By Dr Pam Waddell, Director of Birmingham Science City
Science and innovation could be a driving force behind the continuing economic renaissance of the West Midlands, and the newly published West Midlands Science and Innovation Audit (SIA) helps to point to areas of strength, opportunity and challenge to focus on to help to unleash this potential.
Results of the West Midlands SIA will be considered in detail as part of Venturefest West Midlands on June 27 – a free one day event which will bring together more than 700 entrepreneurs, innovators and investors at the NEC . Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands, will open the event by discussing ‘Innovation and the West Midlands Economy’ and a panel session in the afternoon, led by Birmingham Science City, will consider different perspectives and opportunities to take the findings of the West Midlands SIA forward.
The West Midlands SIA was funded by the three West Midlands LEPs – Greater Birmingham and Solihull, Coventry and Warwickshire, and Black Country, and supported by the West Midlands Combined Authority, and the Mayor of the West Midlands and the three LEP Chairs have all endorsed the report. It will inform the interventions of these bodies and partners across the local innovation ecosystem. The West Midlands SIA is a detailed supplementary report to the Midlands Engine SIA published last year.
Central to the West Midlands SIA report is a the framework that indicates how the identified market strengths and enabling compencies of the West Midland can interact to create exiting areas of opportunity, that can only be realised if the ecosystem factors are all in place:
The findings of the report emphasise that leveraging these strengths and optimising the supporting ecosystem will help to boost the region’s productivity levels, which are currently below the UK average and must be raised if the region is to realise its potential.
The challenges are clear. The report emphasises that organisations across the West Midlands must work hard to stimulate R&D investment, engage more businesses in innovation and boost skills development in particular. It is also vital that the region further develops its physical infrastructure to attract and nurture more innovative companies; and support greater knowledge exchange between universities and the private sector.
The West Midlands is well positioned to meet these objectives. Its strong research capabilities have national significance – from its eight universities to its two Catapults in high value manufacturing, and energy systems, and the work of organisations including the Manufacturing Technology Centre in Coventry and Jaguar Land Rover. These organisations all help to attract funding and encourage collaboration between the public and private sector. They are vital in upskilling our workforce and promoting the strengths of this region and, as the report states, it is important to widen and diversify this offer to ensure that the West Midlands continues to support growth in science and innovation.
Looking ahead, it is clear that publication of the SIA will provide a new tool to help inform local stakeholders how we can tap into, and make the most of, the region’s science and innovation ecosystem. This will range from identifying ways of delivering public sector reform, to delivering the WMCA and regional LEPs’ Strategic Economic Plans and supporting the Government’s Industrial Strategy.
The Birmingham Science City Alliance will be sharing its findings with our local and national partners to promote the region’s strengths as well as working with its partners to address challenges and opportunities for growth. It is a vitally important document that we are proud to have contributed to – and look forward to acting on in future.
You’ve been developing a great idea that you think will help to solve a societal challenge. You’ve spotted an opportunity, but you want to make sure that you understand the market before diving in and committing a large helping of time and money. Excellent! Please read on.
Here, at Birmingham Science City, we keep an eye out for connections and resources that can help you to make things happen. You will probably have heard of the Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI, for short), but you might have passed it by. We’d urge you to take another look, as it’s a highly accessible and useful scheme for the innovation-minded.
A few important points of clarification…
SBRI is there to help you develop commercialisable solutions rather than engage in ‘pure’ research.
It’s not only for ‘small businesses’ -although it’s very suitable for SMEs. The ‘small’ refers to the funding of small but important steps between concept to commercialisation. So, as long as you can show potential to commercialise your successful ideas, you can be from the public, private and third sectors (including universities) or be a consortium containing one or more of these.
Lastly, it enables innovators to address public sector delivery challenges affecting our everyday lives. You may deliver real and widespread social and economic impact in what you will develop. You’ll be developing resources that could be purchased by local authorities, NHS trusts and educational establishments throughout the UK.
Will I need lots of match funding?
No. Indeed, you may not need any. Financially, winners can access funding for development contracts of up to £100K or 100% eligible costs. So you will not necessarily need much in the way of money to enter the competition.
What’s the focus in the current round?
(Image from Engineering and Technology Magazine)
Future Cities and, particularly, the use of Open Data to develop data or energy or transport/ mobility solutions.
What happens and what do I do now?
You’ll enter a two-staged competition. You apply, this August, to win resources for a feasibility study (Phase 1). If successful, you’ll start it in November 2013. Once you’ve performed your study you’ll be eligible for a second competition round (Phase 2). Here you will pitch for a chance to test out your ideas in practice (applying in early June 2014). If you win a second stage award, you’ll start working with a city that will offer itself as a free testbed for your idea in August 2014.
Registration for Phase 1 closes on 7th August (noon) and the application deadline is on 14th August (noon). Please don’t be phased by timescales- remember that you’re applying to resource a feasibility study, initially, so you need a good concept and proposal, not proven answers and a masterplan.
Prepare well and concisely. SBRIs have been running for a number of years, so the teams involved have tried their best to make the process swift and user-friendly. The competition and application criteria, process and form are clear and concise, and can be found here (Click the purple box that says ‘Register and Apply’). Also, to get a good background grasp of the priorities of the Future Cities round, download and read Solutions for Cities.
What is the scope of the competition? Do I have the right expertise?
You need to address one of the three Future Cities challenges. These are:
–Develop a data platform for power and heat usage with sufficient granularity to identify community trends and individual usage patters in both domestic and commercial buildings.
–Develop a non-proprietary, generic and open-source city management platform solution that can connect disparate data sets and data sources that exist within a city.
–Develop a scalable, on demand mobility solution to help employees or visitors reach businesses within a city.
Note: Open data is the raw resource, but how you use it is up to you.
Can I pick a city?
(Image from http://www.itproportal.com)
You’ll be careful matched to the city that best suits your innovative ideas. A number of cities around the UK have succeeded in being granted testbed status. You may or may not be allocated the city nearest to you. But this should, I am told, not matter. If you are chosen, you’ll have demonstrated criteria for scalability and replicability. Being a competition winner, you’ll have the IP to take away with you to use wherever you wish.
Wishing for your success…