Students who have set up their own businesses are among the tenants to move into a new £17.6 million ‘smart innovation’ hub.

The building hovering above the main entrance to Keele University’s campus – is also home to its business school, which means teaching rooms are located next to business offices.

Facilities include a ‘think lab’ study space, 220-seat lecture theatre and simulated market trading suite. It was jointly opened by bet365 boss Denise Coates and Keele graduate Nataliey Bitature, who is now one of Africa’s top young businesswomen.

Officially named the Denise Coates Foundation Building – in recognition of a £2 million grant from the charitable fund – it already houses almost 20 businesses. Alongside companies specialising in technology and other growing sectors are three student enterprises.

HX Marketing is run by neurology student Elena Cismigiui and psychology student Matthew Critchley, who are putting their academic knowledge into a commercial context. They have been using headsets to test people’s neurological reactions to different situations.

One project involves immersive therapy and children with autism. While another is exploring hope people react to different adverts.

Twenty-year-old Elena, who lives in Keele, said: “At first, we were thinking of moving to Manchester to set this up. Then we saw this building and all the opportunities it brings.”

HX Marketing is even planning to take on a student intern. Other businesses have also committed to giving students practical experience. They have all been selected as tenants due to their innovation and potential to link the business world with academic research.

Mike Astbury is director of Mondrem Ltd, a community enterprise company that uses technology to improve public services. He said: “We are working with planning authorities and developers to try to create a faster and more productive planning application process. Artificial intelligence and virtual reality now make it easier to see what things will look life before they are built.”

The smart innovation hub features three resident entrepreneurs and acts as a base to support a network of North Staffordshire companies.

Mike added: “It’s absolutely brilliant. Being here has given us access to loads of people who can help.”

Jonathan Lawton is managing director of Hixon Group, which offers technology solutions and new products.

He said: “Being based here brings lots of advantages. We are also looking at collaborating with students. They will spend a number of weeksgetting experience with us. We also benefit as they are full of new ideas.”

The building is the latest addition to Keele’s science and innovation park.

It has been jointly funded by the Government, European Regional Development Fund, Staffordshire County Council and Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Local Enterprise Partnership.

The Denise Coates Foundation donation is supporting the education work. Hub manager Joe Caine said: “We’ve got start-up and scale-up businesses. They are adding real value to the university eco-system.”

Ugandan-born businesswoman Nataliey – who graduated from Keele in 2013 with a business management and education degree – is impressed with the new facilities.

She is now chief of staff of Uganda’s Simba Group, a conglomerate spanning hospitality, energy, telecoms and real estate. Nataliey has also championed social enterprise.

At the launch, she said: “Keele has given me a solid foundation. It built something in me that I’ve carried through my entire career.”