On 2nd July 2020, IAWM brought together regional stakeholders for our second virtual Innovation Policy and Practice event, with the theme ‘Accelerating to Recovery – private sector support for innovation and growth’.
Much like our first virtual event in April, the event was well attended with high levels of engagement throughout (with even fewer technical hiccups now that we can Zoom like a pro!) A speaker panel explored business recovery and growth, with emphasis on private sector support through a range of regional business accelerator programmes, each with an innovation focus. We also heard from local businesses who had benefited from the accelerators, including Christina Jones from Blacktype Digital and SHiFT 30, and Jamie Bakewell from Bigtooth Studios.
Our first speaker was Pam Sheemar, Entrepreneur Development Manager from the NatWest Accelerator in Birmingham. Pam covered all the fully funded support packages available from NatWest to help businesses start, scale and succeed. In particular, the NatWest Accelerator, a six-month programme for entrepreneurs with high growth businesses who are looking to scale up. The Accelerator is fully funded by NatWest, offers access to a range of support and mentors, and the benefits of working with a cohort of like-minded businesses.
Next up, Omran Al Habbal from Birmingham Enterprise Community (BEC) spoke about how this social enterprise supports emerging entrepreneurs and change-makers from across the region. BEC empowers its community through a range of initiatives, training, support and access to resources and networks in order to help them to build the skills, knowledge and connections they need. In particular, Omran spoke about the way in which BEC has created inclusive initiatives to widen participation amongst groups usually less represented in entrepreneurship.
Both Pam and Omran spoke about their shift to supporting their communities virtually during the pandemic, providing their usual supportive advice and mentoring online instead of face to face, together with webinars on hot topics, including pivoting to address business issues caused by the current crisis, and helping businesses to become stronger as the world slowly returns to a new normal.
When then heard from David Hardman from Bruntwood SciTech, who gave details on the Serendip Accelerator at the Innovation Birmingham Campus, and the HS2 Accelerator (part of Serendip). The Serendip Accelerator focusses on demand led innovation, allowing organisations to define a specific challenge they are facing, which Serendip then communicates to a diverse and inclusive community of innovators and entrepreneurs who work to deliver a solution to the challenge. The scheme therefore supports innovators in accelerating the delivery of new products and processes to market, for which there is a proven demand.
David moved on to speak about the new HS2 Accelerator, Innovate@HS2. To deliver HS2 as a 21st century world class railway service, employing new technologies and techniques, Innovate@HS2 will work with two cohorts of five small companies per year to develop new innovative digital products and services for HS2. The first three challenges have been issued, and are around the circular economy (e.g How can we maximise the re-use potential of materials in the project?); green corridor (e.g. How can we monitor and improve the health of trees planted?), and productivity (How can we make every minute on site count?) David is particularly interested to see how 16-20-year olds will think about these challenges compared to those over 30.
Pam, Omran and David also explained how these three accelerators work together, referring companies and mentors to one another where its relevant and useful to the entrepreneurs they are working with.
After hearing from these various support providers, we heard from those who had themselves benefited from such accelerator support. Firstly, Christina Jones of Black Type Digital shared her experience of working within a cohort at the NatWest Accelerator. Black Type Digital focusses on supporting clients with their digital marketing. Christina described the brilliant, focussed support she received, the benefit of mentoring from some sometimes unexpected places, and the power of building a strong network through being part of the accelerator. Despite having now left the accelerator, the cohort still meet for a ‘Mastermind’ on the last Friday of every month, because of their shared mindset training and experiences from the accelerator. Christina has also just launched SHiFT30, helping other enterprises switch to selling and delivering their services online in the wake of the Coronavirus outbreak.
Next up was Jamie Bakewell, Creative Director from Bigtooth Studios, who provide pre-visualisation services for film-makers, turning 2D storyboards and animatics in to a 3D animation closely representing the conditions of a real-life shoot. Jamie described the inspiring workshops and support he received from Birmingham Enterprise Community in all aspects of setting up his business in the West Midlands. He shared how the process allowed him to step back and consider things he’d not thought of, allowing him to build strong foundations for his business with the support of mentors. Both Jamie and Christina said they still feel supported as alumni members of their respective accelerator programmes – a ringing endorsement!
A short but lively question and answer session followed, with Pam explaining that the NatWest accelerator has 32 mentors who are subject matter experts in their field, and Omran sharing how BEC signpost to mentors, including international ones and that ‘one to many’ videos are also sent to their cohorts. David, Omran and Pam all emphasised the importance of peer to peer support and the ways in which they encourage this. Each of their accelerators is unique, so entrepreneurs can move from one to another for different support during each stage of their business development journey.
The meeting closed with Richard Beedell updating everyone on The Grid. Now available as a minimum viable product to be tried and commented on, this innovation and opportunities exchange is designed for founders who want to meet like-minded entrepreneurs and scale their start-ups. As well as information on support on offer around the region, integral to this community will be corporate innovation challenges, set by leading businesses in the region which can lead to investment or supplier contracts. We encourage you to apply to join The Grid (free), and welcome feedback on this test version.
If you would like to see all the slides from this interesting and informative session, see here.
(Author: Jane Holmes, Innovation Alliance for the West Midlands)