Mike Wright, Chair of West Midlands Innovation Board and the 1st Keynote speaker started by saying what an important annual event VenturefestWM is for the region. He then drove right into the main theme of his presentation by stating that economic balance can only be achieved if innovation is at the forefront.  His extensive business expertise strengthened the arguments he made in relation to innovation and businesses success.

He believes the West Midlands has unique potential and opportunity to grow business through innovation and pointed to the evidence in the 2017 West Midlands Science and Innovation Audit (WM SIA):

‘Plan on a Page’ from WM Science and Innovation Audit (2017)

In response to the WM SIA, a West Midlands Innovation Board was established, with initial membership from universities and LEP representatives. The West Midlands world class universities undoubtedly have a key role, but Mike thinks the region should also focus on the exciting potential of the region’s innovative business, with the four market opportunities identified in the WM SIA giving a focus to the Innovation Board’s thinking.  

Mike Wright, Chair of the WM Innovation Board speaking at VenturefestWM 2019

Mike moved on to talking about the recently published West Midlands Local Industrial Strategy (MW LIS), which has innovation as one of the five foundations of productivity and business growth. He felt it helpfully focuses on commercialisation as being key to ‘bringing innovation to life’, which will steer the WM Innovation Board to concentrate on business and demand-led innovation. He noted that we should be encouraging innovative businesses of all scales, saying, ‘it’s not the size of your organisation but the speed that matters’.

Fortunately, Mike went on to illustrate, we have some great assets to build on and many excellent models and examples of how to work to develop innovative products, processes and services for new markets. He gave examples of the many approaches to innovation that had been successfully taken by a range of regional businesses – through supply chain collaboration; university-business collaboration; incubation and acceleration; and simply of good innovation culture. The work of the WM Innovation Board will continue to build on existing activity, concentrating on facilitating and supporting appropriate initiatives to implement innovation the actions of the WM LIS.

Mike concluded his presentation by leaving everyone to think about scale of ambition. In his view, smart businesses build innovation into their business plans to target and secure a market beyond the UK in order to increase the chance of returns and revenue. As a region we should, likewise, have the ambition to target global opportunities with our undoubted innovation strengths.

(Author: Pam Waddell, IAWM; Co-Author: Mishaal Bhurgri, University of Warwick)