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Learning from cross-border innovation in Europe

During the last two years, the North East has been taking part in a pan-European project which aims to encourage open innovation and harness the potential of sharing knowledge across borders.

Andy Leigh, Project Coordinator at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), explains how taking part in this project will help to shape North East innovation challenges in the future, including a programme which aims to help businesses impacted by COVID-19.

Back in early 2018, the North East was selected to take part in the INVITE Open Innovation pilot project, along with colleagues from various countries across Europe. The aim was to facilitate cross-border collaboration and test ways of encouraging an open culture of innovation between SMEs.

Businesses from the North East were invited to take part in a series of challenges, partnering with SMEs from Europe to develop solutions to real-world problems faced by multinational manufacturers such as Nissan, Caterpillar and Komatsu.

Alongside these challenges, the Open Innovation Lab provided various avenues of support to encourage open innovation, including e-learning, help with attracting finance and investment, and grants of up to €5,000 to help bring new products and services to market.

In total, 10 North East SMEs from a range of sectors completed the programme, each pairing with a European counterpart to work together, share knowledge and develop solutions to problems faced in industry.

Taking part in INVITE was a win-win situation for us, allowing businesses in our region to share their knowledge with others and gain from the knowledge, learning and support offered as part of the programme. And it has also led to new ways of working which we will now apply to future innovation challenges we will be running in the North East, including Challenge North East, the COVID-19 Open Innovation Challenge which is launching very soon, and which will help develop solutions to some of the problems businesses in our region are facing because of the pandemic.

Collaborating with partners across Europe allowed us to see how online tools – which of course are more important now than ever before – can support innovation, and how matching businesses with each other can lead to better problem-solving and new insights.

Above all, the project showed how collaboration can lead to a better, more open culture of innovation, and better results than working alone to solve problems.

We will be bringing this open innovation approach to bear as we launch Challenge North East and come together as a region to help those businesses which are facing new, COVID-related challenges.

Is your business facing new problems caused by COVID-19? Or are you an innovator who could help find new solutions to these challenges? Find out about Challenge North East and how to take part here.

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New Science and Innovation Audit identifies ways the North East can prepare for Industry 4.0 – the fourth industrial revolution.

The integration of digital technologies into manufacturing is a major opportunity for businesses in the North East according to the findings of a new Science and Innovation audit.

Through a new audit of the region’s advanced manufacturing and digital sectors, the North East LEP and partners have identified opportunities for businesses in the automotive, pharmaceutical and chemical manufacturing sectors to build links with the North East digital sector, increasing the region’s competitiveness in the global marketplace.

James Davies, North East LEP Innovation Programme Manager, said: “In the North East we have a reputation for making things and making them well and our goods and products remain the source of the majority of our exports. However, the way we make these goods is continually changing and the region must prepare for this next great shift. We see the potential for links between the digital and advanced manufacturing sectors leading to new types of products and services.

“Our Applied Digital Technologies Science and Innovation Audit (SIA) was carried out in partnership with organisations across the North East and Tees Valley, with the aim of understanding more about how Industry 4.0 will impact on some of the North East’s biggest businesses.”

Based on a proposition set out by the German Government, Industry 4.0 refers to the next stage in manufacturing that uses new, digital and real-time approaches to production to meet demand for more complex, individualised and digitally enabled products.

The North East LEP worked with Tees Valley Combined Authority, local business and sector organisations, universities and the national Catapult Centres for Digital (North East and Tees Valley) and High Value Manufacturing (CPI) to carry out the SIA, gathering information on the opportunities and challenges facing three of the North East’s biggest manufacturing sectors: automotive, chemicals and pharmaceuticals.

The audit also looked into how the region’s digital sector can provide solutions, for example by using digital technologies to drive efficiency and competitiveness within the manufacturing process.

James Davies added: “We knew there was already work being done in the North East to use digital technologies to make our manufacturing more productive and competitive and the audit has helped to show what can be done to support more of this type of integration. We found opportunities to accelerate the adoption of digital technologies within advanced manufacturing businesses in the region, including actions that will help overcome the barriers to uptake.

