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Support available to develop innovation projects in preparation for future funding opportunities

North East organisations are being offered support from a team of innovation experts to prepare projects for future funding opportunities. Alan Welby, Innovation Director at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), explains how a pipeline of the most promising regional innovation projects and programmes in the North East is being championed on a national and international stage.

Securing funding for innovation-focused projects is a highly competitive process. Funding calls are regularly issued nationally or internationally, and bids must be extremely focused and well-developed if they’re to be successful.

That’s why we’re putting together a pipeline of North East projects which have the potential to have a real regional, national, and even international impact. Projects can come from any sector, but the important factor is that they are large in scale and have the promise to be successfully rolled out to domestic, commercial or industrial markets, and can help to increase investment in R&D and create new jobs in the North East.

The North East LEP can offer organisations support to ensure business cases are in the best possible shape to secure future investment and will act as a critical friend to help develop project ideas. We will help partners to identify public and private funding opportunities and ensure alignment with emerging strategic priorities. When funding calls open, we aim to have strong businesses cases ready from our pipeline and champion what our region has to offer.

We’ve already supported a range of North East innovation projects to secure £62.5 million of funding to support business case development and to move projects on to delivery. Examples include Northern Gas Network’s InTEGRel project and the Driving the Electric Revolution Centre North East project.

We’re now inviting more organisations to come forward and apply to join our official Innovation Project Pipeline, so if you have a project that’s in development, we’d love to hear from you.

We’re particularly keen to hear about projects that complement the North East’s existing strengths in digital, health and life sciences, advanced manufacturing or energy, as these are areas where we know the region has the potential to be a world-leader.

Working together as a region gives us strength, and by combining the drive and ambition of North East innovators with the expertise of the North East LEP team, we can set up our region’s businesses for success.

Find out more about joining the Innovation Project Pipeline.

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Challenge North East: the story so far

Challenge North East is an innovation programme, launched to identify solutions to issues created by COVID-19 and to enable SMEs to develop and test these solutions with large regional partners who could adopt them. Programme Director, Sarah Cox, gives an update on the response from businesses in the North East, and the drive to fast-track products that could help the region recover from the pandemic.

In December last year we put out a call to North East SMEs, asking businesses to put forward ideas that could help our region – and potentially the rest of the UK – recover from the impact of COVID-19/

The pandemic had a huge impact on businesses and communities in our region and we knew that innovation could play an important part in our recovery. We wanted to fast-track the development of new solutions, and provide SMEs with an environment where they could test and iterate, using an open innovation framework to bring organisations together.

But before we could ask SMEs to put forward ideas, we needed to narrow our focus and identify key areas where we could have the biggest impact, and help the greatest number of people.

After working with a range of large organisations and community groups, we identified two challenges which urgently needed solutions: how to safely bring people together for in-person events, like gigs, exhibitions or performances; and how to ensure vulnerable people’s safety when delivering services in the home, like health visits and home repairs.

We understood that SMEs are themselves stretched and facing uncertainty, so we wanted to provide a support system and a clear, rapid process for them to develop ideas with the potential for adoption. challenge North East was launched in late 2020, with the ultimate aim of funding the development of new solutions to these two challenges.

We’ve been lucky to have the support of organisations like Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums, Newcastle Hospitals, Northern Gas Networks and others, who have helped us understand the detail of these challenges, and are also providing a means of testing potential solutions. By bringing these supporting organisations together with SMEs, we’ve been able to speed up and de-risk the process of innovation, connecting businesses with large organisations that can provide feedback and a route to market for any new products.

More than 60 SMEs entered the challenge, with submissions ranging from virtual queuing systems for events, to smart devices that can monitor patients’ health in their homes. 16 have now been selected to progress to the next stage of the challenge, and the ideas which will have the greatest impact and which have the best chance of commercial success and social impact will be awarded funding towards further development and scaling up.

We launched Challenge North East with an open mind, and the programme has responded at every stage to the needs of our local communities and industry. The goodwill and willingness of people to work together has been truly inspiring and these SMEs are beacons of success in a difficult time.

With innovation, when you start you’re never certain of the end result, but Challenge North East has given us a route forward together.

Find out more about Challenge North East.

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CHALLENGE NORTH EAST LEADS ON INNOVATIVE COVID-19 SOLUTIONS

A challenge that called on North East businesses to generate innovative solutions to the Covid-19 crisis has reached a milestone moment.

The North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) asked the regional business community for answers to Coronavirus-related problems through Challenge North East, a new open innovation programme.

