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CLUSTER NEWS – March 2024

dept for levelling up

Spring Budget Announcements relevant to WM

Details were published on the West Midlands Investment Zone, alongside publication of the Investment Opportunity Fund prospectus inviting bids of up to £25 million for private investment in Investment Zones and Freeports.

£15 million of additional funding was announced for the WMCA to support culture, heritage and investment, of which £10 million is to support culture and heritage projects and £5 million is for inward investment. £100 million was announced for culture projects in “levelling up” areas nationally, with Coventry and Redditch namechecked in the Chancellor’s statement.

Expansion of the Long-Term Plan for Towns to twenty additional areas, including Sutton Coldfield, is promised. The Plan provides places with ten years of endowment-style funding and support worth up to £20 million to invest in regeneration initiatives.

A “Level 2” devolution deal for Warwickshire County Council was confirmed, including, for example, devolution of the Adult Education Budget.

The Chancellor gave more details of the £4.5 billion announced at the Autumn Statement to unlock investment in strategic manufacturing sectors. The package will include over £2 billion for the automotive industry and £975 million for aerospace, and further measures to support advanced manufacturing, including a £50 million Apprenticeship Growth Sector pilot. In particular, I’d draw your attention to the £520 million funding for life sciences manufacturing announced at Autumn Statement, with competitions for large scale investments opening for expressions of interest this summer and medium and smaller sized companies in the autumn. The fund is designed to build resilience for future health emergencies such as influenza pandemics and capitalise on the UK’s world-leading research and development.’ I hope to have a conversation with the Office for Life Sciences to explore how the West Midlands can benefit.


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Aprils Topical Tuesday event will see a presentation by Alison Johnson SVP of UK Health Systems at ORCHA, she will be talking to us about their journey and current and future plans for their organisation, followed by discussion with attendees about how ORCHA can help them get approved. If you are in the market for an app launch you cannot miss this online event.
Register and read more here.

The March Topical Tuesday featured Reena Sidhu, Commercial Enterprises Lead at Health Innovation West Midlands (HIWM) who talked to us about “Empowering Women in Health Tech”. It was a very enriching session, filled with information about the projects and plans of the HIWM and Shuri Network.

Warick Oculous

Cancer Diagnostics Conference at University of Warwick

We attended the Cancer Diagnostics Conference at University of Warwick on 18th March, an in-person event only. This was the third annual diagnostics conference we have been involved in with Warwick and it focused on cancer diagnostics. Topics covered included novel approaches to cancer diagnosis using various technologies such as liquid biopsies, imaging and digital pathology and showcasing our regional strengths.

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We took part in Venturefest 2024 in Birmingham on 21st March, where we had our own stand and engaged with hundreds of attendees. A huge and enthusiastic audience attended Venturefest and we had a very successful day in terms of networking and making new contacts.

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Interact Roundtable

We helped organise, attended and presented at the Interact Roundtable on  27th March at the Manufacturing Technology Centre, Ansty Park. This was an in-depth discussion with manufacturers about the technological changes we can expect to be developed between now and 2040 and what they mean for businesses in terms of their decisions now on capital investment, skills training and leadership and management.

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Bruntwood’s HealthTech and Life Science Development Pitch Day

I shall be attending Bruntwood’s HealthTech and Life Science Development Pitch Day which will take place on 10th April in Enterprise Wharf. Delivered by Bruntwood SciTech, this programme is for leadership teams of HealthTech and Life Science companies, providing them with the tools to build successful scalable businesses that will impact the delivery of health intervention to patients. The Pitch Day Event marks the end of the first cohort programme and will bring together pioneering start-ups to showcase their innovations in healthcare and life sciences.

I have convened the first meeting of the new industry-led HealthTech Land Insights Forum on 15th April at iCentrum. Representatives of landowners, developers and property managers will be present as will the Combined Authority and the Growth Company.


WMCA- Skills Workshop

I have arranged, for WMCA, a Skills Workshop for HealthTech employers on 16th April. There has been really strong interest from employers of all size of businesses and I am expecting a very constructive dialogue.