“The digitisation of manufacturing is a major opportunity for us here in the North East and we will now be working with partners to roll out delivery of the recommendations from the audit.”

A summary of the Applied Digital Technologies in Advanced Manufacturing Science and Innovation Audit can be read here, while the full report can be downloaded here.


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Funding available for early stage Innovation projects

The North East is already home to excellent innovation assets supporting key sectors and facilitating open-innovation across our themes; but we know there are gaps and areas where we could do more. The North East Local Enterprise Partnership (North East LEP) is therefore inviting bids from early stage innovation projects to come forward for development stage funding that will help to prepare Business Cases that can help deliver the ambition set out in our Strategic Economic Plan.

Projects that are able to demonstrate clear links to the SEP and key Government policy (such as the Industrial Strategy), and are anticipated to be over £5m in scale are encouraged to come forward. Funding available through this call is to support the costs of getting projects ready to produce a HM Treasury Compliant, Five-Point Business Case – the funds are not for projects at implementation/build stage.

We anticipate that the North East LEP will be asked to fund around 50% of the costs of the development of a project (subject to State Aid). While there is not upper or lower limit attached to this, but the eventual ‘full’ projects should be anticipated to be of a significant scale (i.e. of at least £5m capital build cost).

Prospective applicants, who can be from public, private or voluntary sector, are encouraged in the first instance to read the Project Call Information document in addition to with other supporting information which can be found on our funding page.


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North East Local Enterprise Partnership appoints Innovation Director

The North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) has appointed a highly-experienced Innovation Director.

Alan Welby will lead the LEP’s Innovation Programme, which aims to drive delivery of key programmes and stimulate investment in innovation and its ecosystem in the North East of England.

Alan joins the LEP from Liverpool John Moores University, where he was Director of Research, Innovation and Partnerships and was responsible for the delivery and management of a £25.7m annual programme of community, commercial and collaborative activity.

Alan said: “I am delighted to join the LEP as Innovation Director. I am very pleased to be working back in the North East and am looking forward to delivering results.

“I have always wanted to make a positive difference and this role will allow me to do so as innovation is so important when it comes to competing in a global economy.

“I am inheriting a lot of good work and the North East has a great track record in cutting-edge innovation.

“It is a very exciting time for innovation in the region and I am looking forward to getting started.”

Alan graduated from the University of Newcastle in 1994, with a BA (Hons) in Government and European Community Studies.

As Innovation Director, he will also play a pivotal role in helping to deliver the North East Strategic Economic Plan (SEP).

Helen Golightly, Executive Director, said: “We are determined to define the North East as an innovation hot spot in Europe – an exemplar in ‘smart specialisation’ and open innovation systems and practice.

“We are therefore thrilled to welcome someone of Alan’s calibre to the team. We are confident his skills and vast experience in the innovation field will help us achieve our goal.”

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Growing the contribution of the North East pharmaceuticals sector

In conversation with Martin Inskip of First for Pharma

As the UK Government is framing its new Industrial Strategy and is working through the issues involved in leaving the European Union, First for Pharma (FFP) and the Centre for Process Innovation (CPI), supported by the North East LEP, have worked together on a new report which aims to profile the North East pharmaceutical sector and identify how its economic contribution can be enhanced in the region.

The North East sector was identified as one of the key opportunity areas in the refreshed North East SEP published in March 2017 and was profiled in Sir John Bell’s report to Government in preparation for the planned sector deal.

The new report on the North East’s pharmaceutical sector is based on both analysis of published data and a series of interviews with 12 of the main manufacturing companies in the region, who employ 3500 people between them.

The findings demonstrate the economic importance of the sector nationally and regionally. The report highlights:

• A well-established and diverse sector with different business models, technology ranges and scales of production with an international reputation for business resilience and regulatory reliability.

• A unique profile in UK terms including a number of contract development and contract manufacturers, key supply chain companies and large multinational drug developers. Together, the region’s manufacturers have full capability to develop drug manufacturing processes for clinical development and commercial supply of tableted medicines.

