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Innovation progress highlighted at key conference

The North East’s progress towards becoming an international centre for innovation is coming under the spotlight at a major conference in Newcastle.

Prof Roy Sandbach, who leads the North East Local Enterprise Partnership’s (LEP) strategic innovation strand, will be outlining the exciting programmes and projects that are underway in a keynote speech at Venturefest North East.

The one-day conference, bringing together business leaders, academics and innovation experts from across the UK, takes place at the NewcastleGateshead Hilton on Tuesday, October 21.

The North East LEP is now close to revealing the leadership and membership of its new Innovation Board, which will be central to co-ordinating and channelling the region’s innovative work. The appointments will form key building blocks in the enterprise partnership’s innovation strategy, which is already progressing strongly with the creation of a number of innovation hubs and networks.

The LEP has successfully secured funding for five of its six planned innovation projects through the Government’s Local Growth Deal.

The Centre for Innovation in Formulation, led by the Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) and to be based at NETPark, will receive £7.4m; £5.6m has been allocated for the Low Carbon Energy centre, to be based at Newcastle Science Central; £5.6m for the Newcastle Life Sciences Incubation Hub to be based at Newcastle University; £6.8m for the NETPark Infrastructure Phase 3; and £3.5m for the Sunderland Enterprise and Innovation Hub, to be hosted at Sunderland University, which also includes the internationally important FabLab.

Prof Sandbach will also outline the region’s growing strategic engagement with the Government-backed ‘catapult centres’ which aim to develop and commercialise innovative products and technologies.

CPI is part of the Advanced Manufacturing catapult. Additionally, one of the first three Space Satellite catapult regional centres of excellence is to be set up in County Durham. The North East LEP is also working with universities and business groups to ensure the region can benefit from opportunities offered by the new Connected Digital Economy, Offshore Renewables and Future Cities catapults.

The enterprise partnership has set out a programme for achieving its innovative aims for the region in its Strategic Economic Plan (SEP). Prof Sandbach will update the audience on progress towards the three priority projects – creating an innovation supernetwork to join up ideas and developments across the region, the acceleration of commercialising innovative ideas from the North East universities, and the innovation projects programme, which is an open call for new ideas that require funding.

The second phase of the programme includes the £25m catalytic competitions, which will be the subject of Venturefest workshops during the afternoon. The two contests will each offer funding of £12.5m to develop innovative ideas that stimulate collaboration in business sectors with the potential to offer major competitive advantage for the region.

Delegates at the event will have the chance to discuss the themes for the contests, which will bring together stakeholders from universities and SMEs as well as end users, whose input will be vital in commercialising the successful projects.

Prof Sandbach said: “The NELEP’s innovation strategy is all about creating a regional hub for development and commercialisation that will put the North East on the international innovation map. We need to be able to communicate our ideas and successes to the global economy, and the appointment of the new Innovation Board will help achieve that.

“We are making great organisational and programme definition progress towards our goals. Right now, we are putting the vital building blocks in place for our strategy. The opportunity to consult and share ideas with partners and stakeholders at Venturefest will play an important role in ensuring we have a solid foundation to build on when the funding is released.”