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IN CONVERSATION WITH…Colin Bell, Business Growth Director of the North East LEP and Ammar Mirza CBE, newly appointed Chair of the North East LEP’s Business Growth Board, talk about their aspirations for the future.

Ammar, you are a North East LEP Board member and the newly appointed Chair of the Business Growth Board. What is your ambition for this role?

The LEP is made up of individuals with significant experience, expertise and endorsement, representing the public, private and academic sectors, all with a shared ambition of making the North East a better place where we create more and better jobs, which is clearly even more important now.

Being the chair of the Business Growth Board is a privilege given the other members of the Board and the enthusiasm of Colin and his team to bring our strategy to fruition.  My ambition is for our work to help our communities realise their goals and raise aspirations, ultimately making a sustainable, meaningful and measurable impact.

Colin – your Business Growth Board has had a bit of a shake up, with Ammar joining as Chair alongside five new people, and a number of long-standing board members supporting a strong executive team. How important it is to have a strong relationship between the board and executive and what are you most excited about for the future?

Having a strong and active board who keep me and my team on their toes, provide constructive challenge, are prepared to be active in supporting and promoting the North East’s business community and who bring ideas to the table is what I look for.

It’s therefore fantastic that Ammar is the new Chair of the Business Growth Board as that’s exactly what he brings. His approach is all about channelling energy, action and being a champion of the North East.

Ammar is supported by some fantastic new Business Growth Board members including Darren Laybourne , Director at Turner and Townsend who brings a wealth of experience in scaling a global business; Liz Bromley, CEO of the Newcastle College Group who runs one of the UK’s largest college businesses; Paul Butler, CEO of North East Automotive Alliance who brings an expertise in in business support and industrial clustering; Yvonne Gale, CEO, NEL Fund Managers, providing a vital insight into the investor community; and Steve Underwood, Director, Dentsu Aegis, one of the UK’s largest digital agencies. This formidable group of business leaders joins our existing board members: Toby Bridges, Chairman, NBT Group; Ryan Maughan, CEO, Avid Technology; and Kate Wickham, CEO, Gate 7.

You’re both at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19. How has this manifested into support for the North East business community? 

Ammar: People are understandably confused, concerned and cynical of the future, which in turn demands a response that is relevant, responsive and regionally focused.  The support led by the LEP and supported by a whole host of partners including the SME Centre of Excellence means that SMEs can get the right support at the right time to survive.

Colin: We are speaking with businesses every day to understand the practical challenges that they are facing and feeding intelligence to Government to inform them about what’s needed in terms of support.

At a regional level we are working closely with our partners to introduce initiatives to fill the cracks, such as Crowdfunder North East and the enhanced grant funding for the supply of PPE via Supply Chain North East. We are increasingly looking to the future and are currently working with Ammar and the Business Growth Board to develop a plan of action to support businesses through the restart phase so as many as possible bounce back strongly from the current situation.

The North East Growth Hub has seen a huge increase in businesses engaging with it and is becoming the go-to hub for information relating to not just COVID-19 but all business support and access to finance in the region. What impact is this having and why is it important?

Ammar: Having a single source of credible and up to date information is critical to help individuals access the support they need, especially in challenging times. The Growth Hub has always been a rich resource to help SMEs thrive.  Given the substantial number of service providers that feed into the Growth Hub, together with the Connectors who are able to provide one-to-one support, everyone accessing the service will benefit.

Colin: Businesses want access to simple and impartial support and guidance. The Growth Hub brings all support into one place and does not have any vested interests or targets to refer businesses to particular schemes – we are 100% focused on what’s right for the businesses.

Our highly experienced Growth Hub Connectors are there to have open and honest discussions with business owners. During the crisis they’ve been able to help remove some of the anxiety by helping them to see a path through the confusion and engage them on support and funding options of which they were perhaps unaware.

The North East LEP and the North East Growth Hub have been combining forces with other organisations to deliver support. Why is that partnership approach important?

