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North East LEP supports National Innovation Strategy

The North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) has welcomed the National Innovation Strategy, published today 22 July 2021.

The UK Government has developed the Strategy to drive innovation across the UK.

Alan Welby, North East LEP Innovation Director, said: “The vision to make the UK a global hub for innovation by 2035 is ambitious and timely. I am immensely confident that the North East can play a key role in making that vision a reality.

“We’ve always known that innovative economies are more productive and therefore make a stronger contribution to GVA. That’s why in the North East, innovation has always been central to our Strategic Economic Plan that aims to create100,000 more and better jobs in the North East economy by 2024.  

“We welcome this strategy and the importance placed on levelling up. We are keen to see the strategy translated into new projects and programmes to deliver on the ambition for innovation, coupled with greater investment to match. The North East is ready to work with government to drive a step change in innovation activity across our region. We already have key programmes in place and a pipeline of strategic innovation projects that are investment ready.

“The strategy correctly places a focus on increasing private sector investment in R&D and innovation. Encouraging more businesses to innovate, beyond frontier firms, will be key to achieving the 2.4% R&D target and improving the UK’s productivity. We are ready to support our businesses to do this.”

“I’m encouraged by the emphasis on more places in the UK hosting world-leading and globally connected innovation clusters. We have assets, capability, talent and potential to realise that ambition and we look forward to working with government to deliver a place-based approach to unlock that potential.”

Find out more about innovation in the North East.

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Energy Innovation Challenge: Jumping Rivers

Esther Gillespie, Director of data science consultancy Jumping Rivers, explains how taking part in the Energy Innovation Challenge has opened up opportunities and funding for the business.

“I would totally recommend getting in contact with the North East Energy Catalyst, and certainly the Innovation Challenge has really been an exciting development for our company,” says Esther.

Find out about the Energy Innovation Challenge programme here.

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In conversation with Gillian Hall, North East LEP Innovation Board Chair, about the LEP’s annual review and the importance of creating an innovation culture in the region

The upheaval of the COVID-19 pandemic has led to increased levels of innovation across the North East. But how do you build on that, and create a culture that’s always proactively searching for competitive advantage and new opportunities?

We talked to the North East LEP’s Gillian Hall, Innovation Board Chair, about creating the confidence and ambition needed to build an innovative region.

When people talk about “innovation”, often they think about scientists locked away in labs.

However, innovation comes in many forms. There’s innovation where you find a competitive advantage, or where you do something differently – not just when you invent something or carry out scientific research.

Over the last year or so, I don’t think there’s any business that’s just “carried on as normal”. Everyone’s had to re-think something or shift how they work. And when you tell people that’s innovation, suddenly they realise: “Oh, I can do that”.

We’ve talked to a lot of businesses that have had to learn new ways of doing things. Maybe a company has had to consider sourcing new parts suppliers. Maybe another has moved all its sales to online platforms, and had to master different ways of advertising.

Many businesses have changed, or pivoted. But across the region, people have rolled up their sleeves and done what was needed.

The LEP team has been hugely resilient during this time, thinking of new ways to get their job done. And the collaboration across the region has been excellent, with businesses, local authorities and the voluntary sector working together.

That’s the key to creating a more innovative region. We want to create a problem-solving culture, where solutions just might come from outside your organisation. 

We launched Challenge North East, a COVID-19 open innovation pilot in November last year, encouraging ideas on how to manage safe, in-person events and home-based services. In all, 16 projects received a total of £200,000 in funding to help develop solutions. That also gave us a best practice model to use for future open innovation, challenge-led projects.

A big part of our work over the next five years will be to help build that culture of innovation. On top of that, we will make the best use of the money we have to pump prime innovation projects and partnerships; and will continue our conversations with government around our innovation strategy and what we need from government to help deliver it.

We’ll also be seeking to increase private sector investment into our innovative companies. We’ve been working on an interconnector project with the City of London Corporation which will showcase the work we’re doing in the region to City investors. We’ve also commissioned an Economic Markets Foresight Analysis to identify potential global opportunities for our businesses to take advantage of.

We’re very fortunate to have four great universities, which bring significant muscle and reputational impact to the region. The universities’ Northern Accelerator collaboration has already created 28 spin-out businesses since its inception in 2016. Keeping graduates in the region is also a major focus. There’s also a big role for our further education colleges, which will make sure that our people are trained for the jobs of the future.

After all, the LEP is here to create more and better jobs. You have to have businesses that have market leading products and services that people want to buy; those business will need skilled workers. We want to encourage business and the public and voluntary sectors to think differently, to collaborate in finding solutions to problems, and then create employment opportunities from those solutions.

In the end, it’s about helping to build confidence and ambition. It’s about staying true to the overall objectives of the region’s Strategic Economic Plan, and encouraging government, our local authorities, business and the education sectors to work together for the benefit of the region.

