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Funding and support on offer to North East SMEs through Energy Innovation Challenge

SMEs in the North East could receive up to £40,000 of funding to help develop new ways of using materials within the energy sector.

The Energy Innovation Challenge, organised by the North East Energy Catalyst, invites businesses to put forward new ways of using materials to reduce costs, improve efficiency, or bring other benefits to energy infrastructure.

David Lynch, Energy Innovation Partnership Manager at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), explains: “We know that we have forward-thinking and creative businesses operating here in the North East and we want to give SMEs the opportunity to develop new products and materials with support and funding.”

The Energy Innovation Challenge is led by the North East Energy Catalyst, a partnership of the North East’s energy sector organisations which aims to showcase the North East’s capabilities in developing solutions to the world’s energy challenges.

David Lynch added: “Ultimately, we want to drive economic growth here in our region, and showing that our SMEs have the means to develop innovative new energy solutions, which can be used the world over, is a great way of bringing jobs and investment to the North East.”

This is the third round of the Energy Innovation Challenge, which has already seen five businesses receive £100,000 of funding to develop new products.

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.

Successful businesses will have the opportunity to apply for £20,000 investment from the North East Innovation Fund, supported by the European Regional Development Fund, and managed by Northstar Ventures and/or a Local Growth Fund matched grant of up to £20,000 to help bring new ideas to market.

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.

More details are available here or from David Lynch on [email protected].

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Universities support North East’s economic recovery: START UP at Newcastle University

Universities have a vital role to play in helping the North East economy recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

The work being delivered by North East universities is supporting new and existing businesses to innovate and grow, and shaping and supporting a more sustainable and inclusive economy.

Durham University, Newcastle University, Northumbria University, University of Sunderland and Teesside University are all members of the North East COVID-19 Economic Response Group, which was established by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic to provide business resilience and ensure a collective response to the economic impact of COVID-19 on the North East economy.

Below is a case study about Newcastle University’s START UP offer, with a focus on the impact student and graduate businesses it supports are having within the region, and how they are responding to the COVID-19 crisis.

Newcastle University is ranked Top 5 in the UK for graduate entrepreneurship based on start-up turnover and investment raised. Based on average investment per start-up, the University is ranked Top 10 in the UK for scalable graduate start-ups and has generated the most investable graduate start-ups in the North East.

START UP is an equity-free support system for Newcastle University students and graduates up to three years and includes START UP Founderships, a pre-accelerator programme to ready the individual and their businesses for market entry, investment and success.

There are currently 203 START UP-supported businesses trading with a combined annual turnover of close to £60 million. Between them, they’ve raised over £19 million in external investment, won national and global awards and created 695 full-time equivalent jobs.

*All rankings and statistics from HE-BCI Survey 2018-19.

Over 70% of these businesses have remained in the North East, many of which recruit within the region, such as One Utility Bill, Nebula Labs and My Healthcare Recruit. Many the businesses are securing impressive investment figures.

In September 2020, Equiwatt raised over £300,000 to roll-out its innovative, energy-efficient app and create four new jobs in Newcastle. A month prior, Tea Ventures Ltd (NovelTea) welcomed 1,000 investors onboard as part of a crowdfund campaign that raised £577,000 to advance its plans to break into the US market, and in December, gained a further £1.4M investment for expansion and job creation.

Many of the START UP founders are persevering or finding ways to pivot despite challenges posed by the COVID-19 crisis. Some have received grant support through Newcastle University’s partnership with Santander Universities UK to help them survive and thrive in 2020, and others are applying to a newly launched fund of £40,000.

“Last year with Santander Universities, we launched a Covid-19 Fund to help our START UP community adapt in response to the global crisis, supporting some businesses to scale in order to meet new demand. This new Fund is about stimulating and supporting the next wave of entrepreneurs and changemakers who will have a critical role to play in our economic and social recovery” said Claire Adamson, START UP Manager, Newcastle University. “It is also about making visible and celebrating the individuals joining the growing community of Newcastle University students and graduates who have created their own graduate jobs as well as employment opportunities for others”, she added.

Santander Universities has been in partnership with Newcastle University since 2009 and has provided close to £1.7M to the University, with £189k appointed to enterprise activities.

Matt Hutnell, Director, Santander Universities, says: “Santander is committed to supporting higher education as well as local communities across the UK. We’re proud of our partnership with Newcastle University and we’re delighted to support their new Start Up Fund which will enable many more budding entrepreneurs to thrive, particularly during this challenging time.”