Ammar: The North East is renowned for being the friendliest place in the country, and never has friendship and partnership been more important.  The LEP has always acted as an enabler, recognising that we must create a community underpinned by a collaborative campaign to develop an effective eco-system that will help our region restart, revive and ultimately thrive.  It is this partnership approach that will help us progress to a better place.

Colin: The Growth Hub is an impartial and trusted broker and we work with businesses to understand challenges and opportunities and then connect them with the people, organisations and solutions that we believe are best for them.

The delivery of support is carried out by our partners who are national and locally based and from the public, private and education sectors. We work closely with our partners through the Business Support Provider Network, which provides a forum to align their collective efforts to the delivery of economic strategy and to inform the development of business support and finance solutions that will deliver the greatest impact to businesses.

What should businesses be thinking about now in terms of recovery and readying for a recession?

Ammar: The three biggest enablers to success for any organisation are digital transformation, innovation and new markets.  These factors are even more critical to the recovery of our economy and that is where the Business Growth Board is focusing all its attention and efforts.  This includes working with the Michigan Institute of Technology Team and key stakeholders to develop an eco-system that gives our whole region a competitive advantage and an accelerated recovery plan.

Every business should be planning and preparing for the future in an innovative, inclusive and industrious manner.  Especially as the North East started the industrial revolution.

Colin: Businesses need to consider what they have learnt through the pandemic that they can use to give their business an edge moving forward. This may be things like honing into new market opportunities, developing new ways of working, harnessing technology and unearthing new capabilities within their teams.

People are pulling together to support one another through the current situation. How can business leaders follow this through into the recovery and harness the fire in people’s bellies, their collective energy, passion and creativity to deliver a better future – it’s by no means going to be easy but it’s our fighting spirit, grit and determination that will help the North East to bounce back.


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In conversation with Dean Cook, Innovate UK Regional Manager – North East and Yorkshire & Humber

As Regional Manager – North East and Yorkshire & Humber, what does your new role entail?

Primarily my role is about stakeholder engagement and building our regional presence. It’s about developing relationships with local leaders driving the innovation agenda. I will also be working to make Innovate UK more accessible from a regional level and working with partners to align regional and national strategy so it works for the collective good. Where are the intersections where this alignment can maximise the return to the UK economy?

I am therefore delighted to be working with the North East LEP as there is so much great work taking place and I am keen to raise awareness of this.

How would you characterise Innovation and the sector as a whole in the North East?

From an area rich in industrial heritage, it’s fascinating to see how the region is transforming these traditional industries so they’re fit for purpose in the 21st century, or what some are calling the ‘4th Industrial Revolution’.

For example, it’s no surprise that digital technology is a thriving sector for the North East and the region is a key player when it comes to initiatives like big data and cloud computing. The adoption of these technologies across the local economy is also transforming the other sectors that they touch upon.

I have also been really impressed by the joined up approach to innovation in the North East. The development of Science Central in Newcastle is a great example of strong partnership working between the local council, Universities, LEP and business community.

How can Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), work with Innovate UK and support its work?

Going back to the question above, it’s vital that we develop a joined up approach and a joint vision; something everyone is collectively working towards.

We need to look at where the regional and national innovation strategies dovetail and focus on investment and funding to support those initiatives. We need to collectively nurture successful clusters and shine a spotlight on particular business areas and geographies where this is happening. Communication is also important and we will be looking at more opportunities for joined up working whether it’s sharing intelligence or promoting support for businesses.

How will Innovate UK’s new delivery plan support and grow innovation businesses?

For the past nine years, Innovate UK has been focused on driving innovation across the UK. The new delivery plan builds on the momentum we’ve already made by focusing our work on clearer sector groups and supporting companies with a real appetite to grow.

I have already touched upon the connectivity between regional and national innovation – this is one of our five strategic priorities. We will also be looking at how we work more closely with the wider research community and maximising the work and connectivity of our National Catapult centres, which offer a real opportunity for Local Enterprise Partnerships.

