Creating the right environment for innovation and growth

Our focus on innovation is about accelerating economic growth, but also about making sure that it produces long-lasting benefits for the City Region and everyone who lives and works here, says Roger Marsh OBE DL in his latest column for the Yorkshire Post.

The Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership, working in partnership with Leeds City Council, the University of Leeds and business leaders, recently welcomed delegates from all over the world to our City Region for a three-day workshop, as part of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Programme (MIT REAP).

MIT REAP is a two-year programme that brings together teams from cities, countries and regions across the world to learn from each other and the faculty at MIT on how harnessing the power of innovation can accelerate economic growth, job creation and social change.

Since 2012, more than 50 nations and cities such as Beijing, Tokyo and Qatar have taken part. Our group includes teams from Campania in Italy, Central Denmark, Guayaquil in Ecuador, Kentucky USA, Lebanon, Monterrey in Mexico, Oslo and Sydney.

During the programme, regions bid to host an international workshop and it is a tremendous accolade that the City Region was chosen. MIT identified the City Region as having the right ingredients to create a truly remarkable environment to support enterprise and inclusive growth.

Showcasing innovation across Leeds City Region

As part of the Leeds City Region showcase, we hosted an Innovation Exchange event at the University of Leeds’s innovation hub, Nexus, with an exhibition of organisations and networks that support access to talent, technology and investors. Nexus, part-funded by the LEP through our £1 billion Growth Deal with Government, is helping businesses more easily access the university’s world-class research expertise and to help take new ideas from concept to market and drive business growth.

We also took our delegates on ‘innovation ecosystem’ tours, designed to reveal how the City Region is inspiring innovation in key sectors. There was a focus on Leeds City Region’s nationally and internationally significant healthcare technology industry and the support that has inspired a diverse range of medical technology and digital health entrepreneurs in Leeds for many years. Combined with our position as a UK-wide centre for NHS decision-making, Leeds City Region is uniquely placed to further develop healthcare innovation as a key sector for future growth.

Our participation in MIT REAP is important, because innovation is absolutely vital to the future prosperity of the City Region. We want to be known as a place where entrepreneurs can start and grow their businesses and where they can come together with government, industry, finance and academia as a collective force. We want to foster an environment where people can access the right networks and funding to take their ideas to the next level.

Our focus on innovation is about accelerating economic growth, but also about making sure that it produces long-lasting benefits for the City Region and advances our inclusive growth agenda.

Harnessing innovation to improve lives 

Central to our strategic aims is that growth has to deliver benefits for the wider society. One way increased innovation helps is that it goes hand in hand with improved productivity – and productivity is one of the strongest drivers in raising living standards.

Raising productivity across the City Region in line with the UK average would be worth billions a year to our economy. Helping our businesses become more innovative and productive, and creating and supporting a dynamic business environment, will create demand for higher level skills. In turn, this will be a driver of better jobs, raising prosperity and aspirations.

The insights we have gained from participating in MIT REAP have already had an impact, helping to inform the development of the Local Industrial Strategy, which we intend to publish in the coming months.

One of the most important insights has been the need to develop holistic strategies that can tackle long-term issues. We don’t want to apply sticking plasters to problems, which can fix the visible symptoms while failing to address their causes. Instead we want to bring about change in a deep and lasting way.

Long after our international visitors have left and the MIT REAP programme has come to an end, the legacy of our participation will be how well we have been able to put in place strategies to make a real and tangible difference to the lives of everyone who lives and works in the City Region.

On the right tracks for the future 

As an example of how we are supporting the industries of the future, the LEP in partnership with the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, is investing £13 million of Growth Deal funding in the Institute of High Speed Rail and System Integration, being developed at the University of Leeds. This new £80 million rail research centre has the potential to revolutionise the way HS2 and other major rail projects are delivered. HS2 is one of the largest infrastructure projects in Europe and the emphasis now is on getting the project delivered in a cost-effective manner.

This is a great opportunity for the Institute of High Speed Rail and System Integration which can apply the very latest engineering and scientific developments to make sure that objective is met, while ensuring that the country has an efficient, high speed rail system that is among the finest in the world. The institute will also deliver significant economic benefits and helping the Leeds City Region become a UK centre for high speed rail engineering.

Roger Marsh OBE DL is Chair of the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership and the NP11 group of Northern local enterprise partnerships. This article originally appeared in the Yorkshire Post.