I have been asked to lead a session at the next meeting of the Combined Authority’s Innovation Board on 17th April that will be a “deep dive” into our region’s HealthTech sector and its innovation credentials. I am delighted to have attracted Thermo Fisher Scientific to take part in this session – as far as I am aware, this will be the new Binding Site owners public presentation of its plans for the Company’s presence in Birmingham.


The next Innovative Heath Working Group meeting will be on 24th April and will focus on issues around Air Quality, health impacts, and innovative technologies for protecting people from harmful effects.
Register and read more here.

I am delighted to be personally invited to Warwick University’s Research Celebration Event that will be taking place on 29th April. This event will be an opportunity to celebrate the outstanding research and impact undertaken by Warwick staff and students and highlight the amazing effort and achievements that underpin the University’s success. 



Some news today that might be interest. The UK Gov has announced the biggest-ever investment of more than £1 billion funding to support thousands of students to pursue doctorates in AI and tech – included in the investment package is the announcement for an academic consortium led by the University of Birmingham to establish a £4.5 million medicines manufacturing skills centre of excellence. The centre, RESILIENCE, will include a network of academic and not-for-profit partners developing specialist training and accelerator programmes for those qualified to T-levels, to graduates to training opportunities in work.

New tech is definitely the centrepiece for the future of health care. Health and Social Care Secretary Victoria Atkins said: “AI will form a central part of our recently announced £3.4 billion plan to boost productivity in the NHS, which will deliver quicker test results, replace outdated IT systems, and unlock £35 billion in savings.”

Skills framework

I continue to work with the Skills Team at the Combined Authority on a Skills Framework for the West Midlands HealthTech sector. As currently planned, we are looking at the workforce needs of two clusters of organisations. The first (the “demand side” cluster) is the NHS, other health and also social care employers, a community which (a) creates the market as the UK’s biggest commissioning bloc for HealthTech products and services and (b) employs staff and cares for patients who are often the end-users of these products and services. For example, NHS leaders need to have better awareness of HealthTech opportunities and a more of a strategic mindset to help better procure the products and services they really need. And once this kit is procured their own staff need training on how to operate these devices and systems.

The other cluster (the “supply side”) is the HealthTech innovation community made up of the R&D teams, spin-outs, entrepreneurs and scale-ups that bring new devices and services to market. This community will have a range of skills needs that will be different to the end-users.

We are looking to map out these workforce clusters. I expect attendees at our April skills workshop will help us to categorise more in-demand jobs/skills within the relevant workforce clusters and help us match some of the jobs we have tagged from the Institute for Apprenticeships & technical Education occupational maps. I would welcome your feedback on our planning so far.   


Mayoral elections

The Prime Minister has confirmed that there will not be a General Election on 2nd May but it’s important to remember that over a third of England’s voters will go to the polls to vote in local councils and mayoral elections.

The success of the national economy is linked to the prosperity of our cities, so with the majority of metro mayoralties up for election in May, we all have a stake in the candidates’ plans for economic performance across key measures including jobs, new businesses and output.

So while there’s lots of healthy debate between the West Midlnds candidates about who is the best person to lead us, it is encouraging for the rest of us to see the broad consensus between them about what needs to be done to make our region a more attractive place to live, work and visit. Boosting prosperity regionally will drive growth across the whole country.

Roadmap – Strategy roundtable follow up

I now have a near-final “Roadmap” containing an agreed Vision Statement and Five Missions which many stakeholders have tweaked and confirmed that they can support publicly. Indeed, some have already sent me their logos for use on the webpage where the Roadmap will appear in due course. I will arrange a “launch” event for this stage of the strategy work I am doing in the summer.

The next stage of my work will be to develop, with all stakeholders, a more detailed, and comprehensive, “Narrative” for our HealthTech sector, something we can all use when we engage with potential funders, investors and business newcomers.

Feel free to contact me if you would like to know more about this work.

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Tech Review WM 2024

Tech WM continues to go from strength to strenght under the impressive ledership of Yiannis Maos as CEO and Martin Ward, its Tech Commissioner. Just at Birmingham Tech Week is always a roaring success in October each year, so too is the Annual Tech Review event, held in the Spring.