To find out more about START UP, visit www.ncl.ac.uk.

Click here to read more about how universities in the region are playing a central role in supporting the region to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

Click here to read more about the North East COVID-19 Economic Response Group.

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In conversation with Dr. Phil Budden, senior lecturer at MIT’s School of Management, about the MIT REAP program

The North East LEP and key partners are currently participating in the prestigious Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Program (REAP) led by MIT. Here Dr. Phil Budden, senior lecturer at MIT’s School of Management, tells us more and explains why it’s important for the region.

Please can you explain what the MIT Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Program (REAP) is and how it came about?

The professors who founded the MIT REAP program were interested in helping regions understand how to harness their innovation, create jobs locally, and make a real difference. This was in response to the recession of 2009/10 when lots of regional leaders around the world were thinking about how to build back their economies.

MIT REAP was launched as a two-year program in 2012 to answer these sorts of questions and we were pleased to welcome teams from Scotland and London in the early cohorts. When the MIT REAP program created significant amounts of international interest – from Israel, Saudi Arabia, Japan and China to West Africa and Latin America – I became involved in a faculty and diplomat’s role.

Almost ten years later, the MIT REAP program is going from strength to strength with teams from around the world and we believe we are going to face similar needs in the 2020s to those we saw in 2010. We already have regions and organisations asking how to rebuild and encourage innovation and entrepreneurship: this time we are focusing on inclusivity too.

As a Brit on the team, I’m delighted that we have now created a ‘lite’ version of the global MIT REAP to focus on the UK. This pilot runs for just a year and is focused solely on the role that LEPs in England can play to convene stakeholders and collaborate to create regional economies that can bounce back and flourish.

The program aims to help regions foster an evidence-based, practical approach to strengthening innovation-driven entrepreneurial ecosystems around the world. What do you mean by the word ‘ecosystem’ and why is cross-sector/multi-stakeholder collaboration so important in making economic conditions better?

One of the words that MIT uses is ‘ecosystems’ in order to convey the ways in which we see innovation happening in the world.

In an ecosystem, which is a very organic concept, there are a variety of actors leading to a multi-stakeholder model, with roles for the government, local enterprise partnerships, large corporations, universities and entrepreneurs. These aren’t always the roles they think they should play but we help them understand their ecosystem roles.

Critically, we ask the entrepreneurs – as this is where our main focus lies – what they need to be successful with their enterprises. To thrive, regions need a spectrum of entrepreneurs, from those who form micro to small SMEs, often the backbone of a regional economy, through to the high-growth, high-tech innovation-driven enterprises, such as those which might spin out from universities.

All of these voices need to be heard, and part of the magic of MIT REAP is this cross-stakeholder discussion. Ultimately, no single organisation is in charge of the ecosystem, and no one individual has all the answers.

The North East LEP is one of six sub-regions in England chosen for the MIT REAP ‘lite’ pilot. How does this differ to the usual two-year learning engagement with MIT?

As a Brit, I was very keen to bring the insights of the MIT REAP Global Program back to the motherland in a way that we could convey the key frameworks and focus on entrepreneurial action, but in a shorter timeframe. This is how the MIT REAP-UK ‘lite’ pilot, supported by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), was born.

The partners of choice are ten LEPS across England which form the six teams taking part, with the North East LEP a leading player of one of these teams. We are looking to see how much we can achieve in one year rather than two, given the challenges everyone has been facing in 2020, and the need to start re-building in 2021.

What’s the vision for the program once the pilot ends in England and what outcomes will the program achieve?

The key outcomes of the UK pilot will be the innovation and entrepreneurship impacts that will result from the action plans that the regional teams devise and implement. MIT is all about real world impact and so we judge our efforts on how useful the LEP teams have found the frameworks and our advice.

Early signs are teams like the North East LEP’s have found the multi-stakeholder evidence-based approach useful to find a strategy that plays to the region’s strengths and will deliver results in the near term, which is what we all hope for in 2021. We’ve been really impressed by their work and approach so far.

For more information visit https://reap.mit.edu/reap-uk/.

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North East businesses awarded funding to develop new energy products

£100,000 of funding has been awarded to help five North East energy businesses bring new products to market.

The five SMEs all entered the Energy Innovation Challenge which was launched by the North East Energy Catalyst as a way of supporting businesses in the region to develop solutions to global energy challenges.

