LEP Column: Region can be an engine of innovation for the nation

University of Bradford.
University of Bradford.
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Running a successful business is one of the most satisfying and rewarding things you can do. The feeling you get when you take on more staff or offer an apprenticeship to a young person is like no other. In my experience the main difference between companies that grow and those that stagnate is the quality and frequency of innovation in their operations.

Innovation is not a new concept. The reality is, any company can innovate and I know this from experience. I ran a successful manufacturing business for ten years and am all too aware of the many competing pressures for company leaders. This is why I joined the LEP, to share my experience and knowledge with other business owners.

It doesn’t matter which sector your business operates in, whether you are large or small – locally, nationally or internationally trading, innovation is about having an impact when implementing new ideas and can occur when new technologically improved products and processes are introduced.

A good example of this is Radio Design, a global telecommunications firm based in Shipley which was established in 2007 and has experienced growth from a team of 11 employees, to a global operation with more than 250 staff in six countries.

We have a vast amount of potential in the Leeds City Region with 109,000 businesses, a rich history of manufacturing and engineering innovation and particular expertise in emerging growth sectors such as digital, health and low carbon.

Combining all of these assets with the strengths of our universities and education institutions provides us with the raw ingredients to be an engine of innovation that can drive forward, not just our region’s economy, but the nation’s.

Given the importance of innovation to the economy and future growth of our businesses, we have established an innovation strategy for the region, designed to give help and support to companies so they can successfully exploit new ideas and create jobs and wealth.

For innovation to take flight, it is essential that the public and private sectors work together to create the environment for growth, establishing connections and relationships between people across all industries and academia.

I am delighted to chair an innovation working group made up of business, university and local authority representatives, tasked with implementing the region’s innovation strategy and supporting partners to establish their own innovation initiatives.

We are fortunate to have nine universities in the region with 42 per cent of research regarded as internationally excellent and 23 per cent world-leading. Our task is to maximise this talent within our universities and match this with our diverse and thriving business base. LEP funding for innovation and enterprise centres at the universities of Huddersfield and Leeds, will help forge links between business and universities.

Our vision is to have the strongest innovation system in the UK outside of the South East and establishing these links will help us successfully compete on the global stage and attract new talent and investment into the region.

Last year, in competition with many others, Bradford University was successful in becoming one of four University Enterprise Zones in the country. In partnership with BT and Bradford Council, they will create the Digital Health Enterprise Zone.

The plan is to enable companies to develop and evaluate new healthcare products and services and, crucially, find rapid routes to market, in collaboration with the outstanding business, NHS, public and academic sector capabilities in the City Region.

The zone will house a Health and Wellbeing Centre focused on research, innovation and skills in managing long-term medical conditions, and two buildings offering incubator space for businesses. This will be complemented by Digital Catapult Centre Yorkshire, a regional office of the national Digital Catapult and a research organisation dedicated to supporting the UK’s best digital ideas into commercial application.

This unprecedented support will offer businesses advice and expertise on how to take the first steps to innovate new products and technologies. This offer will be available to businesses operating across the whole City Region with a network of professionals ready to support.

Our innovation strategy is a critical first step to drive up our innovation performance, but it is only the first step.

To ensure success, we must pool the skills, imagination, commitment, fortitude, creativity and investment of our partners in the public and private sector to turn innovation into action.

Agencies helping to deliver

There are many established agencies and organisations within the Leeds City Region which can help deliver innovation support to companies. The LEP is working with Enterprise Europe Yorkshire, Innovate UK, MAS and the EEF to support businesses looking to innovate.

Enterprise Europe Yorkshire offers advice and support to small and medium-sized businesses looking to innovate and compete more effectively at a European level. Innovate UK provides support for innovative small and medium-sized businesses with high-growth potential and invests in key sectors that have the greatest potential for innovation to speed up economic growth. To learn more email info@the-lep.com