The programme saw the LEP offer funding and development support to SMEs whose ideas could help the North East adapt to the challenges of COVID-19 in two specific areas – delivering safe and engaging in-person events; and safely adapting in-home services.

Launched last year, Challenge North East was co-designed in consultation with business partners across the region to identify the key challenges posed by Covid-19 that North East SMEs could potentially develop innovative solutions to.

Over 60 businesses entered their ideas to the programme. A cohort of 16 SMEs received up to £5,000 of full funding and support to develop their solutions through Challenge North East’s co-design programme, working with business partners to quickly develop a prototype and test their solutions.

The finalists will pitch their ideas to an independent panel at the end of March to win up to £40,000 in further funding. All 16 SMEs will be given support and guidance to further their ideas.

Challenge North East is delivered by the Innovation SuperNetwork, Digital Catapult North East Tees Valley and Sunderland Software City.

Sarah Cox, Programme Director of Challenge North East, said: “It’s been fantastic to see the strength of the ideas that have come through from such a diverse group of businesses. There are some really innovative solutions that have the potential for multiple applications. Particularly impressive is the way many of the solutions offer economic and also social benefits, helping some of our most vulnerable communities.

“We have also been heartened by level of engagement from large regional organisations and our challenge supporters who helped us understand the problems they are facing and  and their willingness to support SMEs as they develop and test solutions with real-world applications.”

Alison Freer, Innovation Manager at Innovation SuperNetwork, said: “Challenge North East is very much a collaborative effort with our delivery partners and challenge supporters, pooling respective strengths and experience to champion the creativity and hard work of SMEs.

“The level of innovation demonstrated by the businesses involved has been inspiring. We are delighted to play our part in helping participants to develop their solutions in response to Covid disruption and find new market opportunities in doing so.”

Alan Welby, Director of Innovation at the North East LEP, said: “Covid-19 has been incredibly disruptive and had forced us to entirely change the way we live our lives.

“Challenge North East champions innovative solutions to this by drawing on the vast amount of talent and expertise in our region. By tapping into the potential of our people and organisations, we will find the solutions we need to rise to the challenges of these trying times.”

Some of the SMEs involved pivoted to adapt existing products and services to address Covid-19-related challenges, while others built entirely novel solutions based on their areas of capability and expertise.

This design-led innovation saw a wide range of imaginative solutions generated, ranging from process innovation, to digital platforms and physical products, all designed to help society adapt to Covid-19.

Organisations supporting Challenge North East include The Baltic, Beamish Museum, The Sage Gateshead and Sodexo along with Northern Gas Networks, ESH Group, Karbon Homes, Beyond Housing.

Challenge North East has received funding from the government’s Local Growth Fund. The Local Growth Fund is supporting capital investments to promote innovation, economic and skills infrastructure and sustainable transport as part of the North East Growth Deal.

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Funding awarded to develop new energy systems in the North East

Three North East SMEs have been awarded funding to develop new energy systems which will help organisations to reduce their carbon emissions.

Capability North East, Jumping Rivers and Smart Carbon Ltd have each been awarded £20,000 through the North East Energy Catalyst’s Energy Innovation Challenge, which supports businesses to bring new energy products to market.

This is in addition to £100,000 of funding which was awarded to five other SMEs in late 2020.

David Lynch, Energy Innovation Partnership Manager at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), said: The North East excels in innovating, demonstrating and delivering new solutions which can help drive economic growth in the region while solving global energy challenges, such as the need to reduce carbon emissions.

“The Energy Innovation Challenge was designed to maximise on our region’s skills and expertise by using the insight of the North East Energy Catalyst – a partnership of the region’s leading energy innovation, demonstration and delivery capabilities – to create a series of challenges for SMEs which aimed to identify solutions to energy issues which can be scaled up nationally or globally.”

Capability North East received funding for its Genee platform – a system helps businesses, NGOs and public sector organisations to plan their Net Zero journey, monitoring and recording their sustainability progress over time.

Jumping Rivers’ Newcastle-based team is recognised internationally for helping global businesses, governments and SMEs to harness untapped value from their data. The team is developing a power cost system called ECODATA which can help major energy users such as campuses, schools and business centres understand their electricity tariffs, minimising costs and supporting the transition to a green energy system.

The third business to be awarded funding is Smartcarbon Ltd, which is developing a carbon calculator to meet the needs of multinational businesses and their entire supply chain.

Round three of the Energy Innovation Challenge is currently underway, with submissions from North East SMEs currently being assessed.

