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Earlier this year, SMEs in the North East were invited to put forward solutions to global energy challenges, as part of the Energy Innovation Challenge. David Lynch, Energy Innovation Partnership Manager at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), gives an update on how the programme is now helping to make the most promising ideas a reality.

When we created the Energy Innovation Challenge, we wanted to give businesses in our region an opportunity to develop new products and services that could help to tackle some of the energy-related challenges the world is facing, and to support them to bring their ideas to market.

The theme of the first challenge was decentralised and decarbonised energy and we launched it back in March – just as the country went into lockdown.

We had to act quickly to move our planned event online, and we extended the deadline so that people had more time to put together their submissions. In spite of all the disruption brought by the pandemic, we’ve been really pleased with the response from businesses, and the extremely high level of entries into the challenge.

We’ve seen real innovation in the proposals that were put forward, which have spanned a range of different product types, including innovations in photovoltaic materials, water filtration devices, and energy generation and battery storage.

We’ve been able to provide all the SMEs that put forward proposals with support and advice to develop their ideas further. The proposals have all been assessed by a panel of energy specialists through the North East Energy Catalyst, and the most viable will now be taken forward for a grant application for £20k though the government’s Local Growth Fund with some going forward to pitch for £20k of investment from Northstar Ventures.

All the successful proposals are also receiving business advice through the North East Growth Hub, and have already taken part in workshops on topics including marketing, business models and IP.

And an added benefit has been that the cohort has been able to bounce ideas off each other and work together, with some now discussing possible partnership work in the future – it’s been incredibly useful for everyone to be able to uncover knowledge and grow their businesses together.

It’s been exciting to see the strength of innovation in the North East and to play a part in helping to push these businesses forward and helping to develop innovative new energy solutions in our region.

And this isn’t the end, as we’re about to launch the next part of the Energy Innovation Challenge, which will be all about digital and data-led solutions for energy. This will be an opportunity for digital and tech businesses in the North East LEP region to apply their knowledge to the energy sector and to potentially take steps towards launching a new product.

We have a wealth of expertise and ideas within the SME sector in the North East and this is a huge opportunity for people in our region to lead the way in tackling some global issues.

The next Energy Innovation Challenge will open on 31 July. 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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