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International innovation expert takes up key role at North East LEP

Eminent commercial innovator Professor Roy Sandbach has agreed to work with North East Local Enterprise Partnership as part of its drive to make this part of the UK an internationally recognised centre for innovation growth.

In his role Professor Sandbach will be mapping out the future of innovation networks that will reach from the North East across the globe. His work will underpin what Lord Adonis called “a bold manifesto for change” by focusing on the application of open innovation and smart specialisation principles across the North East LEP area.

Roy Sandbach is an internationally recognised name in innovation with over 30 years at Procter & Gamble, the global consumer products company and renowned innovation powerhouse. His innovation background stretches from invention, with a multi-million dollar US business to his name, through to many marketplace new product introductions. He has rich experience of P&G’s world-leading open innovation approach. He is currently the 10th David Goldman visiting Professor of Innovation & Enterprise at Newcastle University Business School.

He said: “I have spent much of my career working to create wealth through innovation in a major global organisation. Now I have the opportunity to put some of those skills to use for the benefit of my home region. I am convinced that there are huge opportunities to apply some collaborative open innovation principles and processes to the way we innovate here.

“We already have outstanding skills and capabilities within the region, with great innovative talent already built into our SMEs, our blue-chips and institutions. The North East LEP’s innovation panel will aim to enable these capabilities work better together, building innovative momentum.”

The work that Professor Sandbach is doing will be the foundation of an innovation eco-system that attracts new talent, fosters local business and sets an agenda for change and development that can be equally applied to advanced manufacturing, the creative industries, financial and business services as well as the co-production of public services.

Based on the principles of open innovation, Professor Sandbach will consider how to strengthen areas such as the contribution of applied research, specialist testing, prototyping and scale-up facilities, specialist accommodation and venture finance, as well as identifying gaps in the wider areas of business support, skills and infrastructure.

Professor Sandbach has some clear ideas of how he sees open innovation being put into practice to benefit the region.

“At this early stage, my vision for open innovation has four elements. First, to better and rigorously engage our businesses and universities with more major global players. Nearly all multinationals have a publicly stated open innovation strategy. We need to get them here in a truly co-ordinated way, encourage top-to-top dialogue and show them how our businesses, especially our SMEs, can solve their problems,” he said.

“Second, we have already established some brilliant examples of open innovation hubs in the region, we have a new one proposed for the subsea sector and I know that open, collaborative thinking is at the core of forward-thinking efforts in life sciences, design, automotive and beyond. Physical centres of innovation with unique facility, equipment or skill derived capability are, and will continue to be, beacons in the global innovation landscape. We need to listen to the needs of innovation centre and science park leaders and help them to build and re-apply further collaborative, open practices. The greater the sense of dynamic innovation in our centres of excellence, the more likely that the North East will be seen as a destination for innovation investment.

“Third, we need to build the best innovation networks in the world. Innovation is often matching ‘what’s possible’ with ‘what’s needed’. Great networks facilitate that link. We already have several outstanding networked systems in the region….and we are a region that has the kind of reasonable scale that makes networking easier. I would like the Innovation Panel to find ways to help all our networks to operate even better.

“Finally, we must offer great training in the concepts of innovation process and culture. We must challenge ourselves to create learning opportunities for business leaders in the North East to engage on these subjects here, inside the region. And this is not just about reaching out to innovation leaders and the R&D community. It is absolutely critical that these concepts are embedded in the thinking and vocabulary of other critical groups including public sector leaders, SME chief executives, leaders of educationand the financial sector. I am hoping that the prestigious university business schools in the LEP area will step forward and collaborate on this one.”

Professor Sandbach is currently listening to many innovation leaders across the North East, taking in their insights and advice. He added: “We are all after the same thing – more creative innovation, managed with efficiency and momentum. This will lead to more jobs and build the open innovation brand for the region. With the support of the whole business community and public bodies, I’m sure that we can make the rest of the world sit up and take notice.”

Will Hutton, chair of the Big Innovation Centre and a member of the North East Independent Economic Review team, welcomed the appointment of Roy Sandbach to the LEP’s innovation panel. He said: “Roy is exceptionally well versed in the benefits of open innovation, and is a first-rate appointment by the North East LEP.

“To drive the North East ahead in a highly competitive global environment, the area has to offer something distinctive, and it can do this through open innovation. This is vital to building the high value industries of the future. “

Paul Woolston, chair of the North East LEP said: “This fabulous offer from Roy Sandbach marks an exciting move for us, and underlines the breadth of talent and support for our Partnership. Roy’s commitment, energy and expertise will drive our innovation strategy which in turn will provide a route for us to compete on the world stage, create highly skilled jobs and involve local people in the area’s growth and success.”

Further information from Christine Holland, Holland PR & Marketing Ltd. Tel 01670 790246 or 07711 698246.