• International ownership including investments from the United States, Japan and India, as well as from the UK.

• A GVA contribution to the UK estimated to be between £0.73 billion and £1.28 billion annually, with an average of 86% of their products being exported with 64% of exports going to the United States.

• For the region, the sector employs between 4,300 and 5,300 people and contributes £450-£790 million to the region’s Gross Value Added (GVA). Including indirect and induced effects, the North East pharmaceutical manufacturing industry supports between 18,800 and 23,500 jobs across the UK and adds £0.73-£1.28 billion to the UK economy.

• Almost 2000 jobs are in high value research or manufacturing roles with the largest cohort aged between 31 and 50 (49%). The quality and stability of the employees in the local labour force is one of the North East’s competitive advantages and the size and sector stability means there are opportunities to build careers in the region. The sector is growing and expecting to recruit additional jobs to its current manufacturing and research workforce this financial year (2017-2018).

The research highlights a number of opportunities and challenges, including strengthening the profile, performance and contribution of the sector through innovation investment and skills, and stimulating more employment in the region through investment and through the supply chain and logistics. It also highlights the importance of a good outcome to the Brexit discussions, where the regulatory regime is seen as crucial and regulatory disruption seen as a significant threat.

The report identifies the following recommendations:

• Supply chain strategy: Development of a supply chain and logistics strategy: work should be undertaken to understand opportunities to strengthen the supply chain in the region and identify opportunities for improving the logistics support, including taking advantage of the North East’s growing digital capabilities.

 Innovation: work to foster the following innovation capabilities in the North East should include ultra-high potency manufacturing; the application of continuous manufacturing for drug manufacturers and smart pharmaceutical delivery including packaging, sensing and new formulations as well as process developments including application of digital, robotic and low carbon technologies.

• Skills: the sector should work with the North East LEP to develop a clearer analysis of the current skills gaps, potential future needs and inform the content of these initiatives.

• Regulatory Environment: The continuing importance of the regulatory environment should be promoted and concerns about the impact of the vote to leave the European Union should be communicated during the current period of consultation on the negotiations.

• Co-ordination: Co-ordination within the sector and with other parts of North East industry should be enhanced to take these recommendations forward regionally and nationally.

Download or read a copy of the full report here.

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North East says better connectivity is key to improving productivity

Business and regional bodies say improved connectivity can drive productivity growth across much of the UK and contribute to closing the gap between the best and worst performing regions, according to a new study published today by HS2 Ltd.

Drawing on evidence from over 100 employers, local authorities and universities across the UK, HS2: Getting the best out of Britain, highlights the regional strengths of highly skilled manufacturing clusters, universities and research centres, and cutting edge technology entrepreneurs, but warns that more needs to be done to draw them together and realise their full potential. In the North East, the report shows how HS2 will help close the productivity gap by:

  • Making it easier for businesses across the North East connect, both to each other, and to the manufacturing plants, suppliers, universities and research centres in York, Nottingham, Derby and Birmingham as well as new sources of finance, particularly in London;
  • Encouraging collaboration in the knowledge based industries in the region, in particular the software technology, gaming and creative businesses based in Newcastle and the growing number of software companies in Sunderland and DigitalCity on Teeside;
  • Better connect the region’s exporters by cutting journey times from Newcastle to Heathrow Airport by 1 hour and 20 minutes.

HS2 services will join the existing rail network near York, with trains continuing to serve Darlington, Durham and Newcastle, providing faster and more reliable journeys to the East Midlands, Birmingham and London.

David Higgins, Chairman of HS2 Ltd said:

“This report is the evidence that HS2 will boost productivity in the north and midlands. This is a once in a generation opportunity to join up and amplify the many centres of excellence around the country, as we prepare to exit the European Union.

“By improving the connectivity between our major population centres HS2 will give business access to the skills, labour and services they need to change the economic geography of the country.”

