Blog: Innovating to Recovery – market facing innovation centres supported with West Midlands’ recovery funds

Our recent Innovation Policy and Practice event took place online on the 3rd September, which continued to focus on economic recovery with particular focus on the £66m recovery package from the West Midlands Combined Authority. We were thrilled by another excellent turnout and great levels of engagement amongst attendees.

Kicking off the packed agenda, Jamie Elliott (Innovation Lead at WMCA) gave an overview of the region’s £66m recovery fund. These capital funds have come from the Government’s Getting Building Fund to help kick start ‘shovel-ready’ regeneration projects in the West Midlands. Jamie reminded the audience that prior to the pandemic, the region was the fastest-growing outside London, with globally competitive and distinctive strengths, from world-leading automotive innovation and green technology to health and life sciences. However, the region received less than £100/head of public sector investment (compared to £400/head of private sector investment) and overall business productivity in the WM was 16% below the national average. With a focus on innovation as the key to recovery and resilience, the first speaker whose market facing innovation centre is being supported with WM recovery funds was introduced.

Dr Steve Taylor, Director of Strategy and Operations, Birmingham Life Sciences Park at University of Birmingham introduced us to the Birmingham Health Innovation Campus. Co-located with the University Hospitals Birmingham QEH Campus, BioHub Birmingham,  the Institute of Translational Medicine, Birmingham Women’s Hospital, and the University of Birmingham Medical school in a critical cluster of excellence, the Health Innovation Campus has a vision of Healthcare Innovation as being integrated, data-enabled and patient-centric. 

Noting that other UK Life Science campuses focus on partnerships with major pharmaceutical companies, Steve outlined how the Birmingham Health Innovation Campus will take a whole systems approach, utilising our diverse population, leading clinical trials capability, and academic and clinical strengths in genomics. The new building will include the Precision Health Technologies Accelerator which plans to establish anchor innovation capabilities, incubation and co-creation spaces to support businesses, as well as provide the training and skills and entrepreneurial environment to create the future skilled workforce. Plans also include the Birmingham Precision Medicine Centre which will develop new diagnostic tests and medicines for the individual, through comprehensive patient immune-phenotyping.

From innovative medicine to innovative mobility, Nick Mallinson (CEO) updated us on the Black Country Innovative Manufacturing Organisation (BCIMO). Established in 2020, the BCIMO will oversee the construction and operation of the Very Light Rail National Innovation Centre (VLRNIC) at Castle Hill, Dudley. Construction of a Very Light Rail test track is already underway at the site and construction of the Innovation Centre will commence in October 2020 with completion in late 2021, enabling the team to move out of their portacabin on site! The Centre will also provide training to apprentices in partnership with Dudley College. As part of their wider role, the Centre will support the UK Government’s push to decarbonise transport, promoting and developing 21st century ‘connected public transport solutions’ to accelerate the modal shift from cars and reduce traffic emissions. In addition, the BCIMO SME support team will provide support to SME businesses across Dudley and the wider Black Country, to improve competitiveness in a global economy and encourage growth post Covid-19.

Next up, Professor Mohammed Arif, Head of School, Architecture and Built Environment at Wolverhampton University outlined the vision of the National Brownfield Institute (NBI), to create a world-class brownfield regeneration industry cluster through multi-sector partnerships, based at the University of Wolverhampton’s Springfield site.  With work expected to start on site in October, Professor Arif showed how plans for the NBI include a unique research facility for soil and groundwater testing and remediation, social and economic factors in brownfield remediation, planning and decision support systems development for brownfield development, and a nationwide database and digital twin for brownfield sites in the UK.  Acting as a national knowledge hub for brownfield development, the NBI will support enterprises across the UK with its brownfield related expertise, and act as a policy institute to influence government brownfield policies, establishing the NBI and the West Midlands as the ‘Silicon Valley’ of brownfield development. With its potentially transformative impact on students, research, knowledge exchange and innovation across brownfield related issues, establishing WM as “Silicon Valley” of brownfield development, Professor Arif showed how brownfield know-how could become a key regional export.

Finally, Julia Goldsworthy, Director of Economy and Strategy at WMCA spoke about preparations for the region’s comprehensive spending review submission later in September. Following the Recharge roadmap this includes a fully coordinated £1.6bn programme of business advice across the West Midlands to improve productivity, business survival, leadership and innovation; a £518m package joining up all training, skills and employment interventions in the region to help people back into work and equip young people and workers with the skills they need for future jobs, and a £369m plan to boost the West Midlands’ cultural offer, so inward investors and skilled talent is attracted and retained by a great quality of life. Julia described the essential golden thread of business resilience and productivity through innovation woven through the submission, which also has sustainability at its heart.

A wide ranging question and answer session focussed on three themes. Firstly, the potential reach of these new centres in terms of both geography and technology expertise, to work regionally, but also with other hubs and businesses across the UK. Secondly, the importance of equality of opportunity was highlighted, and the emphasis on inclusive and sustainable growth as key themes. And finally, the importance of language when working with difference audiences, who may be more or less familiar with the breadth of exciting possibilities that the word ‘innovation’ can encompass, as we build on our local distinctive strengths and innovate to recovery.

You can find links to all of the presentations here.

You can find the latest information regarding our Innovation Policy and Practice events here.