From January 2018 the Innovation Alliance for the West Midlands will come into being, with its focus and priorities strongly guided by the results of an extensive consultation on how we should build on the legacy of Birmingham Science City (BSC) when it closes at the end of 2017.  Discussions were held with resourcing organizations, Working Group chairs and the BSC board, plus a questionnaire was sent to over 400 stakeholders (approx 20% response).

The key findings and the resulting next steps are summarized below.

There was broad support for the principle of creating a new Innovation Alliance WM, with 94% of respondents wishing to be involved in a new Innovation Alliance, as shown:

Figure 1: Would you like to be involved in a new West Midlands Innovation Alliance?

Focus and Priorities

Work conducted by BSC has been valued by its stakeholders and aspects should be continued, but moving forward the work of the Innovation Alliance should take into account the emerging West Midlands Innovation Board (WMIB), which will take the strategic lead on innovation for the West Midlands Combined Authority.  The Innovation Alliance WM should play a complimentary, bottom up role in building the innovation ecosystem and catalysing collaboration across the West Midlands.

The importance of strengthening relationships with the Midlands Engine, Innovate UK and BEIS and industry groups, on behalf of the wider innovation ecosystem was highlighted, in addition to the link with the WMIB.  It was suggested that the Innovation Alliance WM and the LEPs should also work closely, given the LEPs are business led organisations and the bottom-up approach of the Innovation Alliance.

More specific conclusions about future priorities were:

  • The work of the Innovation Alliance WM should drive forward interactions and collaborations between diverse organizations in the innovation ecosystem, including LEPs, business, innovation/ translational organizations, universities, science parks, public sector organizations, the WMCA and its agencies.
  • The Working Groups run by BSC should be continued by the Innovation Alliance as they provide an efficient and effective means to enable people to learn, network and initiate new innovation-related initiatives. The secretariat support is vital, as is the ability to feed into activities from a broader Alliance community to coordinate engagement. 84% of those who took part in a BSC run/ co-run Working Group rated the content of the meetings as good to very good. 86% rated the networking opportunities as good to very good. 68% rated the work of the group to develop collaborative activities as good to very good. 75% rated the email updates as good to very good.

Resourcing

As well as executive support for each Working Group, it was generally acknowledged that there was a need for a coordinating function and support that cuts across the Working Group areas.

There are offers of in kind support from a number of existing stakeholders to establish the Innovation Alliance, but a priority is the development of a sustainable business plan. 70% of respondents offered in kind support to the Innovation Alliance with 15-20% offering monetary contributions including subscriptions to working groups and entry prices to events.

Building on the successes of Birmingham Science City

Many successes of BSC were acknowledged and valued, for example:

  • The amount of investment brought to the region via independent brokerage model, facilitation of collaborations and bids for external funding, and knowledge of funding.
  • Events were valued by 59% of stakeholders who responded, with feedback suggesting that all events were well organized, well considered in terms of content, and attended by individuals and organizations that were valued.
  • The collaborative, enabling nature of the networks which brings like-minded people together. Lots of innovation topics are inherently cross sector and the Innovation Alliance can continue BSC’s tradition of bringing the right people together. The breadth of the BSC network has been critical for success – the West Midlands needs to get more joined up in its thinking so the right collaborative partners can be found.
  • BSC leadership on the West Midlands SIA was recognised – it was able to provide the independent, distilled voice and expertise to steer the work and convene the voice of the masses. This document should now have an important role in driving the themes for discussion at the WGs.

Objectives of the Innovation Alliance

It was agreed that the first two BSC objectives, (1) building and maintaining a thriving innovation ecosystem and (2) catalysing collaborative innovation activity, are still highly relevant and should be continued by Innovation Alliance, as shown in figure 2.

The third objective, acting as the independent voice of innovation, was acknowledged as having been a very important objective for BSC, when there was no other collective regional innovation body. Whilst there was still seen to be a role for Innovation Alliance in channelling the bottom-up views of the wider innovation ecosystem, this role should be adapted to take into account the role of the WMIB.

Figure 2: Please rate how important each of these objectives is for the West Midlands Innovation Alliance moving forward. 83 respondents. 0 = not at all important, 1 = slightly important, 2 = important, 3 = very important.

Moving forward, stakeholder think that the Innovation Alliance WM should focus on accelerating and embedding innovation within West Midlands businesses, to boost productivity and competitiveness. Stakeholders highlighted that the West Midlands must be innovative to stay relevant and that connections between stakeholders, as catalyzed by BSC, are key to this.

Proposed Next Steps for the Innovation Alliance

  • The BSC Board will cease to exist and a new Innovation Alliance Steering Group is being formed to help with prioritisation and planning.
  • The thematic Working Groups will continue to exist as the core of the Innovation Alliance, and will continue to build membership to reflect the whole innovation ecosystem. They will focus discussion and catalysis of collaboration around the themes of the WM Science and Innovation Audit and the Industrial Strategy.
  • Bring together the best of BSC’s events activity into a series of ‘Innovation Policy and Practice’ events, as well as continuing to be at the centre of driving VenturefestWM.
  • Continue to build relationships with the Midlands Engine, LEPs and business groups and to develop identified new/ refocused priorities that support business and demand-led innovation.
  • Build a longer term business/ sustainability plan for Innovation Alliance WM which may include a range of options such as sponsorship/ subscriptions, payment for particular tasks, charging for events, grant funding etc.

For further information or to explore how you can support or benefit from the new Innovation Alliance for the West Midlands, please contact pam_waddell@blackcountryconsortium.co.uk.

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