The North East Energy Catalyst is supported by ERDF and the Energy Innovation Challenge received grant funding from the government’s Local Growth Fund via the North East LEP.

Find out more about the North East Energy Catalyst.

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£3 million funding awarded to Northumberland robotics test site

Funding has been awarded to support the creation of a new test site for emerging robotics technology in Northumberland, which is set to be the first centre of its type in the UK.

The Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS) Test Site, which is being developed by the Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult in Blyth, has been awarded £3 million from the government’s Getting Building Fund, which is managed in the region by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).

Gillian Hall, Chair of the North East LEP Innovation Board, said: “This new test site will put the North East at the centre of robotics innovation for the offshore industry, helping to develop new technologies which have the potential to be used worldwide.

“The Getting Building Fund is there to create new jobs and help the economy recover from the impact of the pandemic, and this project will brings jobs and investment to the region, helping to build a stronger, more sustainable North East.”

Matthew Hadden, Deputy Head of Delivery at ORE Catapult, said: “As the offshore renewable sector continues to grow, some of the largest costs are carrying out inspections, maintenance and installation activities offshore. It’s expensive and potentially dangerous.

“There’s a role for robotics to play in improving these processes and a real drive within the industry to adopt this new technology over the next five to 10 years – our aim is to support and accelerate innovation in robotics here in the North East, and see it in action in UK waters.”

The RAS Test Site will accelerate the demonstration, testing and evaluation of new technologies and will also provide links with ORE Catapult’s team of experts in research, innovation and operational maintenance.

The centre will be equipped with both onshore and offshore demonstration facilities, helping SMEs, universities and other developers of new technologies to develop new products and bring them to market.

“We have an incredibly strong offshore and subsea energy sector in the North East, particularly in oil and gas, and the RAS Test Site will play a big role in our ability to support the transition to renewables. This funding from the Getting Building Fund is vital in bringing forward new technologies developed in the North East,” added Matthew.

The North East LEP region was awarded £47m through the Getting Building Fund with the North East Local Enterprise Partnership increasing the fund to £55m by releasing an additional £8m from the North East Investment Fund.

The 17 projects put forward for the North East LEP area are expected to create more than 4,000 construction and permanent jobs; unlock more than 19,000 sqm of commercial space; assist more than 3,000 learners; improve or construct 4.2km of roads, cycle lanes and walkways; and further strengthen the North East’s green energy sector.

The government’s £900m Getting Building Fund was announced in August 2020 to provide investment in shovel-ready infrastructure projects across the country.

For more information about the Getting Building Fund, visit www.gov.uk.

Image: BladeBUG is one such repair and maintenance robot making leaps in offshore robotics capabilities. Image courtesy of BladeBUG.

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The Energy Innovation Challenge – TRL9

“Overall we’ve had a great experience with the programme and we’re really excited to get to our second level prototype with the solar fluidics project.”

Research and development specialist TRL9 was one of the North East businesses that took part in the Energy Innovation Challenge, making new connections within the energy sector. Here’s their story.

The Energy Innovation Challenge (round 3) is open for entries until Friday 26 February and SMEs are invited to put forward applications based on the use of materials in any aspect of electricity, gas and water infrastructure, such as pipes, valves or cables.

Find out more here.

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Using data to power the drive against climate change

MyGridGB is a new product being developed in the North East, which provides a breakdown of the different methods of energy production supplying the UK. Brian Matthews, Business Development Lead, explains how the team has accessed new networks through the North East Energy Catalyst’s Energy Innovation Challenge, and how he hopes MyGridGB will empower future generations to help tackle climate change.

Can you tell us a bit about MyGridGB?

MyGridGB provides a simple, visual way of showing where the UK’s energy is coming from – so, what proportion is currently being provided through wind, solar, gas or nuclear power, for example.

It’s an information system and also an educational tool, as people can create their own models for the UK energy grid and see the impact that has on our C02 emissions.

It’s like energy sector Lego: you put the building blocks together and see what the outcome is. Can your model produce enough energy to power the UK? How much will the energy cost? What will it mean for people’s power bills and for C02 emissions?

What energy challenge does your product help to solve?

One of the biggest challenges we have is that people don’t understand where their energy comes from. MyGridGB helps people to be more informed and to make more educated choices about energy – choices that aren’t just driven by cost.

It gets people thinking about how we can decarbonise energy in the UK and it starts conversations as people see the impact of steps that we can all take to help achieve our C02 targets. It’s about engaging young people at the right age and giving them knowledge that enables them to make decisions that will impact climate change.