Chris Grayling MP, Secretary of State for Transport said:

“This study clearly shows transport investment is crucial to a strong and resilient economy. That’s why we are investing in all forms of transport including the biggest rail modernisation programme for over a century to improve services for passengers – providing faster and better trains with more seats.

“As Britain’s new railway, HS2 will deliver vital links between some of our country’s biggest cities, driving economic growth and productivity and helping to deliver the Government’s Industrial Strategy.

“By bringing our major cities, regions and communities closer together we are encouraging business and innovation and building a Britain that is fit for the future with a stronger economy and fairer society.”

The North East is home to over 2.5 million people and contributes more than £45 billion annually to the UK economy. Yet in the Newcastle city region, productivity is 87% of national average, and in the Tees Valley, 90% of the national average. Across the North East, only manufacturing has a level of productivity close to the average for England.

In terms of talent, the report shows that world-leading skills and research in the North East can match that of London and the South East. Cities and regions in the Midlands and North account for 32% of the UK’s research staff working in universities with high quality research, compared to 35% in London and the South East, and high quality universities produce thousands of graduates every year.

Despite this, employers in the North are still held back by a lack of access to skills, frequently citing lack of skills as a barrier to growth. At the same time London continues to attract graduates from around the country with nearly half of its population at NVQ4 qualification level or above, compared to 30% in the North East and Tees Valley.

The report, to be launched at an event in Nottingham later today, demonstrates that by joining up the major conurbations around the country, HS2 will enable a greater pooling of people and capital around the regions of the UK. This connectivity will enable businesses in the North and the Midlands to gain better access to new markets, investments, and become more globally attractive.

Jonathan Walker, Head of Policy and Campaigns, North East England Chamber of Commerce said:

“We were pleased to contribute to this report and welcome its findings, which make clear the substantial economic impact first-class connectivity can bring to a region.  We have backed investment in high-speed rail in order to improve the capacity and reliability of the national rail network.

“When fully integrated alongside other planned improvements to regional rail and public transport infrastructure, HS2 has the potential to unlock significant investment in North East England”.

Helen Golightly, Executive Director at the North East LEP, said:

“The impact of HS2 trains on the North East is more than simply a reduction in journey times, it will enable faster and stronger business connections between the North East economy and other centres across the North and beyond. The North East is a forward-thinking centre for innovation and industry and we will be working to maximise the benefits for the region of this improved connectivity.”

In addition, the study finds that by bringing major cities closer together, HS2 would further support the distribution of the £17bn professional services market around the whole country. With office costs up to 80% cheaper in the North compare to London, and salaries up to 40% lower, huge efficiency savings can be made. Prime office rents in Newcastle are for example, one fifth of rents in the West End of London.

Comparing London’s highly-efficient transport network with the connectivity that exists within and between city regions in the Midlands and the North, the study argues that there is a direct link between productivity and connectivity.

HS2 will serve around 30m people and directly serve 25 stations, joining up the dots between where we are now, and where we could get to as a country – a combination of more capacity and better connectivity will improve accessibility, and, therefore, productivity in the Midlands and the North – at the same time as easing the pressure on London.


HS2: Getting the best out of Britain here.

Download the North East regional briefing here.


Case studies:

Centre for Process Innovation – Redcar


The Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) is a UK based technology innovation centre and the process arm of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult. Established to support the UK process manufacturing industry, CPI collaborates with universities, SMEs and large corporates to help overcome innovation challenges and develop next generation products and processes. Operating across a broad range of technologies, we support our partners at every step of the way; from concept to market; business support to technology development; from scale up to supply chain intervention.

Leaf FM – Newcastle


Leaf, a mobile application, uses their online community to enable its users to discover, connect, and support music artists. It was founded in Newcastle in 2014.


Notes to Editors

HS2 Ltd media team contact details:

  • Monday to Friday (9am to 5pm) 020 7944 6149
  • Out of hours & weekends 020 7944 0550

Background information

The Government gave the go ahead for a UK high speed rail network, called High Speed Two (HS2), on 10 January 2012.