This year’s Tech Review will be held in Wolverhampton on Wednesday 24th April. Watch for details on Tech WM’s website.


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Digital Labs STEAMhouse

I was there to witness the official opening of the fantastic Digital Labs at BCU’s STEAMhouse on 13th April. After the speeches and cutting the ribbon, I visited the three new rooms: Growth, Create and Sound.

Businesses can hire a workspace in Growth and have access to the state-of-the-art digital facilities in Create and Sound. There is a real buzz around this development, a microcosm of the optimism currently being felt for our wider HealthTech ecosystem.

Congratulations Birmingham City University and your prestigious partner Arup!

Have You Had Your Free Energy Assessment?

The Pilot Business Energy Advice Service (BEAS) is offering 4,000 free energy assessments to small businesses across the West Midlands, including Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Walsall and Wolverhampton, as well as Worcestershire and the Marches, Warwickshire and Stoke and Staffordshire.

The assessments will provide recommendations for energy reduction, helping to reduce costs. There will be an opportunity to apply for a grant for commercial and industrial SMEs to facilitate investment in energy efficiency measures.

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Birmingham Tech Week 2024

 The now famous Birmingham Tech Week is on the horizon, already you need to Save the date: 21st – 25th October 2024.

Last year, the event witnessed a record turnout of over 7,500 attendees across 39 vibrant events at 24 distinct locations, marking 67m global impressions. 

Mark your calendar for October 21st to 25th, 2024, because Birmingham Tech Week is where the future unfolds. Get ready for a week of innovation, inspiration, and groundbreaking tech moments.

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NIHR HealthTech Research Centre in Devices, Digital and Robotics

It’s great news that University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust’s application to become an NIHR HealthTech Research Centre (HRC) has been granted for a period of 5 years.

UHB has a strong track record in delivering medical devices and technologies research having held both a NIHR Health Technology Co-operative (2013-2018) and NIHR MedTech Co-operative (MIC, 2018-2024) awards.

To celebrate the past 12 years and to officially launch the NIHR HRC in Devices, Digital and Robotics UHB will be hosting an in-person event on 19th April.

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Rosalind Franklin Laboratory, Leamington Spa

After the furore over the news that this last of the Covid pandemic Lighthouse Labs had been advertised for ale on Rightmove, the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) has been asked to review whether a feasible business case can be made for retaining the facilities for a public benefit.

The Rosalind Franklin Laboratory in Leamington Spa closed in January last year having processed about 8.5 million Covid-19 tests during the pandemic.

I have contacted STFC to offer any help the Cluster can give. RFL can be a key anchor organisation for our regional HealthTech sector and we must try all we can to maximise its value to our eco system.

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Arden Cross

The University of Warwick is the lead academic partner in plans to help drive the creation of a HealthTech Campus at Arden Cross, which will form part of a wider Innovation District at the heart of the £3.2bn regeneration opportunity.

The university signed a memorandum of understanding with Arden Cross Ltd in 2022 and has also signed a statement of intent with the mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street, and Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council.

The HealthTech Campus will look to bring together the public, private and academic sectors to foster an advanced life sciences cluster anchored by the University of Warwick. It will partner with industry, clinicians, the NHS, government and researchers.

The campus will include a Digital Health Innovation Hub, which will provide start-ups and SMEs with access to the NHS and other healthcare providers for early-stage development and testing, trials and evaluation, while a Medical Technology Evaluation Centre will support the introduction of new devices and technologies into medical practice. Building work will commence on 2028. For more details, see this news story here.


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Standard research grant: 2024 round 2

This scheme supports excellent investigator-led research across the breadth of Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) scientific remit.

Standard research grants are available for researchers at eligible research organisations. You must be based at a UK research organisation eligible for BBSRC funding.

The full economic cost (FEC) of your project can be up to £2 million. Funding is available for up to five years. BBSRC will fund 80% of the FEC. Closing date for applications is 24th April – see more details here.

AI in Pharma – Threat or opportunity?