The five businesses awarded funding are DLAW Contractors, The Energy Workshop, Otaski Energy Solutions, Power Roll, and Solar Capture Technologies.

David Lynch, Energy Innovation Partnership Manager at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), explains: “The Energy Innovation Challenge is a rolling programme of challenges based around different themes. So in the first phase, we wanted to hear from people who could develop a product or service that can help to decarbonise the energy that we use in our homes and businesses.

The Energy Innovation Challenge is led by the North East Energy Catalyst, a partnership of the region’s leading energy sector organisations which aims to showcase the North East’s capabilities in developing solutions to the world’s energy challenges.

As well as funding, the five businesses receive business advice through the North East Growth Hub, and have already taken part in workshops on topics including marketing, business models and IP.

Sunderland-based DLAW Contractors is planning to manufacture photovoltaic-powered water filtration systems for use in rural communities. The new product has the potential to be exported worldwide, with manufacturing and supply chain based in the North East.

The Energy Workshop is a renewable energy consultancy which will use its funding to carry out a study to assess the potential of using hydrogen to fuel fleet vehicles and community energy projects in the North East.

Otaski Energy Solutions, which is based in Gateshead, put forward a proposal to develop a product which uses artificial intelligence to dim street lighting when it’s not in use.

Sunderland SME Power Roll was awarded funding to work towards manufacturing a new type of solar panel which can be used on building and vehicles.

The fifth business awarded funding is Blyth’s Solar Capture Technologies, which will be stepping up production of its lightweight SolarFace modules, which can generate energy in low light levels and in a range of locations.

“The standard of entries into the challenge was exceptional, and really shows that the North East is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to developing innovative energy products,” said David Lynch. “With the recent unveiling of the government’s 10-point plan to create a green industrial revolution, businesses in our region are at the forefront of leading the way into a greener future economy, and the North East Energy Catalyst is here to support them.”

Round two of the Energy Innovation Challenge is currently underway, with 10 submissions from North East SMEs. Round three, on the theme of energy materials, will open in January 2021. To find out more, contact David Lynch on [email protected].

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.

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North East leading on UK plan for a Green Industrial Revolution 

Globally significant work being carried out within the North East’s energy sector is leading the way on delivering the government’s Green Industrial Revolution plan which was announced in November, reinforcing the region’s position to lead delivery on the UK’s Net Zero agenda. 

The plan announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson includes 10 key areas of focus, which correspond with initiatives already being delivered in the North East and bring opportunities to create more and better jobs in the region. 

Lucy Winskell, Chair of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) said: “The North East energy sector is already working together to deliver on national energy strategy while driving economic growth, and North East partners are collaborating nationally and internationally and investing £200 million over the next 10 years to deliver on energy opportunities.

“The announcement of the Green Industrial Revolution plan by the government further solidifies our ambitions and underlines our position as a leader in energy and clean growth, with pioneering work already underway across the plan.”  

The first of the 10 points in the government’s plan is offshore wind, a sector in which the North East is recognised as a global centre for the development of next-generation components, central to supporting the growth of the UK offshore wind sector. 

The North East’s offshore wind cluster is home to businesses that serve global markets and the cluster is growing, with the recent announcement that Equinor and SSE Renewables – two of the companies behind the world’s biggest offshore wind farm, Dogger Bank – plan to create a new base at the Port of Tyne. The Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult, the UK’s leading research centre for renewable offshore energy, also has a base in the region, at Blyth in Northumberland, which plays an international role in test and validation of next generation turbine components. 

James Ritchie, chair of Energi Coast, the North East’s offshore wind cluster, said: “We know that there is the potential for the North East to support 9,000 jobs in the offshore wind sector by 2025, and we have the ambition and expertise to further grow our reputation as a world-leading cluster and international centre for innovation in offshore energy, working with regional partners and industry through Energi Coast to deliver on UK content and export goals.”  

The government’s plan also includes the aims to drive growth of low carbon hydrogen, and to develop a town heated entirely by hydrogen by the end of the decade. National research and demonstration of hydrogen as a zero-carbon fuel is taking place in the North East, with residents of Winlaton in Gateshead set to become the first users of a public UK gas network to receive blended hydrogen for heating and cooking through the HyDeploy project.

