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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.

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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.