How the West Midlands is trailblazing the Innovation Revolution — Innovation Insider

This session was sponsored by West Midlands Combined Authority

How the West Midlands is trailblazing the Innovation Revolution

The UK Government’s allocation of a substantial portion from £100m Innovate UK Innovation Accelerator funding to the West Midlands underscores the region’s pivotal role and potential in steering the UK towards a brighter, innovative future. This investment, aimed at nurturing the innovation ecosystem, brings to the forefront the concerted efforts of the regional stakeholders to sculpt an inclusive environment where innovation thrives.

The Venturefest West Midlands 2024 session titled “How the West Midlands is Trailblazing the Innovation Revolution” was a focal point for examining what makes the region a critical player in the national innovation landscape. The session, sponsored by the West Midlands Combined Authority, was chaired by Kezia Williamson, Head of Place at Innovate UK KTN.

Innovation at the Heart of the Region Economic Growth

The West Midlands, with its unique blend of industrial heritage, diversity, and forward-looking innovation strategies, is poised to redefine the contours of the UK’s innovation landscape.  A distinct approach, characterised by collaborative leadership and deep understanding of local strengths, positions the region uniquely on the innovation map: innovation is placed at the heart of the West Midlands region economic growth. Panellists, who represented Innovation Accelerator projects working to catalyse growth across healthtech, cleantech and creative sectors, brought their perspectives to the table.

Mike Wright, Chair of West Midlands Innovation Board, highlighted regional strengths that include fast growing economy, wealth of investment coming into the region, strong emerging industry clusters, and strong innovation ecosystem foundation comprising of 8 universities, 11 science parks, and over 100 support programmes available throughout the region. Catherine Hadfield from Connected Places Catapult delved into Diatomic and Clean Futures programmes within the West Midlands Innovation Accelerator, emphasising opportunities for companies with transformative ideas to lead on digitalisation, decarbonization of transport, data commoditisation, connectivity between places and other current trends. Martin Levermore, from the West Midlands Innovation Board, representing the life sciences and advanced manufacturing sectors, highlighted the necessity for innovations in patient care to be developed in close collaboration with healthcare practitioners and to translate into tangible benefits for patients. Tim Luft from Create Central, architect of the Co-LAB project within the West Midlands Innovation Programme, gave insights into the creative and digital sectors, with a focus on virtual reality and gaming, showcased bringing into the region.  He emphasised how West Midlands Innovation Accelerator projects were helping us to benefit from wider programmes such as the West Midlands Create Growth Programme funded by the Department for Culture, Media & Sport and aimed at accelerating creative companies growth.

Cross-Sector Innovation and Corporate Engagement

A fascinating aspect of the discussion revolved around cross-sector innovation. Both Catherine and Mike highlighted the efforts to spot opportunities and work collaboratively to stretch innovation capabilities into other industry sectors. Martin gave an example of cleantech sector working within healthtech and NHS to deliver on green agenda, net zero policy and sustainability. Tim Luft added that a premise of the West Midlands Innovation Programme and its Virtual Innovation Team was to facilitate cross-sector innovation by enabling sector focussed innovation experts to work in a team.

Tim also shared successes in the creative sector, drawing major post-production companies to the West Midlands, thanks to innovative technological advancements and regeneration efforts around Digbeth area in Birmingham. The conversation navigated the strategies for fostering cross-sector opportunities and corporate engagement in realising the full potential of the region’s innovation ecosystem.

Inclusive Innovation: Harnessing Diversity as Strength

The panellists and the audience unanimously echoed another theme: the imperative for inclusive innovation. Catherine highlighted the urgency of this endeavour, noting, for example, that only a fraction of applications for accelerator programmes came from female-led businesses and ethnic minority entrepreneurs. This underscores a broader challenge to ensure innovation activities reflect the rich tapestry of diversity within the West Midlands, that innovation is inclusive and widely accessible, and that innovation diffusion benefits all. To this end, Catherine explained that an important part of the Diatomic project is working with the Innovation Alliance for the West Midlands/ West Midlands Innovation Programme on creating an inclusive innovation networks.

Martin Levermore emphasised that leveraging the region’s population diversity and data wealth, in turn, will help develop accessible, high-quality products and technologies for global market penetration and propel regional businesses forward.

How you can engage

As the session drew to a close, the call to action was very clear: businesses in the region should actively engage with the innovation ecosystem, leverage the opportunities accelerator projects present, and contribute to the evolving narrative of innovation in the West Midlands. To get more information on your industry sector activities and innovation support available please contact members of West Midlands Innovation Programme Virtual Innovation Team .

The Venturefest platform, with its diverse assembly of thought leaders and innovators, yet again served as a testament to the region’s commitment to lead the innovation revolution and guide towards a future where innovation, inclusivity, and collaboration converge to unlock possibilities.

Valentina Barker, Assistant Delivery Manager West Midlands Innovation Programme

Text reads: Locally-led Innovation Accelerators delivered in partnership with Department of Science, Innovation and Technology, Innovate UK and City Regions.

Logos include: Department of Science, Innovation and Technology, Innovate UK, West Midlands Combined Authority and Innovation Alliance for the West Midlands