Keith Owen, Head of Systems Development and Energy Strategy at Northern Gas Networks said: “The North is ideally positioned to be at the forefront of emerging hydrogen and low carbon technologies and the North East Energy Catalyst will play a leading role in making this a reality. Through the HyDeploy project, based at our InTEGReL facility at Low Thornley, the community of Winlaton, Gateshead, will soon receive the first hydrogen blended gas delivered in a public network. In addition, at the InTEGReL site we’re building the UK’s first hydrogen house, which will be used to demonstrate hydrogen fed appliances and our innovative customer energy village will showcase the very latest hydrogen and other low carbon technologies, to demonstrate that a rapid hydrogen transition is possible.”      

The transition to electric vehicles – a field where the North East has capabilities unique across Europe, including multiple battery manufacturing facilities and a supply chain at the cutting edge of next-generation vehicle and battery technology – also features in the government’s plan.

The North East is also home to the national Driving the Electric Revolution Centre, headed up by Newcastle University, which will help propel UK manufacturing to the forefront of global efforts to tackle climate change by enabling faster collaborative research and development of electric machines, including cars, planes and ships.

Paul Butler, Chief Executive of the North East Automotive Alliance, said: “Electrification is a huge opportunity to address decarbonisation and the climate emergency, and no other region in the UK can lay claim to the kind of capabilities we have in the North East when it comes to electric vehicle technologies.” 

Making homes and public buildings greener, more efficient, and moving away from fossil fuels, is another government priority and an area where the North East is driving forward economic opportunities associated with the development of low-carbon heating. 

Andrew Clark, Energy Lead at the North East LEP, said: “We’re working with the government and other partners, through the Department for International Trade’s High Potential Opportunity Programme, to develop the North East as the UK’s first low-carbon heat supply chain cluster. We are home to pioneering delivery of low carbon heat technologies, including some of the UK’s most significant large scale mine heat projects, leading a national task-force on mine energy deployment, and a nationally-important trial of heat pump technology putting the region at the cutting-edge of testing the practical large-scale roll-out of heat pumps to homes.” 

The partnership between energy supplier E.ON and Newcastle City Council, funded by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, has seen a large-scale demonstration and test of heat pumps, which extract energy from the air or ground to heat homes and businesses. 

Underpinning the government’s strategy is innovation and finance, and at the heart of energy innovation is the North East Energy Catalyst, a ground-breaking cross-sector partnership which unites the region’s unique base of innovation, demonstration and delivery capabilities. Partners include public sector bodies, national agencies, private sector businesses and academia.

The Catalyst recently announced the launch of a new, multi-site £9m smart energy testbed, the Integrated Smart Energy Lab (ISE Lab) which will bring together the region’s smart energy capabilities to become the world’s first multi-site energy laboratory.

Tony Quinn, Test Facilities Director at the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult, said “The ISE Lab is a prime example of how the North East’s comprehensive energy innovation assets can be brought together to showcase solutions to global challenges. It will offer unique capabilities for commercialising smart energy solutions and it’s a project which speaks to the strength of collaboration within our region, combining assets from Newcastle University, Durham University and the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult in Northumberland.

“With networks like the North East Energy Catapult, we are poised to bring forward an ambitious contribution to the UK’s Net Zero innovation portfolio.” 

Lucy Winskell, Chair of the North East LEP added: “We’re a region which is working collaboratively, not just within the North East, but with partners nationally and internationally, and we’re ready to use our strengths to help government and industry deliver the new plan for a Green Industrial Revolution.” 

The North East Energy for Growth strategy, which is led by the North East LEP, includes opportunities to build a pipeline of projects which align with national energy strategy. To find out more or to get involved, contact the North East LEP Energy Programme Lead, Andrew Clark, on [email protected]


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The benefits of open innovation

Many people don’t know what open innovation means, but ultimately, it’s just a way of working together to develop competitive advantage, says Alan Welby, director of innovation for the North East LEP.

While businesses frequently rely on their internal teams and knowledge to develop a competitive edge, open innovation can provide an exciting and beneficial alternative.

Open innovation can take lots of different forms and is often described in a variety of ways. For example, people might use the terms challenge activities or sprints but at its core, the premise is very simple. It’s a means of sharing a work context or problem within a safe wider environment so that partners, and sometimes even competitors, can help find a way forward.

It’s the idea behind Challenge North East, a new open innovation programme that we are running here at the LEP.

