Our Innovation Network Manager, Salma Chaudhry, is working in partnership with Greater Manchester Combined Authority and Innovation Greater Manchester on delivering an exciting new project to support business and research across the city-region. We ask her to explain more…
Tell us about the new developments around innovation in Greater Manchester
Sure, the “Innovation Accelerator” project is due to launch in April 2023 and is a really exciting initiative which is likely to bring tens of millions of pounds’ worth of R&D investment to Greater Manchester (when funding is approved as part of the Governments Levelling Up agenda) and massively enhance the support that’s given to businesses.
The big picture is to help with the discovery, invention and adoption of new technologies, and provide solutions for big societal challenges like net zero by creating a thriving innovation eco-system.
Sorry, “a thriving what”?
It may sound like a bit of a buzzword, but ‘eco-system’ is the best way of describing an interconnected mix of businesses, universities and other research bodies, and public sector organisations working together: sharing knowledge, collaborating to address challenges, and creating new commercial opportunities together.
A strong innovation eco-system benefits all who are part of it. Finance and investment opportunities for businesses increase, skills gaps are more easily filled, routes to commercialisation become clearer and faster, and the whole city-region benefits from inclusive growth.
So why now for this project? What’s the background to it?
The Innovation Accelerator springs from the Levelling Up White Paper published by the Government in 2022. As part of this, Greater Manchester was selected to run one of three pilots, along with the West Midlands and Glasgow city-region, to strengthen connections between R&D bodies and industry, drive investment into R&D, and address the lack of talent and skills that hold back business-led innovation.
Innovation is hugely important for all businesses, whether large, medium-sized or small, leading to improved turnover, productivity and competitiveness. And the bottom line is that not enough businesses are currently benefitting from the innovation support that’s available at local and national levels.
Are you saying that businesses don’t want help?!
It’s not that they don’t want help, rather that there are many SMEs who, for a number of entirely understandable reasons, are not making use of the facilities, networks, specialist programmes and finance support that’s out there.
As well as of course being very busy running their businesses, SME leaders often don't know who to approach for support, or maybe even what to ask for, as they might not know exactly what it is that they need. Invariably they’ll have some sort of problem or challenge to overcome that keeps dropping down the priority list, but addressing it could be pivotal to the success, or otherwise, of the business.
These are some of the things we’re going to find out through this project and then act on them, to make innovation programmes more accessible and to facilitate new business-led initiatives.
Who is the Innovation Accelerator aimed at specifically?
The main areas of focus are the city regions four key sectors where there’s already a good number of businesses and R&D expertise in Greater Manchester, and which have a great potential for future growth: (1) Advanced Materials and Advanced Manufacturing, (2) Digital and Creative, (3) Health Innovation and Life Sciences, and (4) Net Zero.
We really want to connect the key stakeholders with each other – the leading companies, the support providers – as well as identifying the businesses that have not accessed any support but that could be helped by doing so.
There are SMEs working in the four sectors, or alongside them, that are innovating and investing in R&D, but are not actually engaging with any of the public support that is available.
We want to identify these businesses, speak to them, and find out about their challenges and priorities. Do they know about the support that's available and is there a particular reason why they're not using it? How are they innovating and how are they investing? And what do SMEs need to enable growth through innovation and to invest in R&D? What would be the game changer for these businesses?
Greater Manchester is committed to creating the best possible conditions to support innovation and help businesses get the things they need to grow, so finding the answers to these questions is essential.
How do businesses get their voice heard then?
Our intention is 100% to capture the voice of business. We really welcome and value insight from business leaders into the opportunities and challenges they currently face, and the support needed to drive SME investment in R&D and innovation.
There’s a series of roundtables led by sector specialists that are taking place in early-2023 across Greater Manchester – I’d appeal to business leaders to participate in what will be lively discussions.
Please do get involved. You’ll be making a crucial contribution to what future support and funding for SMEs looks like, as well as helping to shape best practice and policy.