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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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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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How university collaboration, Northern Accelerator, is driving an innovation-led COVID-19 recovery

A collaboration between four North East universities – Durham, Newcastle, Northumbria and Sunderland – Northern Accelerator commercialises research to create sustainable businesses in the North East.

Since it launched in 2016, Northern Accelerator has created 28 businesses and placed 23 CEOs in startups. It has also awarded £2.1m worth of pre-incorporation funding to help 50 research projects move closer to commercialisation.

Durham University, Newcastle University, Northumbria University, and University of Sunderland are all members of Northern Accelerator and 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.

Tim Hammond, Director of Northern Accelerator, explains why the university partnership is key to driving forward the region’s economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, and why it will help deliver the North East Strategic Economic Plan by creating more and better jobs in the region.

The COVID-19 crisis has hit the North East hard. But, whilst the Spending Review was heavily focussed around the ‘levelling up agenda’ and the announcement of a £4bn ‘Levelling Up Fund’, the region’s post-COVID-19 recovery plans acknowledge the key role that highly scalable business will play in getting the economy back on its feet. There is a need to focus on the opportunities and assets we have in the North East to ensure that we can deliver a strong economic bounce back.

As a region, we are host to some of the world’s leading experts and innovators, with a thriving number of investible businesses and fantastic regional assets such as Newcastle’s Centre for Life and the Centre for Process Innovation and science and technology clusters such as the Newcastle Helix and NETPark in Sedgefield.

Our region’s universities, Durham, Newcastle, Northumbria and Sunderland, are increasingly becoming vibrant hubs of innovation, with academics embracing the opportunity to become more enterprising and commercialise their research. North East universities, through the Northern Accelerator partnership, have played a pivotal role in supporting the continuing development of the region’s business community throughout the COVID-19 outbreak, and will continue to foster innovation as a part of the recovery.

A striking regional example of COVID-19 driven innovation is the novel prototype sampling device currently in development by Dr Moschos at Northumbria University. This device uses biological information in human breath to diagnose diseases in the lungs and, could be used at airports to monitor the spread of the virus.

Northern Accelerator has helped to build a strong innovation eco-system within the region, allowing academics to harness commercial opportunities that have, and continue to generate, high-quality jobs and increase regional GDP. Our activity is accelerating, with the number of businesses created from the universities increasing five-fold since the partnership began in 2016, and the partnership created 12 spin-out businesses in the 2018-19 academic year alone. To date we have placed 25 CEOs in start-ups, created 28 businesses and allocated £2.1m worth of pre-incorporation funding to help 50 research projects move closer to commercialisation.

Since its establishment in September this year, our £1.7m Seed Fund has invested over £500,000 in two innovative university spinouts, with high growth potential. AMLo Bioscience and gliff.ai are now pursuing further job creation and international expansion opportunities as a result.

Northern Accelerator’s focus is on quality, not just quantity. The partnership’s support and backing has primarily focussed on scaling up spinout businesses with high growth potential. This helps to feed into the wider targets that have been set by the region, and in the Chancellor’s Spending Review. The work that is carried out by Northern Accelerator will be integral to achieving the North East Local Enterprise Partnership’s commitment to delivering 100,000 more and better jobs by 2024.

At a time when economic uncertainty looms, it is more important than ever that we continue to support and invest in the region. We are not resting on our laurels and have ambitions to take things further in the coming decade. We strongly believe that harnessing existing strengths to drive growth should be one of the region’s top priorities and one we will continue to support and nurture.

By Tim Hammond, Director of Northern Accelerator.

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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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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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Challenge North East launched to fund solutions to solve COVID-19-related issues

The North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) is calling on the regional business community to help it solve some of the biggest Coronavirus-related problems.

Through Challenge North East, a new open innovation programme, the LEP is offering support to SMEs as it seeks to address critical issues facing the North East marketplace while it adapts to a COVID-19 world.

SMEs will be given up to £5k grant funding between January and March 2021 to develop solutions to specific challenges, 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 entitled: ‘Together again: Delivering safe and engaging in-person events’. This 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.

Those interested in helping solve this challenge are invited to attend a virtual launch event on 9 December to hear from organisations who are supporting Challenge North East, including The Baltic, Beamish Museum, The Sage Gateshead and Newcastle United Foundation, and learn about how you can apply to the fund with your solution.

Solutions could revolve around the creative direction of events, digital opportunities, COVID-19-related measures, how people move round venues, public confidence and more.

The second Challenge North East call is known as ‘Adapting In-Home Services’. COVID-19 has significantly disrupted the delivery of services in peoples’ homes, impacting safety, confidence and trust and increasing the need for new approaches. There is also a growing need to ensure in-home service standards remain high. This challenge will launch with a virtual event on 10 December, which will discuss the scope of the challenge and outline how you can apply to the fund with your solution.

Ideas for new ways of working and support for those who deliver and rely on in-home services will be well eligible for funding and development support. This challenge has been shaped by leading regional organisations from Housing Associations, Utilities, Community Support and Social Care, among others.

Alan Welby, director of innovation at the North East LEP, said: “Two of the best things about the North East are its entrepreneurial nature and collaborative spirit. Through Challenge North East, we want to harness both these things to resolve some of the issues that life with COVID-19 has presented.

