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In conversation with Neil Spann, Managing Director of Big Solar

Many people struggle to describe innovation. What does it mean to you?

For me, innovation is about bringing new products or services to market that have the potential to make a difference. It is about not accepting the status quo and finding new ways to solve existing problems.

Can you explain a little about your specific role and what you do?

I am the Managing Director of Big Solar Limited. As a small start-up company this means that the role is pretty wide ranging – including making the tea! I spend most of my time working to raise new funds for the company, overseeing the development progress of our new solar technology, Power Roll, and working to develop relationships with third party suppliers and partners.

What does Big Solar do differently that sets it apart from its competitors?

Big Solar is developing Power Roll, which uses a new and unique method to harness the power of the sun. We are taking a completely different approach to generating solar power that should allow us to produce Power Roll at a fraction of the cost of existing solar panels which are currently largely manufactured in the Far East.

You recently won ENGIE’s Big Pitch UK competition. What does that mean to you and the business?

It was great for Power Roll to be recognised by such a large company as ENGIE. We are now working with ENGIE to see how we may be able to collaborate in the future.

Where does your workforce come from? Is the North East providing people with the right skills to lead this sector forward?

The majority of our Board and indeed the inventor of the Power Roll technology are from the North East. We are passionate about developing what could be a truly global product here in the North East. We have also recruited a research scientist who is from the region. We will continue to try and recruit from the North East talent pool where possible.

What could be done to improve the innovation sector in the North East?

I think the North East LEP is doing a great job in driving innovation in the region but there is always more that could be done, including fostering relationships between small companies working on new technologies with universities and larger corporates. Some specific local funding for innovative technologies would also be beneficial.

What are your ambitions for the renewables sector in the North East?

We would like to contribute to building the Northern Powerhouse although powered by renewable energy! We have some great universities and renewable energy companies in the North East and we can really make a difference.