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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.