Innovate East: What are we good at now?

Innovate East header photo

by Kim

Last week, members of the Smart Spec Hub team were lucky enough to attend Innovate East – a local innovation event hosted by Innovate UK and the KTN at the Granta Conference Centre near Cambridge.

A number of key local actors attended the conference, including local businesses, innovators, and policymakers. This was a critical chance for the members of the Smart Spec Hub team to find out what’s happening “on the ground” in the East of England.

Innovate East: a regional view

With a number of engaging sessions, Innovate East was a great opportunity to see how the region views itself in terms of innovation and growth, and to learn specific issues that local actors are looking to tackle as the United Kingdom begins the Brexit process.

The conference was also a great opportunity for businesses and other local actors from around the East of England to gather and discuss how best to promote the region’s sectoral strengths:

Life Sciences


Advanced Engineering


One of the plenary sessions during the event featured speakers from regional clean tech businesses, and how local businesses in this sector could leverage their current work to collaborate across other regions.

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One of the main points that came up in this session – and as a theme to the conference overall – was the lack of self-promotion when it comes to their own achievements. Various sessions and speakers established that communication within a supply chain is essential to continued growth, and to addressing any issues with regard to skills gaps in the local area and establishing other cross-collaboration.

The need for cross-collaboration

One aspect discussed included the need for the East of England to talk with a unified voice, as currently there is evidence of siloing and segmentation within industries and regions. There is a distinct need to establish a regional identity, and to really communicate regional strengths.

These are issues shared across England’s local areas and beyond; a cohesive identity – a regional brand, in all but name – can prove a compelling rationale for potential investment from private and public sources. Coherence in communication, planning and strategy, a sense of pulling in the same direction and an easy facility with local embedded assets all reassure stakeholders of a region’s credibility, economic diversity and strength.

Some key questions arose out of these discussions:

  1. How will these initiatives be funded, and how does industry access this funding?

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  2. How can local regions leverage the Industrial Strategy green paper to benefit regionally, while aiming to compete globally?

The Smart Specialisation Hub seeks to help in this space – triangulating the local, regional and national in the context of the green paper and instruments being brought to bear by Government.

The art of technology

The conference also featured a session on the Design Foundation, a new £3 million grant for early stage design. This fund is trying to establish the need for market pull, rather than industry push, with regard to technology and product design.

The session introduced the idea of the “double-diamond” approach design, a two-factor approach to really ensuring that products were designed for use, rather than for design’s sake. The session also established the need for consultation across all departments in a business in order to make sure the process runs smoothly.

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Industry point of view

Overall, Innovate East was an excellent opportunity for the Smart Spec Hub team to experience the industry point of view from the local actors directly involved in growth and business for the region. The Smart Specialisation Hub team is excited to use the connections established at this event to get involved with and bring you further news about what’s happening in the East of England, as well as across the rest of England.

You can view our Storify timeline for this event below.

About the author

Kim is the Digital Communications Officer for the Smart Specialisation Hub.

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