David Kidney

BLOG: July 2023

David Kidney’s blog: July 2023
Launch of the WM Innovation Accelerator

David Kidney

In the Government’s Levelling Up White Paper (Feb 2022), one of the few solid commitments by the Government was the promise to invest £100M to create ‘growth-boosting’ innovation accelerators in three regions: West Midlands, Glasgow, and England’s North West.  After a lengthy period of “coproduction” between the three regions, Innovate UK and what became the new Department of Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT), the selected projects were announced alongside Budget 2023.

In the West Midlands, the projects which will receive around £33M of investment over the next two years are:

  • 6D-IA, led by the University of Birmingham (Health/Med Tech)
  • Clean Futures, led by Connected Places Catapult, in conjunction with Black Country Innovative Manufacturing Organisation and Coventry University (Clean Tech)
  • The West Midlands Health Tech Innovation Accelerator, led by West Midlands Combined Authority (Clean Tech & Health Tech)
  • The Biochar Clean Tech Accelerator, led by Aston University (Clean Tech)
  • Digital Innovation Transformative Change (DIATOMIC), led by Connected Places Catapult, in conjunction with Aston University, Birmingham City Council, Birmingham City University, Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce, and University of Birmingham (Health & Clean Tech)

The largest of these is the ‘West Midlands HealthTech and MedTech ‘6D’ Innovation Accelerator (6D-IA)’, which is led by the University of Birmingham (UoB).

The HealthTech sector in the UK and here in the West Midlands has great potential for high growth between now and 2027. However, there are some obstacles that need to be overcome, and here in the West Midlands we are determined to address them. My selection of the challenges we face would include:

  • Scarcity of suitable workspace, including labs;
  • Under-investment of public funds in our region’s R&D;
  • Shortage of major private sector investors located in our region;
  • Complexity of regulation around clinical trials and product approvals; and
  • Matching innovators with manufacturers who can provide timely support.

The 6Ds of the UoB project relate to the early phases of business development of innovative ideas and they are: Diagnosis, Definition, Development, Deployment, Diversification, and Demonstration. These are seen as the core commercialisation areas where UoB and its partners and stakeholders can support medical innovators at all stages of the development pathway. Collaboration will be key in helping to coordinate the supportive activity that will accelerate technologies and help position companies to attract private investment.

According to the Government, the aim is to fund R&D projects that will ‘accelerate the growth of high-potential innovation clusters and support Levelling Up’. All the Innovation Accelerator  projects will get under way immediately, once formal grant offer letters have been issued.

The 6D-IA project is expected to act as a magnet for attracting more public and private R&D investment into the region. It, alongside the development of the Birmingham Health Innovation Campus, will galvanise the already strong and growing HeathTech sector in the West Midlands. We are all working towards the same aims: growing the number of businesses, expanding the skills base, and increasing international investment. Together, we will create an internationally leading HealthTech and MedTech cluster in the Midlands, building on the existing critical mass of regional assets, skills, and knowledge to attract private investment in medical innovation to the region.

We are blessed with strong university-based R&D foundations, capable of helping with knowledge translation and commercialisation, skills development, and business support. These are important components of innovation but are often subject to separate policy interventions and investments by separate government agencies. As the University of Birmingham announcement says:

“Alongside R&D we need to promote the adoption and diffusion of new technologies and processes, helping public and private sector organisations adapt to benefit from the resulting innovation. Over the longer term this strengthens regional innovation ecosystems and creates more competitive firms and better employment opportunities as well as improved healthcare.”

In partnership with other universities, including Aston and Warwick, the 6D-IA project will support business spinouts and start-ups, and build more entrepreneurial skills in the region to attract new venture capital investment. Small firms will also be supported to scale up and improve their productivity and innovative capabilities.

The University of Birmingham is leading a very large public-private consortium involving universities, local authorities, and private firms across the region. In keeping with the objectives of Innovate UK, the Government and the WMCA, there is a collective aim to align the project with specific local challenges and opportunities, as well as with existing programmes.

Using the research and knowledge generated by universities in the region, the project partners will work with local healthcare providers to ensure that technologies are fit for purpose and have a pathway into clinical use at the earliest possible opportunity. By focusing, in part, on the healthcare needs of our highly diverse local population, this will help deliver inclusive growth, and reduce the impact of healthcare inequalities in the West Midlands and beyond.

Amongst the many announcements in the March 2023 Budget, the Government pledged to invest almost £1 billion over five years in 12 investment zones, across the UK. This is part of a growing focus on improving the way we leverage the science, technology, R&D and knowledge in universities for the prosperity, health and welfare of the wider population. The West Midlands Investment Zone will be developed during 2023 and obviously there will be scope for marrying its design with the thrust of the 6D-IA project and other existing initiatives.

When Iain Mansell, Cluster Leadership Delivery Manager at the WMCA, described the five projects that have secured Innovation Accelerator funding at the Cluster’s Topical Tuesday meeting in April 2023, he concluded with a rousing Call to Action to us all: Engage with this portfolio of projects as Team West Midlands.

At the Cluster, we completely endorse Iain’s Call to Action. We will do all we can to support the projects collaboratively and help make them a success and, in doing so, help make the West Midlands economy more successful in terms of jobs and economic growth.

You can read all about the five projects here.