By Professor Bob Cryan
Innovation -the heart of the businesses and entrepreneurs who are driving forward to develop tomorrow’s inventions, today.
Leeds City Region has the potential to be an engine of UK innovation; we have one of the largest concentrations of universities in Europe, a dynamic SME base, a proud history of manufacturing and engineering innovation, and significant expertise in future growth industries including the digital, health and low carbon sectors. As a LEP, we know that successful regions must create a culture of innovation that enables SMEs, larger firms, entrepreneurs and institutions to facilitate, accelerate, champion and retain innovation.
In July last year, I joined the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership Board and was honoured to be asked to Chair the Business, Innovation and Growth Panel. The Panel brings together expertise from both the public and private sectors and also Higher Education and Further Education, all working to the common goal of stimulating business growth and competitiveness. The Panel has four priorities; inward investment, exporting, SME growth and innovation. Innovation is key to above trend economic growth in the future and that is why we as a LEP are doing all we can to enable businesses to thrive in this area.
To ensure we are equipped to support all 106,000 businesses in the region to the best of our ability, we are bringing together an Innovation Strategy which we road-tested at our innovation event in November last year. The event, held in association with AGFA, Nanofactory, the Yorkshire Post and Regeneris enabled representatives from the business community to inform the direction of travel of the Innovation Strategy and our Strategic Economic Plan, so that we can provide the best possible support for innovation that our businesses need to thrive and grow.
The key message from the event was that there is a need for universities and business to work together more effectively and the LEP has a role in creating networks to facilitate this. As Vice Chancellor of University of Huddersfield, I believe I am well placed, alongside my panel colleagues, to provide a link between education institutions and businesses and ensure the Leeds City Region is more ambitious.
The LEP wants Leeds City Region to have the strongest innovation ecosystem in the UK which will enable businesses to successfully compete on a global stage and attract talent and investment into our key sectors and institutions. This vision drives the LEP to deliver the best possible support to the region’s innovative businesses and individuals.
That is why innovation is a key part of our Strategic Economic Plan and our EU Strategy and we are also supporting others in the region to access innovation finance - for example, supporting universities across the region to bid for a share of £15m of funding for a new University Enterprise Zone pilot scheme, which will encourage universities to engage further with businesses and the LEP to drive innovation and growth at a local level. The outcome of our bids for innovation funding is due later this year but we are not resting on our laurels until then – we are taking steps to continue the momentum. We are establishing a network of innovation champions to help pass on invaluable experience and knowledge to businesses looking to growth through innovation, we are implementing our Innovation Strategy and we are supporting local authorities to establish their own innovation initiatives.
Since my appointment with University of Huddersfield, I’ve taken an active role in creating the 3M Buckley Innovation Centre, a business innovation hub which is home to some of the region’s most innovative and pioneering businesses. The 3MBIC creates a unique environment that facilitates partnerships between businesses and the University, whilst also giving businesses access to leading edge technology.
A number of 3MBIC businesses recently featured in our LEP film #time4growth talking about why being based in the region is vital to enabling business growth and driving innovation. Dr Henry Brew, CEO of Here2Grow, based at the 3MBIC, chose to relocate his business to the UK from France, specifically choosing the region due to its culture of innovation and strong business networks. We know that universities have the academic expertise to develop and research innovations, whilst businesses have the knowledge of the markets to test the commercial viability of a new product. Working hand in hand, business and academia partnerships are very powerful and the 3MBIC is an example of this working in practice.
We already have companies across Leeds City Region achieving double digit growth, launching new products and employing new staff but there is more to do. However, we are confident that Leeds City Region has the unique capacity to give a real return on investment.
A version of this article can be found on the business pages of the Yorkshire Post today 29 April 2014