We have evolved our funding models too. In the next couple of years Innovate UK will be offering loans and other forms of finance in addition to our standard grants. This is to make sure businesses get the right kind of funding at the right time and opens up the range of projects that they can apply for, allowing us to help businesses scale to their needs.

Most importantly, we have simplified what we offer making it more accessible and open. It will be clearer who businesses need to engage with and how they can make the most of our support.

What have been some of Innovate UK’s key successes to date?

To date, we’ve supported 7,600 organisations, injecting £13.1bn into the national economy – that’s a 7.3% return on investment for every pound spent. We’ve also helped create 55,000 new jobs; seven per organisation we’ve invested in.

Will Brexit impact Innovate UK’s role going forward?

It’s business as usual for us right now, and we will continue to work with colleagues across Government to assess next steps. However, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that a third of the £1bn support for research that the UK receives from Europe through programmes such as Horizon 2020, comes to UK SME businesses and technology organisations. It’s important that we continue to find ways to nurture this cornerstone of the economy.

So looking ahead, innovation must play a significant role in stimulating future economic growth as we look to access new markets abroad. It’s never been more important for us to remain focused on our delivery plan.

What can you tell us about Government’s National Innovation Plan?

All I can say for now is watch this space. We’re not sure when the plan will be launched but what I can say is Innovate UK will be publishing its sector strategies in the coming months.

For anyone that would like to know more about our sector strategies they’ll form a key part of this year’s Innovate 2016 conference (2-3 November), which takes place in Manchester. It would be great to see involvement from the North East’s innovation community, representing the strength of all the things happening here.

How will the new sector focus improve the work of Innovate UK?

It’s a chance for us to align industry needs within sector groups that have clear synergies. It will make it easier for businesses to see what we offer and how we can help them.

The four sector groups have been identified as:

Emerging and Enabling Technologies
Health and Life Sciences
Infrastructure Systems
Manufacturing and Materials

What sectors in the North East do you see as providing real economic growth moving forward? What are our USPs?

It’s probably too early into my new role to give a definitive answer but there are certainly initiatives that are attracting my attention.

There is a lot of momentum gathering at NETPark in County Durham with a cluster of businesses doing cutting edge work around advanced material development and connecting into our Catapult network. Newcastle Science Central will be home to a new National Centre for Ageing Science and Innovation, one of three new National centres announced for the site. In fact the broader offer here is truly exciting as a test bed for future cities.

Energy is another sector where the North East is excelling. From offshore wind, wave and tidal energy to advances in battery technology for the automotive industry, there is a lot happening here. This becomes even more compelling when you start looking at these supply chains across LEP boundaries and think about how to unlock synergies from Northumberland down to the Humber coast – a true Northern Powerhouse approach.

I’m really looking forward to working with colleagues in the North East, as well as in Yorkshire and Humber, to marry what’s happening regionally with innovation strategies nationally.

Home / in conversation

In conversation: Ammar Mirza CBE discusses the power of 3: Communicate, Collaborate, Celebrate

Business Growth Board member, Ammar Mirza CBE, discusses the power of Communication, Collaboration and Celebration in the run up to the ABC Annual Awards and Dinner.

Odd that when we started planning the ABC Annual Awards and Dinner some months ago I would never have anticipated the world to change so dramatically and drastically.

Yet with only a few days to go until our amazing dinner the criticality of the event is overpowering, the divisiveness within our country and the wider world is so disturbing that this event is not only a must, but it provides for the whole community to come together around a common purpose. Not a common purpose that has been caused by suffering, despair or mayhem, but a common purpose that demonstrates all things that are great in mankind. Recognising and rewarding achievement, appreciating our peers doing well and celebrating the cosmopolitan society that should be the norm.

Last year I was fortunate to be appointed the David Goldman Visiting Professor at Newcastle University by the Goldman family – a hugely successful and devout Jewish family that not only endorsed but wholeheartedly supported my appointment. My inaugural lecture must have been one of the most daunting but exciting speeches I had ever given. A room filled with some of the most intelligent individuals I had ever come across, academics, business and community leaders.