AI is currently dominating discussions. It has already changed how we operate and is poised to significantly reshape the world. McKinsey’s research points to potential opportunities worth $100 billion annually for the pharmaceutical industry. However, alongside these opportunities come significant threats and risks. AI’s influence will impact every aspect of the pharmaceutical ecosystem, spanning from drug discovery and repurposing to sourcing, manufacturing, quality assurance, supply chain management, and engagement with healthcare professionals and patients.

At this year’s PING Conference, attendees will have the chance to learn from industry experts who will delve into the practical implications of AI in pharma. Covering insightful case studies, delegates will hear about both risks and opportunities leaving them better placed to face and prepare for what is coming.

The conference will be on 10th June 2024, 1:30pm – 9:30pm at Knebworth House and Barns, Knebworth, SG3 6PY.

There is an Early bird price of £195+VAT until Friday 12 April. For more details see here.

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UK’s next General Election

With a general election due later this year (or January next door latest), the political landscape is rife with debate and disagreement. But politicians of every stripe at least appear to agree on one thing: that the life sciences sector is vital for the health of Britain’s economy. For now, and in the future.

The past month alone has seen Labour roll out its plans for the sector, promising an extra £10 billion in funding for research and development, should the party take the reins following the election. Just days earlier, Tony Blair and William Hague argued for a national biotech plan.

And let us not forget the stream of government announcements last year, including a growth package of £650 million, intended to boost life sciences investment in the UK and increase economic growth. The Chancellor’s Mansion House reforms demonstrate the Government’s commitment to unlocking capital for investment in innovation.

The consensus is that the life sciences matter, rightly so. In the debates in the run up to the General Election, it is to be hoped that the private sector will take part and show how we could create a UK-wide investment platform that can activate the capital locked up in Britain’s insurance and pension funds. In doing so, it will contribute to finding a long-term and sustainable solution that pensioners, scaleups, and wider society can each benefit from.

A wealth of investment opportunity exists within the UK life sciences ecosystem –  as does the investment expertise. And, ultimately, the funding is available too.

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Virtual Wards – NESTA

NESTA has published a collection of “Future Signals” – highlighting some of the emerging technologies to follow during 2024. These are data points, observations and insights that carry significant, if uncertain, implications for the next twelve months.

This year’s collection explores the potential of space solar power, artists fighting back against AI, emerging brain imaging technology that could ‘read our minds’ – and virtual wards bringing hospital treatment home.

Read more here.

Spotlight on

innovate local

Innovate Local

I went to the Innovate Local event in March, jointly hosted by Innovate UK and Business Growth WM at Black Country Innovative Manufacturing Organisation in Dudley.

I was struck by the breadth of programmes of support for businesses on offer from Innovate UK and how these complement the range of business support programmes delivered now by Business Growth WM.

We all know that IUK offers grants – and that the bidding process is complex and fiercely competitive. But how many know that IUK also offers loans to businesses for late-stage R&D? Loans from £100k – £2M over 7 years at an interest rate of 7.4% are on offer. We were shown  map of the UK showing the distribution of loans so far. The WM share is £11.1M, which is one of the lowest sums for all the regions and nations of the UK. Do please consider whether IUK loans are relevant to you or someone you know.

Another IUK initiative to deliver funding for businesses is through Investor Partnerships. This mechanism is in place to accelerate investment and growth at scale through innovation. Minerva is one such partner. Through these partnerships, IUK has leveraged £1bn investment in 274 businesses.

IUK are also behind three Catapults based in our region (Connected Places, High Value Manufacturing and Energy Systems) as well as IUK Business Growth (formerly Innovate Edge and not to be confused with Business Growth WM) and of course the long-running Knowledge Transfer Partnerships.

You can find out about all these programmes on IUK’s innovation hub website and you can also find out about them by going through the single front door of Business Growth WM.

Website details are:
IUK innovation hub
Business Growth WM

I hope you enjoy reading my e-bulletin. Feel free to contact me personally with your feedback and suggestions for future activities at david@wmhtc.co.uk


Executive Chair.

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