Accelerating innovation in the West Midlands

Dean Cook, Innovate UK speaking at the West Midlands Innovate Accelerator launch

A new government funded locally driven programme of cluster building support will have a huge impact in the West Midlands.

Question and answer interview with Dean Cook, Innovate UK’s Director of Place and Levelling Up.

On 12 July, the West Midlands Innovation Accelerator event brought together businesses, leaders, experts, and innovators. Showcasing projects that have been strategically commissioned to drive economic growth and foster greater levels of innovation in the region.

We had the opportunity to speak with Innovate UK’s Director of Place and Levelling Up, Dean Cook, who attended and spoke at the event. Dean shares his thoughts on the event, and the unique aspects of the Innovation Accelerator program. He also covers its implications for Innovate UK, and how it supports the broader levelling up agenda. Read on to find out more about the power of innovation in the West Midlands and beyond.

Thank you for taking the time to talk to us today. Firstly, how did you find the West Midlands Innovation Accelerator launch event last week?

As the Innovation Accelerator Programme Director, it brought me a great deal of pride and satisfaction to see the outputs of a lot of hard work from a delivery perspective. More importantly, the outcome of a very deep working relationship that we have built with the accelerator leadership. That was really gratifying.

It was not just about seeing five projects launched. It was that sense that we had built this cohort of partners and found a different and more innovative way to build a locally driven programme of support for clusters.

For those who don’t know, in just a few sentences, could you tell us what the accelerator programme is and what it does?

The £100 million innovation accelerator programme across three city regions are research and innovation partnerships between places. In this case, the West Midland City region; government led by the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology; and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), led by Innovate UK. The accelerators themselves are very flexible programmes of innovation and translational research interventions that have strong industry engagement.

They will deliver high levels of private sector co-investment and work with the business community to really accelerate, in this instance, the West Midlands innovation ecosystem. The aim is to invest in the cluster. To bring the research and the business base together. To supercharge innovation, and deliver improvements to productivity, economic growth, and deliver high quality jobs that will enrich the lives of the local community.

This funding is complemented by a policy offer to bring in other parts of government to address regulatory barriers or to bring new opportunities in areas such as overseas investment.

Dean Cook, Innovate UK speaking at the West Midlands Innovate Accelerator launch

Dean Cook, Innovate UK speaking at the West Midlands Innovate Accelerator launch.
Credit: Innovate UK

My next question is, how has the Innovation Accelerator programme helped the West Midlands region develop their innovation strategy?

It is exciting to see how West Midlands leaders have shaped their strategy. The West Midlands is well known for having strong capabilities in engineering and manufacturing, particularly for sectors such as automotive. They are thinking about how they can diversify and target high gross value added jobs, in area such as healthcare and cleantech.

They are looking to diversify the local economy by pivoting their known strengths in advanced manufacturing and applying them into other supply chains, and that is exciting!

So how does the Innovation Accelerator programme differ from other Innovate UK programmes?

The Innovation Accelerator programme distinguishes itself through that element of local empowerment and partnership – or as we call it, ‘co-creation.’ Innovate UK’s role is to provide the delivery framework and ensue the projects met the highest standards of quality. While offering our proven innovation support systems, we entrusted the final decision-making to the local leadership in each of the regions. This empowered them to choose projects in line with their local strategy, which they developed at the beginning of the programme.

With the launch of the new Accelerator program, what does this mean for Innovate UK?

Well, this is a pilot, a pathfinder for doing things differently. We have three city regions that are piloting the approach. We are learning a lot already about how to facilitate local to national and national to local, or how to deliver effective co-creation. In effect, we can bring our mature ways of working, our national reach, and how we can connect the projects into some of the broader opportunities. But places know their capabilities and their specialisms better than Westminster or national bodies.

So, it is a perfect marriage, really. They know themselves the best, how to shape and direct their future, but we can help support them by connecting them in to the much broader national and global opportunities. This is a new, innovative way of working and I am optimistic for how this pilot will be successful and will help inform future policy for research and development.

And finally, how does the Innovation Accelerator programme link up with the government’s levelling up scheme?

The innovation accelerator pilots that we are delivering were first announced in the Levelling Up white paper 18 months ago. Our success in supporting this agenda comes down to how we support and grow these clusters, enriching their local ecosystems, and enhancing their capabilities and capacities.

The idea is to build more so called ‘golden triangles’ in the UK, and this is what this programme is positioned to deliver. So that more places in the UK have all the benefits that accrue from what economists call the ‘agglomeration effect’ and become home to the industries of the future. Industries that will bring with them the significant investment and growth these places need.

Thank you for taking the time to talk to us today. We are glad to see that through collaborative partnerships, co-creation, and a focus on building local ecosystems, this programme will support levelling up across the UK.

Visit the Innovation Accelerator programme page to learn more about the exciting initiatives, funding opportunities, and support available for businesses, entrepreneurs, and researchers in the West Midlands and beyond.

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Top image:  Dean Cook, Innovate UK speaking at the West Midlands Innovate Accelerator launch. Credit: Innovate UK

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