People knowing where their energy comes from can only be a good thing and I hope this knowledge will also inspire more young people to become involved in the energy sector in the future.

Why did you get involved with the North East Energy Catalyst’s Energy Innovation Challenge?

One of the benefits of entering the Energy Innovation Challenge is that it acts as an independent feasibility test of your product. That external viewpoint is really important, as you don’t always get that when you’re so close to a product that you’ve been developing.

Being involved with the challenge also gives you visibility of what’s available in terms of finance and funding, which can be quite difficult to do on your own, as well as access to business and leadership development programmes.

And it’s a way to quickly and easily develop your network within the energy sector, which has a Silicon Valley-style incubator effect as more people work together.

What’s next for MyGridGB?

Our aim is to look at how we can make MyGridBG into an app that can be used in schools, colleges and universities to help engage young people with climate change.

It has the potential to help educate people from a young age, through to providing more complex data for university studies.

We’re now looking to make links with North East app developers as we’re based in the North East and we want to develop links with others in the region, spend our money here and help to generate a circular economy.

MyGridGB has been developed by Andrew Crossland and is supported by the Durham Energy Institute.

The Energy Innovation Challenge (round 3) is open for entries until Friday 26 February and SMEs are invited to put forward applications based on the use of materials in any aspect of electricity, gas and water infrastructure, such as pipes, valves or cables.

Find out more here.

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The Energy Innovation Challenge – Otaski Energy Solutions

Otaski Energy Solutions took part in the Energy Innovation Challenge programme, putting forward their AI software which can be used to dim street lights when not in use, resulting in savings in energy which can then be used to power the EV network.

“It’s been an interesting journey for us because we have literally unlocked an entire market opportunity that would have taken us years to access, and that’s largely because we are standing on the shoulders of giants. I would recommend the Energy Innovation Challenge programme to any and every SME in this space,” said Philip Inegbedion, Otaski Energy Solutions.

The Energy Innovation Challenge (round 3) is open for entries until Friday 26 February and SMEs are invited to put forward applications based on the use of materials in any aspect of electricity, gas and water infrastructure, such as pipes, valves or cables.

Find out more here.

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Catalysing energy innovation in the North East

It’s been just over a year since I began my role as Energy Innovation Partnership Manager at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), helping to showcase the outstanding facilities our region has for energy innovation and demonstration.

I work closely with 12 other organisations that together make up the North East Energy Catalyst – a partnership that unites the leading energy demonstration capabilities in our region, meaning we can work together to show that the North East is the location of choice for anyone who wants to test new energy innovations.

Despite the unexpected events that 2020 threw at us, it was still a year in which we built up a real momentum in showing what our region has to offer, and it was gratifying to see that, when the government announced its Green Industrial Revolution plan, and released its white paper, Powering our net zero future, at the end of last year, the North East was already positioned to lead the way on the UK’s Net Zero agenda.

There are exciting projects underway in a number of areas, including the use of hydrogen as a low carbon fuel, and the use of heat pumps, which are being demonstrated on a large scale in Newcastle.

And we’ve identified a route for the North East to push itself forward even further, through the North East Future Energy System Today (North East-FEST) programme, which identifies the sectors and the global energy challenges which will allow the North East to lead the way to a decarbonised future for the UK.

A skilled workforce is obviously crucial to our energy sector so we’re also working closely with colleagues in the North East LEP skills team to understand the skills needed as the sector evolves due to decarbonisation.

A real highlight of last year was awarding £100,000 of funding to SMEs in our region to help them develop new products through the Energy Innovation Challenge programme. The programme invites SMEs to put forward solutions to a number of different challenges that the energy sector is facing, such as how to best use data to monitor energy use and carbon footprints, or how to find alternatives to diesel generators for powering off-grid homes.

The programme launched in March 2020 and the response has been fantastic, and a testament to the brilliant people we have working in our region. Five SMEs have now received funding (find out who they are here), we’re currently working with another cohort who entered the second round of the challenge, and the third and final round is open for entries now – so if your business might be able to develop a new way of using materials in any aspect of any part of our electricity, gas or water infrastructure, then you could be awarded up to £40,000 to make the idea a reality. Find out how to enter the Energy Innovation Challenge here.

All this progress is thanks to the hard work of the North East Energy Catalyst partners, and the many other businesses who have been a part of our work in 2020. I hope that in 2021 we can build on what’s been achieved and involve even more businesses in our aim of showing that the North East is the place to do business for energy innovators.

Find out more about the Energy Innovation Challenge.