I would much prefer it to a traditional office. Rather than being isolated from people, you get to interact with the people around you, each doing their own interesting thing.

As someone who uses a wheelchair, how accessible was the PROTO building in terms of getting there, in and out and around the building?

So usually there’s always something to be improved in with accessibility. My school is a pretty old building, so I’m used to pretty tight corridors and small doorways, however, at PROTO, all the corridors were more than wide enough, and the doorways were fine. I had no issues around the building, and I’ve got a pretty large wheelchair. At a stretch, getting to the end of the desks when people were sitting down was difficult but people are usually kind enough to move out the way.

Tell us what you did on Day 1?

So as soon as I entered the building, I started being introduced to people; Raegan Hague on reception and then Alex Cook, Innovation Manager for PROTO who runs the place. I then met Mathew Hall, the Business Centre Manager who ran me through what to do in the event of a fire. After this, I went to Paul’s desk, where we discussed his upcoming Newcastle Startup Week event before I helped him out by scanning business cards he’d been given into a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) and marketing platform called HubSpot via an app we downloaded on my phone.

On the afternoon, Matthew ran me through a tour of the building with one of Paul’s colleague’s, Hilary Dunne. First on the tour was the Immersive Lab, where all the VR and AR technology was being showcased. From there, we went downstairs, to the recording suite, that gave a view of the photogrammetry room, that’s used for motion capture in films, by creating a detailed 3D model using cameras set up all around a platform – Alex, who ran the place, went through this process and 3D printed a model of himself.

The photogrammetry room.

Tell us what you did on Day 2?

At ten, I had a meeting with Peter Stephenson, who co-runs a company called SUB 10, which specialises in immersive learning, using virtual and augmented reality. The name SUB 10 comes from the idea that whatever is being taught to you has to be over in ten minutes. Peter has a background in instructional design and has experience educating kids using VR. The technology is used to immerse people in the learning – if you are involved in what you are being taught, you remember it for longer.

On the afternoon, I met up with Dave Black, who runs the company Pitch Black providing multi-sensory, immersive experiences using VR and heightened senses of smell and touch. Dave has a background in VR theatre, an entire experience finished off in VR. He also recorded a live orchestra and put it into VR by recording them. In order to immerse people in the experience, he recorded the music from a height, as to imitate the acoustics of the room. He also spoke to me about gloves that, when a consumer is in a VR world, the gloves will tighten when they interact with something in the virtual world, giving the sense of them really touching it. The sense of smell is accomplished by dispersing things that smell around the area.

Watching a video of Prince William after testing Dave’s VR orchestra.

Tell us what you did on Day 3?

Originally on day 3, we were meant to be attending an event in Darlington but this was cancelled so Paul suggested I work remotely from home on this blog in the afternoon after taking my laptop to be serviced at the Apple store in the morning. I used Google Docs to answer questions provided by Paul so he could show me how to use WordPress & add them to this blog the next day.

Tell us what you did on Day 4?

On day four, we had a meeting with Mandy Barker, the Founder and Creative Director of Sail Creative. We discussed the branding and design of the upcoming ‘Impact Report’ on Newcastle Startup Week which is being produced by Newcastle University to make it as visually appealing as it can be. Afterwards, we had originally planned on going to another meeting but this was cancelled so we spent the time working on this blog.

After this, I spoke to Ben Mawhinney, who runs a company called DroneLab specialising in mapping areas of land using drones. The service is web-based – the images are so large that getting people to download them would take too long. By uploading them onto a website, they can be used by anyone paying a low-cost subscription fee via the website. The data that is collected by drones can be used to survey local areas. The pictures consist of multiple, smaller pictures that are patched together to make a larger, high-resolution photo.

After lunch, we went for a look around the Northern Design Centre next door to PROTO which is full of digital/creative businesses including Atomhawk who do the concept art for Marvel movies like Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor. We then had a meeting with John McCabe, candidate for the North of Tyne mayor election taking place on 2nd May.

What did you do on Day 5?

On the final day, I spoke with Steven Jones, who runs the Twitch account littlegingegaming and Ben Mawhinney who runs DroneLab, who has an idea to develop an E-Gaming Centre at PROTO. He believes that due to the proximity of the building to Gateshead College and all the digital/tech/creative businesses based in the area, there is the ideal market to make a business out of this.

After this, I joined Paul & his colleague Hilary to check out some of the venues being used for Newcastle Startup Week in May. We first went to Gateshead College to see the performance theatre which will be used for a creative industries event on the morning of Day 2 (‘Getting Started’).

Performance Theatre, Gateshead college

After we saw the college, we went to St Mary’s Heritage Centre, where the main event on Day 2 of Newcastle Startup Week will be held.

St Mary’s Heritage Centre.

After we stopped for lunch at The Sage Gateshead music & conference venue next door, we crossed the Millennium Bridge to Newcastle, where we went up to the Client’s Suite on the fourth floor of the Barclays Wealth & Investment Management building, where the main event on Day 3 (‘Funding & Finance’) of Newcastle Startup Week will take place.

Finally, we went to the NatWest Entrepreneur Accelerator Hub that focuses on helping entrepreneurs start & grow their businesses & is where Day 5 (‘Keep Going or Pivot?’) of Newcastle Startup Week 2019 will take place.

Want to find out more?

If you would like to find out more about PROTO, visit and then Follow them on Twitter @weareproto and Instagram @weareproto.

Leave a Reply