HS2 will be a Y-shaped rail network providing direct, high capacity, high speed rail links between London and Birmingham and on to Leeds and Manchester. HS2 will improve capacity across the rail network, shorten journey times between Britain’s major cities, boost the UK economy and create tens of thousands of jobs.

In 2012, HS2 Ltd submitted proposals to the Secretary of State for Phase Two of the project from the West Midlands to Leeds and Manchester. The Government announced its initial preferred route for Phase Two on 28 January 2013 and the public consultation on these proposals ran from 17 July 2013 to 31 January 2014.

The HS2 hybrid Bill for Phase One of the new railway between London and the West Midlands (effectively the ‘in-principle’ planning application for the scheme) was deposited in Parliament on 25 November 2013.

MPs debated and approved second reading of the High Speed Rail (hybrid) Bill for construction and operation of the line between London and the West Midlands in the House of Commons on 28 April 2014. MPs voted 452 to 41 to agree the second reading of the Bill.  Royal Assent, which grants powers for construction of the Phase One route, was awarded on 23 February 2017.

In November 2015 the Government confirmed the section of the Phase Two route between Fradley, at the northern end of Phase 1, and Crewe. Known as Phase 2a it will open in 2027 and deliver the benefits of high speed rail to Crewe; Manchester; north west England; north Wales and Scotland six years earlier than planned.

The Government made an announcement on the rest of the Phase Two route serving Manchester on the western leg, and the East Midlands, South Yorkshire and Leeds on the eastern leg on 15 November 2016.

HS2 Ltd is a company wholly owned by the Department for Transport (DfT). It is responsible for design, engineering and construction of HS2.


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5G North East consortium appoints project director

5G North East, the consortium leading the development of the region’s plan to create a national 5G testbed has appointed a highly-experienced project director.

Xavier Priem will lead the drive to position the North East as a key focus for the UK’s 5G revolution.

Xavier has extensive experience working for multiple telecom suppliers, their customers and, network operators. He has established specialist 5G research and innovation centres and projects across Europe.

His appointment comes as the Government is looking to establish the UK as a global leader in 5G enabled communications and is seeking to establish a group of testbeds to trial the technology.

Xavier said: “This is a fantastic chance to establish a transformative ecosystem that will create new jobs and economic opportunities for the North East.

“I come from the North East of France which has in many ways followed a similar trajectory as the North East of England, reinventing itself and generating new economic opportunities in technology and innovation following the decline of traditional industries.

“Having the opportunity to contribute to establishing the North East as a technology- enabled innovation powerhouse within the UK and global community is a very exciting role to undertake.

“I am looking forward to helping to create 5G North East and delivering new economic value and improved services for people in the region. Success for 5G North East will see the generation of new jobs, the bringing of new industries to the region and the creation of new opportunities for local businesses to develop high value services on a 5G network that will provide operators with testing capabilities. It will ultimately lead to wider roll out and better mobile services to the general public.”

Xavier’s previous posts include three years as business development and portfolio manager at the French Institute of Research and Technology (IRT) B-COM.

Andrew Hodgson, Chair of the North East LEP, one of the consortium partners, said: “The North East partners are committed to producing a strong and long term programme that will showcase the region’s suitability as a testbed and lead to a sustainable 5G delivery system in the region.

“We are delighted to welcome Xavier to the team. We are confident his experience in research, project management and commercialisation strategy, and his vast technical, commercial and global network knowledge will help position and elevate the North East’s reputation in the 5G ecosystem.”

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In Conversation: An innovative legacy: Hans Möller reflects on his time at the North East LEP

Two and a half years after joining the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), its Innovation Director Hans Möller is moving onto pastures new. Here he reflects on key achievements during his time in the role.

I look back at the last two and a half years with a sense of pride and a sense of sadness. Sadness to be leaving this incredible region, but pride for everything that has been achieved during my time here.

When I joined the North East LEP in March 2015 I had two aspirations; to transform the North East and help it regain its reputation as an innovation hotspot. This region led the industrial revolution and I had a very clear vision that we could do this again in a variety of ways.

