The WM Science and Innovation Audit, published in 2017, conclusively showed that future mobility is one of the West Midlands’ key market strengths. We are a centre of transport innovation, as evidenced by the development and presence of the National Automotive Innovation Centre, Manufacturing Technology Centre, Advanced Propulsion Centreand HORIBA MIRA,to name but a few. Recent opportunities such as development of High Speed 2and the Future Mobility Zone(which received £20 million in funding), as well as the announcement that the West Midlands is to be one of the UK’s 5G testbeds,only strengthens this notion further.

This panel session aimed to promote how these innovative automotive assets can benefit and be accessed by our diverse range of SMEs to further growth in the sector. It was chaired by David Hope, Programme Development Manager at Coventry and Warwickshire LEP, who led a panel of automotive experts to showcase their work and outline how SMEs can engage with them. The panel were Andrew Page from Transport for West Midlands(TfWM), Chris Thompson from You.Smart.Thing, Monique Seth from Conigitaland Stephen Bell from Pashley.

The panel was in agreement as to why investment in and expansion of the automotive sector in the West Midlands is critical and why, as David said, we want the UK to be the world leader in the movement of people, goods and services. Discussed benefits included:

  • Relieving road congestion
  • Contributing to carbon reduction and air quality improvement
  • Improving customer experience in mobility
  • Boosting economic growth and market expansion
  • Creating new markets and business/university partnerships.

It was inspiring to hear about the work of the three panellists. You.Smart.Thing has developed personal travel planning software that uses personalisation to improve accessibility, enhance customer experience and increase profitability, going beyond even Google’s capabilities! Conigital is one of the leading organisations in the driverless and autonomous vehicles space. A particular focus of Monique’s talk was around the ConOPTIUMinitiative, a digital platform providing business intelligence, optimisation and automation that can be applied at sites such as airports, business parks and hospitals. And Stephen from Pashley described how continuous innovation in the development of bicycles has enabled the Stratford-upon-Avon business to grow and thrive. This has included the development of ladies’ bikes using parts from motor company Morgan, as well as a bike hire docking solution to prevent the shambles shown in the photograph used in Stephen’s presentation.

Andy was able to demonstrate through the work of TfWM why it is unsurprising that these businesses are thriving. He focused on the Future Mobility Zone, developed through £20m of government funding to focus on end-user research and to look at what people actually want from the transport system; swift ticketing, better travel information, mobility credits and so on.

So how can SMEs and start-ups entering this sector grow and engage with TfWM? Quite simply, the answer is to talk to them. TfWM wants to engage with SMEs and work with them. Through their host organisation the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), the e-tendering portalprovides opportunities that SMEs can engage with. TfWM was also a long-term partner at the Serendip Incubatorat Innovation Birmingham. Conigital also supports numerous networking events.

The Innovation Alliance WMis all about connecting organisations from across all sectors to enhance and expand on our existing innovation strengths. Do get in touch with us if you’d like us to help you engage with the exciting opportunities presented by this sector in the West Midlands.

(Author: Hana Chua, University of Warwick)