Digital for Growth

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Last week’s North East Local Enterprise Partnership launch of the digital strategy was a good event. The meeting space at Proto was packed, with standing room only for many of the great and good in the North East’s digital sector, that is if digital is a sector.

As with many of these events there were some very interesting statistics bandied about. For example the average North East digital business has just over 11 employees which is almost double that of the national average, excluding London. I hope I heard that correctly.

Naturally, digital, or rather digital technologies can be an enabler to the 52,700 enterprises in the North East, however, fewer businesses here engage in innovative activities. This is something that we need to be better at and digital technologies have the potential to make a massive difference to the future of the region’s economy.  

A learned friend once told me that ‘Research is taking a lot of money and creating ideas. Innovation is taking ideas and creating a lot of money’ and it is in this context that I think we refer to innovation, it doesn’t just mean having new ideas but rather their application. There is some paradox here in that the region has good digital companies but not sufficient applied ideas. This may lead to a shortage of businesses in the future as existing companies fall by the wayside.

What can be done then? I have long thought that innovation happens between sectors and have been working on bringing different industry bodies together to generate new ideas. I am making some progress here but what other ideas could stimulate innovation? Here are some of my suggestions:

  • Host an innovation round table
  • Gather data on why we’re not innovative
  • Ask companies to set staff time aside for innovation
  • Provide seed funding
  • Introduce an innovation mentoring scheme
  • Develop an innovation index which shows where we sit in comparison
  • Ask larger companies to commit to support innovators
  • Extend Northumbrian Water Group’s innovation festival
  • Each industry group to sponsor an annual innovation prize
  • Have innovation competitions at the North East Digital Festival
  • Set up a department for innovation in each local authority
  • Have a regional innovation Tsar.

There must be many more things we can do. Who is going to innovate in the innovation space?

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