As I leave, I am confident in saying that by embedding innovation as a matter of course within business, we are well on our way. One look at the smart spec areas set out in the Strategic Economic Plan (SEP) and we are not just performing well but thriving. And it’s thanks to a team approach that we’ve been able to achieve this.

Within the last seven days alone, it’s been announced that the North East is at the heart of the UK’s globally important offshore renewable energy sector. We’ve also just been chosen as a national testbed for a 5G trial.

These things happen by design, not by chance.

They happen through collaborations between likeminded people who place ego aside to put the region’s needs first. And it pays off.

An open mind to a new approach

The North East LEP’s team is a small one but it punches above its weight. I am grateful for the fact the Board was open to transforming its approach and to cascading smart spec thinking through all its programmes of activity, from Finance and Investment and Business Growth, right through to Skills and Enterprise Zones.

Since my arrival many projects that were previously only on paper have been realised thanks to this and our excellent partnerships. Consider the Centre for Innovation in Formulation based at NETPark, where the National Centre for Heathcare Photonics will also open next year. The Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) has been instrumental in making these happen.

Newcastle’s Science Central boasts a National Innovation Centre for Ageing which is being funded by Newcastle University and the Medical Research Council.

These are just a couple of examples and there are many, many more.

Take the Innovation SuperNetwork, which two years ago was just a line in the SEP. Now it’s an eight-strong team supporting business growth and delivering inspiring events such VentureFest, Finance Camp and the Innovation Challenge.

The Innovation Observatory in Newcastle even has dashboards which allow us to measure how well or poorly the North East is performing in terms of innovation. This is critical to success because we must keep up the momentum and continue to lead from the front.

A healthy pipeline

Best of all, the work isn’t anywhere near finished yet. There is a very healthy pipeline of projects still to be delivered, including the International Advanced Manufacturing Park (IAMP) near Nissan and the commercialisation of intelligent pharmaceutical packaging through a consortium that the CPI is involved in.

I really look forward to seeing the outcome of all the latest investment and to following the North East’s next steps from a short distance. As I head off, I’d like to thank those I’ve worked with for making me so welcome and wish you all the best.


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In conversation: The value of university spinouts

Dr Tim Hammond is Director of Commercialisation & Economic Development, Research and Innovation Services at Durham University. Here, he discusses the quality and value of university spinouts and the collaborative research commercialisation project recently launched by Durham and Newcastle Universities:

“A recent article in Money Week highlights the growth in value of spin-out companies that have arisen from research at UK universities, whose combined turnover is now £1.84bn per annum and rising. The article goes on to describe how academics and their parent universities are increasingly embracing the idea of setting up new firms to exploit their discoveries. It is also refreshing to see that amongst the spin-out stars of the future that the article highlights, that alongside the “Golden Triangle” Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial spin-outs, Durham University spin-out Kromek Limited is also tipped for success.

Recognising that still more can be done to create north east companies like Kromek, Newcastle and Durham Universities have recently launched their collaborative research commercialisation project.

With strong support from the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), and part funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), this project sets out to attract experienced, dynamic business leaders to work with University spin-out ventures at an early stage, working alongside the founding academic and technology transfer offices to develop and lead a strong management team to take the business forward. The project targets the creation of 15 successful, high technology spin-out companies by October 1, 2019.

The ultimate objective of the project is the creation of a new innovation-based eco-system where talented business leaders will be attracted to high-tech, innovative commercial opportunities both created and developed in the north east of England. Through contracting highly skilled experts at the pre-commercial funding stage, this project will allow the universities to attract a suitable person to the venture at an early stage, thus giving university start-ups a much greater chance at success.”

For individuals interested in engaging with this project, please contact:

Newcastle University: David Huntley
Durham University: Michael Bath 

Dr Tim Hammond is Director Commercialisation & Economic Development, Research and Innovation Services at Durham University. He also sits on the North East LEP Innovation Board.

A chemist by background, Tim has broad industrial experience working within research and product development within large corporates including ICI and Astra Zeneca, and at technical director Level, within a local plc (Applied Optical Technologies).