We are offering SMEs up to £5k grant funding between January and March 2021 to develop solutions to specific challenges caused by COVID-19, with the possibility of being in the running to win a grant of up to £40k to scale the most impactful solution in each area.

The first call in the programme is called ‘Together again: Delivering safe and engaging in-person events’ and it seeks answers to how people might be able to gather safely again indoors and outdoors, while achieving an engaging experience for those watching at home.

The second Challenge North East call is known as ‘Safe Again: Adapting home-based services’. Those who have ideas for new ways of working for those who deliver and rely on in-home services will be eligible for funding and development support.

We’re excited and hopeful about what the regional business community will come up with. The North East is a place that traditionally likes to solve problems and is entrepreneurial by its very nature.

A great example of this is the Northumbrian Water Innovation Festival where, to use their own description, they “gather some of the greatest and most innovative minds from the worlds of business, science, tech, engineering, utilities and customer services and get them to tackle real world problems together in a series of sprints.”

To achieve this, they create a trusted environment in which issues can be discussed and collaborative solutions found. The goal is for this type of approach to become mainstream.

Through Challenge North East we want to show that we are better at open innovation than elsewhere in the UK and become a hotspot for this kind of thinking and action. That needs us to create a culture in which looking outwardly to innovate is the norm, so that our organisations flourish and other businesses want to invest here.

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In conversation with Paul Butler, Chief Executive of the North East Automotive Alliance, about the arrival of 5G and what it means for the North East

The North East LEP and the North East Combined Authority have long seen the opportunity for the North East offered by 5G technology. Can you explain what 5G technology is and how it works?

5G follows in the footsteps of 3G and 4G as the new generation of wireless technology. As well as being much faster, it also has greater capacity, which is why it’s so exciting. 5G has the potential to support new innovative services in all areas of our lives.

I believe there’s a real opportunity for the North East to become a regional test bed for 5G technologies, which is illustrated in the North East LEP’s innovative plan for a multi-site, digitally enabled Free Trade Zone.

The North East Automotive Alliance, of which you’re Chief Executive, along with your partners recently secured more than £2m in funding for a 5G technology pilot project. How will this be used and why is this such a coup for the region?

The continual drive for operational efficiency is a key focus for the automotive sector. This project addresses the next key innovation challenge in last mile logistics and builds on regional expertise in the deployment of automated logistic solutions such as indoor and outdoor automated guided vehicles which are used throughout the production process.

The funding we’ve secured from 5G Create, part of the wider £200 million 5G testbeds and trials programme (5GTT), is to support a 5G-enabled connected and automated logistics (CAL) pilot and proof of concept. Working with Nissan and Vantech, we plan to test an autonomous HGV, up to 40 tonnes, on a private road capable of carrying out 100 deliveries a day. 5G technology would remove the need for an in-vehicle safety driver, replacing it with a remote driver that can interact with vehicle should it come across an abnormal situation.

We anticipate this project will be a catalyst for something great for our region, a globally unique CAL test bed here in the North East. We have a unique mix of assets including a geographic concentration of manufacturing facilities, a fantastic road infrastructure and the new International Advanced Manufacturing Park, which offers the perfect environment to design, develop and manufacture the next generation of logistic solutions. When combined with our vehicle electrification strengths, this has the potential to deliver Zero Emission Automated Logistics, delivering against the UK Government’s Net Zero 2050 strategy and supporting the region’s economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

How does this pilot project fit with the North East’s Strategic Economic Plan?

It’s about delivering operational efficiency to the automotive sector initially, but then extending it to other areas of advanced manufacturing in the region to really drive productivity and efficiency.

In addition, by attracting more R&D activities it will support the NEAA’s vision to become the location of choice for automotive investment in Europe, and a region that is recognised as a true automotive powerhouse with a very dynamic, forward looking and competitive supply chain; with strengths in research, development, and innovation in new automotive technologies and manufacturing processes.

This will undoubtedly support the key objective of the North East’s Strategic Economic Plan – to deliver 100,000 more and better jobs for the North East.

What difference will 5G technology make for businesses?

The North East automotive sector is a beacon of productivity; we have one of the most productive workforces across Europe and high levels of automation. My interest in 5G is around how it can support industry and specifically industrial digitisation.

A recent study by SMMT and KPMG stated the cumulative economic benefit of adopting digital technologies to the UK automotive sector could be £74bn by 2035. I’ve also seen a recent case study related to an overseas company that has delivered a 50% increase in productivity, a 22% increase in automation, and 27% increase in innovation over the past two years as a direct result of 5G and industrial digitalisation.