My speech was around the power of 3 and in particular I explored the importance of three key and core principles that when applied would enable success in any activity but more importantly bring individuals and organisations together. The principles whilst simple deliver a profound impact when applied constantly and consistently. They are Communicate, Collaborate and Celebrate. Whilst they may seem straightforward and nothing revolutionary, I wonder what would have happened had they been used in any of the recent worldwide events?

Imagine if there had been better communication within the Referendum, enhanced collaboration that brought people together and even thought towards celebrating the great contribution of all the community. Would the country have been as divided?

With this in mind the ABC Annual Dinner and Awards Ceremony that has received incredible support from all sectors and communities will clearly and concisely launch the Federation of Asian Business (FAB) strictly following the three principles of Communicating, Collaborating and Celebrating. FAB brings together three visionary and likeminded organisations from across the North of England to form a collaboration that will ensure effective communication and inspire celebration to help the Northern Powerhouse and our whole community succeed. Yorkshire Asian Business Association, Asian Business Connexions and North West Asian Business Association have come together not only to platform the significant social and economic contribution of the Asian community but to showcase harmonious inclusive community relations .

As such we have three tremendous speakers this Thursday that may not usually share the same stage but I am so glad they are – Northern Powerhouse Minister James Wharton MP, Deputy Commander of the Army North Col. Mike Butterwick and President of Yorkshire Asian Business Association President Ajaz Ahmad – all coming together to Communicate, Collaborate and Celebrate their own achievements alongside a shared vision of making our country better for everyone.

The calibre of the finalists has been nothing short of astounding and I am truly proud of each and every one of their achievements. To be a minority can be a challenge in itself but to then go on and succeed in your individual organisation and sector is to be much admired, however to be a minority and a female and have accomplished so much has to be truly applauded. Nearly 50% of our finalists are Asian women from the public, private and third sectors. This is incredible!

Finally, I want to thank each and every organisation and individual that is attending the dinner and undoubtedly showing that we live in a fair and just society where everyone is encouraged to do well and those that do shine are celebrated regardless of colour, creed or religion. The ABC Annual Dinner and Awards and the launch of FAB could not have come at a better time to pull everyone up together and to push us all forward in the same direction. Love and peace.

Ammar Mirza CBE

For further information on the dinner please email [email protected]

Authentic Punjabi Five Course Meal by [email protected]

Sponsors include: Microsoft/Giacom, North East LEP, Northumbria Water, HM Residential, Skylight Suite, Gainford Group and LLoyd BMW.

Organisations attending and supporting the event include: Armed Forces, Northumbria Army Cadet Force, Your Homes Newcastle, Quadrant Law, Barclays, Andrew Wilson, Bridge Club, Cairn Group, County Durham Foundation, Evolution LLP, Jeremy4Mayor, Martin and Ann Farrar, Northumbria Police, Square One Law, Transmit Start-ups, Tyne & Wear Fire and Rescue, Week2Week Apartments, Dabbawal Restaurant, Sleeper Dorm, Arc Health, Vitality, Rob Earnshaw – Digital City, McDonalds, Kromek Group, Karma Kards, Spice FM, Chai Events, GEMARTS, Councillor David Faulkner, Guy Opperman MP, Trinity Chambers, Northern Britain Chinese Entrepreneurs Association, Anne-Marie Trevelyan MP, John Lee, Durham Constabulary, All Solution Construction, Northumberland County Council, Fazal’s Café, SME Centre of Excellence, Word Queen, AMPM247, Kube Law and Ammar Mizra.

Ammar Mirza is the owner and Managing Director of AmmarM (UK) Limited a leading business development, leadership and management consultancy. Ammar also holds a number of other directorships, is a Fellow if the the Institute of Leadership and Management and Royal Society of Arts and is involved in organisations across the public, private and third sectors, including Your Homes Newcastle and the Sunderland Business Improvement District.