There’s still a lot of work to be done, so we should always be pushing to do more. That means getting people around the table, and coming up with new ways to do amazing things.

Gillian Hall is Chair of the Innovation Board at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership.

You can find out more about the North East LEP’s Innovation Programme at www.northeastlep.co.uk.

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Support available to develop innovation projects in preparation for future funding opportunities

North East organisations are being offered support from a team of innovation experts to prepare projects for future funding opportunities. Alan Welby, Innovation Director at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), explains how a pipeline of the most promising regional innovation projects and programmes in the North East is being championed on a national and international stage.

Securing funding for innovation-focused projects is a highly competitive process. Funding calls are regularly issued nationally or internationally, and bids must be extremely focused and well-developed if they’re to be successful.

That’s why we’re putting together a pipeline of North East projects which have the potential to have a real regional, national, and even international impact. Projects can come from any sector, but the important factor is that they are large in scale and have the promise to be successfully rolled out to domestic, commercial or industrial markets, and can help to increase investment in R&D and create new jobs in the North East.

The North East LEP can offer organisations support to ensure business cases are in the best possible shape to secure future investment and will act as a critical friend to help develop project ideas. We will help partners to identify public and private funding opportunities and ensure alignment with emerging strategic priorities. When funding calls open, we aim to have strong businesses cases ready from our pipeline and champion what our region has to offer.

We’ve already supported a range of North East innovation projects to secure £62.5 million of funding to support business case development and to move projects on to delivery. Examples include Northern Gas Network’s InTEGRel project and the Driving the Electric Revolution Centre North East project.

We’re now inviting more organisations to come forward and apply to join our official Innovation Project Pipeline, so if you have a project that’s in development, we’d love to hear from you.

We’re particularly keen to hear about projects that complement the North East’s existing strengths in digital, health and life sciences, advanced manufacturing or energy, as these are areas where we know the region has the potential to be a world-leader.

Working together as a region gives us strength, and by combining the drive and ambition of North East innovators with the expertise of the North East LEP team, we can set up our region’s businesses for success.

Find out more about joining the Innovation Project Pipeline.

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CHALLENGE NORTH EAST ANNOUNCES £125K FUNDING FOR TOP INNOVATION IDEAS

Ground-breaking solutions to the COVID-19 crisis will become reality thanks to the Challenge North East open innovation programme.

Challenge North East called on North East SMEs to put forward ideas that could help society recover from the impact of COVID-19.

Launched last year by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), the challenge attracted entries from over 60 SMEs.

16 SMEs were selected to receive support, introductions to potential clients and up to £5,000 to prototype their ideas. From these, seven businesses have now been chosen to receive the full funding needed to bring their products to market.

The successful SMEs are:

  • BelleVie – a third party marketplace and signposting platform providing details of services and support for older and vulnerable individuals – received £15,000.
  • DABS Official Ltd – anti-microbial and anti-viral gloves to reduce the spread of Covid – received £12,000.
  • NitroPep Ltd – an anti-microbial treatment for use on surfaces and within air filtration systems to kill Covid – received £25,000.
  • Southpaw Dance Company – an immersive digital application to allow theatre venues and companies to remotely connect with audiences – received £15,370.
  • Trench Networks – on-demand local area communications using 4G internet to establish voice call, camera and device monitoring capability for homes without WiFi – received £25,000.
  • TRL9 – an air filtration system to kill SARS/Covid – received £23,500.
  • Waterstons Ltd – a platform to provide a shared view of home visits across service providers to better respond to the needs of vulnerable and isolated individuals – received £5,000.

Challenge North East 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.

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: “The response to Challenge North East’s call for innovative solutions to help in the fight against COVID-19 has been absolutely tremendous.

“From the many SMEs that came forward with their fantastic ideas, to the local organisations and challenge supporters that were so open with the problems they were facing, we have seen a real spirit of hard work and collaboration in our region.

“We are delighted to now announce the seven businesses that have received the final funding. The standard of entries was extremely high but ultimately we felt these solutions will have the most impact across our communities as we begin to recover from COVID-19.”

Alan Welby, Director of Innovation at the North East LEP, said: “When we launched Challenge North East, it was our ambition to champion the North East as a hotspot for open innovation and problem solving and to make our businesses and communities more resilient.  The level of innovation we saw in the solutions generated in response to this was outstanding.

“We are delighted to award this funding to the seven businesses in the final round. This challenge has brought to the forefront solutions that will make a significant contribution to our efforts to enable the North East to recover and build back stronger from the coronavirus pandemic.”

Many local organisations lent their support to Challenge North East, including The Baltic, Beamish Museum, The Sage Gateshead and Sodexo along with Northern Gas Networks, ESH Group, Karbon Homes, Beyond Housing.

Challenge North East was funded through 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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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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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.

Ends

 

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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/.