The combined opportunity of 5G and industrial digitalisation will enable businesses to realise the next significant step change in operational efficiency. As a result, North East businesses will become leaders in the adoption of digital technologies and this will make them more resilient and more competitive, securing their longer-term future.

What opportunity does this hold for the North East’s future?

The North East has ambitions to expand 5G across the region and position the region as the centre for 5G deployment in the UK. Sunderland, for example, is already committed to the expansion and rollout of 5G. The technology is currently being deployed across parts of the Nissan plant in readiness for the 5G CAL pilot and across the city centre.

I believe we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to align regional ambitions and government strategy to really capitalise on the opportunity 5G provides. This will support industry and improve regional competitiveness, attract more R&D activity, improve regional capability, and help attract more talent to the region.

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Learning from cross-border innovation in Europe

During the last two years, the North East has been taking part in a pan-European project which aims to encourage open innovation and harness the potential of sharing knowledge across borders.

Andy Leigh, Project Coordinator at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), explains how taking part in this project will help to shape North East innovation challenges in the future, including a programme which aims to help businesses impacted by COVID-19.

Back in early 2018, the North East was selected to take part in the INVITE Open Innovation pilot project, along with colleagues from various countries across Europe. The aim was to facilitate cross-border collaboration and test ways of encouraging an open culture of innovation between SMEs.

Businesses from the North East were invited to take part in a series of challenges, partnering with SMEs from Europe to develop solutions to real-world problems faced by multinational manufacturers such as Nissan, Caterpillar and Komatsu.

Alongside these challenges, the Open Innovation Lab provided various avenues of support to encourage open innovation, including e-learning, help with attracting finance and investment, and grants of up to €5,000 to help bring new products and services to market.

In total, 10 North East SMEs from a range of sectors completed the programme, each pairing with a European counterpart to work together, share knowledge and develop solutions to problems faced in industry.

Taking part in INVITE was a win-win situation for us, allowing businesses in our region to share their knowledge with others and gain from the knowledge, learning and support offered as part of the programme. And it has also led to new ways of working which we will now apply to future innovation challenges we will be running in the North East, including Challenge North East, the COVID-19 Open Innovation Challenge which is launching very soon, and which will help develop solutions to some of the problems businesses in our region are facing because of the pandemic.

Collaborating with partners across Europe allowed us to see how online tools – which of course are more important now than ever before – can support innovation, and how matching businesses with each other can lead to better problem-solving and new insights.

Above all, the project showed how collaboration can lead to a better, more open culture of innovation, and better results than working alone to solve problems.

We will be bringing this open innovation approach to bear as we launch Challenge North East and come together as a region to help those businesses which are facing new, COVID-related challenges.

Is your business facing new problems caused by COVID-19? Or are you an innovator who could help find new solutions to these challenges? Find out about Challenge North East and how to take part here.

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North East LEP confirms North East Free Trade Zone bid

The North East will be submitting a Free Trade Zone bid designed to drive forward the regional economy, protect and enhance trade and investment potential and regenerate key sites in response to Government’s Free Ports bidding prospectus, announced this week.

Lucy Winskell, chair of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), confirmed that a collaborative bid is being prepared following months of preparatory work with a range of partners including the Port of Blyth, Port of Sunderland, Port of Tyne, Newcastle International Airport, North East and North of Tyne Combined Authorities, Business Durham, the CBI, the North East England Chamber of Commerce, University of Sunderland, Durham University, Newcastle University, Northumbria University, The Offshore Energy Catapult and NEXUS.

Lucy said: “Freeports offer the potential to generate new employment, revitalise our coastal areas and significantly boost the local economy. Over the past few months, we have been working very closely with a range of partners to prepare the ground for a collaborative bid which underlines the ambition and determination of the region to succeed.

“A North East Free Trade Zone bid will give us the opportunity to build on our industrial and logistics assets, support our supply chains and clusters and demonstrate our range of digital and innovation capabilities.

“The Government is committed to levelling up the UK economy with a focus on strengthening the economies of key industrial heartlands, such as the North East. This proposal will shore up some of our most disadvantaged communities. The region is working together to seize this opportunity to show why we are deserving of Freeport status and how it will strengthen our position on the national and international stage.”