“We’re confident that these two open innovation challenges will yield some excellent results and can’t wait to see what our regional businesses come back with.”

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

To sign up for one or both of the launch event, and for more information, please visit: www.challengenortheast.co.uk.

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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Universities support North East’s economic recovery: Innovation Northumbria: Incubator

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 from Northumbria University about it’s new Innovation Northumbria: Incubator, which supports its flourishing community of student and graduate start-ups, and provides opportunities for business partners to offer mentoring and financial backing.

Opened in October 2019 next to the University’s main campus, the state-of the-art facility provides high-quality support for student and graduate entrepreneurs, giving them the best possible opportunity to establish and grow thriving businesses.

The initiative has already received financial support from Santander Universities UK, Sir James Knott Trust, North East Times Magazine, Space Group and the North East LEP.

Northumbria is looking for additional support to set up an Enterprise Club, where members can offer pro-bono advice and expertise, and an Enterprise Fund through which they can pledge financial support to help fledgling start-ups develop proof-of-concept and feasibility business plans.

The initiative reinforces Northumbria’s reputation as a university that champions enterprise and innovation through its teaching, and the support it offers start-ups through the Student and Graduate Enterprise Service. Pioneering courses such as Entrepreneurial Business Management – where students run their own businesses – and the student-led consultancy service delivered on the Business Clinic programme, have also established Northumbria as a leader in entrepreneurial education.

The University has been ranked in the top three for graduate start-ups in the UK – based on estimated turnover – since 2011, including five years in first place. Businesses developed by Northumbria graduates had an estimated turnover on £84 million in 2018/19.

Since 2009, Northumbria has supported the development of nearly 300 new businesses which have led to the creation of more than 1,000 jobs, the vast majority of which are in the North East.

To find out more about the Innovation Northumbria: Incubator visit www.northumbria.ac.uk/incubatorlaunch.

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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Open innovation programme launched to help tackle COVID-19 issues and fast track solutions.

Businesses invited to detail what issues they are facing due to COVID-19 disruption.

A new programme has been launched by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, (North East LEP), that will seek to understand the common issues facing our region’s businesses due to COVID-19 and help to provide solutions to minimise the ongoing disruption.

Alan Welby, Innovation Director at the North East LEP, said: “Challenge North East is an open innovation programme to help solve some of our region’s most pressing practical problems when faced with COVID-19. And that’s what we’re good at in this region – coming together to solve problems – to resolve our challenges – and make things happen.

“We want to identify areas of shared concern, to invite solutions from the region’s innovators and then help fund the development of these problem-solving ideas.

“Right now, we are asking organisations to tell us what their issues are so we can see where there is common ground across sectors. We are keen to explore solutions to the challenges caused by our current inability to work and socialise in close proximity, disruptions caused in supply chains, new needs that have emerged, such as how we address the risk of digital services leaving behind those of us without digital skills. We want to hear from local industry about what their areas of focus are and then work together to quickly develop solutions that work.”

Challenge North East will be delivered by the Innovation SuperNetwork and the Digital Catapult North East Tees Valley.

Estelle Blanks, Executive Director of the Innovation SuperNetwork, said: “COVID-19 has disrupted so many aspects of our work and home lives and we need to work together as a region to support each other as we rebuild.  Our goal through this programme is to work with local industry and communities to identify where innovative solutions will have the biggest impact and to provide the framework and funding to make these solutions happen.

“The Innovation SuperNetwork team who are delivering this programme are passionate about delivering real value for the region and we are excited to work with businesses and communities to ensure we are focusing our attention in the right areas.”

Challenge North East will be rolled out over three phases, starting by bringing together large organisations and representatives of communities that have been impacted by COVID-19.

Through discovering the common themes faced by organisations and their stakeholders, the programme team can then launch a series of challenges for which solutions can be found that will work across multiple sectors and environments.

In the coming weeks, Virtual Round Tables will be held with participants to identify key challenges that need support over the next six to twelve months.

David Dunn of the Digital Catapult North East Tees Valley, said: “To get this programme off the ground, we will be hosting a series of Round Tables with representatives of industry and communities to identify the most common shared challenges and to agree how to tackle finding solutions for them.”

The first Round Table event, was held on 22 October and looked at the impact of COVID-19 on in-person events – for example theatre shows, play groups, and concerts along with public transport.

Organisations from other sectors facing ongoing Covid-related challenges are invited to share details with the Challenge North East team by emailing [email protected] and giving an outline of the challenge they are facing. Organisations that do so will be invited to participate in future Round Tables in early November.

Once the cross-cutting challenges have been identified, the programme will launch a call to the region’s innovators to develop solutions in collaboration with local leaders from industry, government, the third sector and research.

Alan Welby said: “At this stage, we are appealing to those organisations who are really hurting – tell us what the challenges are that you are facing. We’re not calling for the solutions just yet. To get this right, we need to understand the common issues businesses are dealing with and then we will look to see which ones we believe can be resolved through a fast-paced process of open innovation.

“We hope that by December we will be starting to work with companies who can help create solutions to develop and validate their ideas with potential clients.”

Successful solution providers will be awarded development funding to implement the solution and have it rolled out with challenge partners.

To find out more about Challenge North East, visit www.challengenortheast.co.uk

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.