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“Yes, Minister!”

“If you want maximum innovation then smooth the way for small and medium businesses.” That was the message Innovation South’s Mel Redding gave to the Industrial Strategy Minister, Lord Prior, as he announced the Government’s publication of the Innovation South Science & Innovation Audit. And how did that message go down? Read on ……..

It’s not every day you get into conversation with a Government Minister. It’s not every day a Government Minister listens to your point and says he agrees!  But both happened to me when I represented the Innovation South Consortium at the recent VentureFest East event. This was the chosen occasion for the Government to publish five regional Science and Innovation Audits, including the much-anticipated one for the South of England region, Innovation South. 

Invited to join a small discussion group with the Industrial Strategy Minister, Lord Prior of Brampton, my message to him was about the importance of SMEs. It was a chance for me to stress that if you want to drive innovation and business growth in the UK economy, Government intervention with policies that encourage and ensure opportunities for SMEs is a good way to do it. The Minister agreed!

Mentioning HS2 as a project where, he said, this has happened, he highlighted the benefits to growth and employment of encouraging SMEs into supply chains. The Minister also attributed a huge role to governments in easing SME access to contracts and collaborative partnerships with the NHS.

Later Lord Prior announced the publication of the Science and Innovation Audits telling his audience the scope of the technology being developed, as set out in these documents, is a great source of hope.

The Innovation South Science & Innovation Audit shines a bright light on the outstanding innovation activities that are particularly strong in the business, industries, universities and research institutions of the South of England. The Audit report also recommends ways to build on the USP of Innovation South to drive the region’s high value, high tech regional success even further. 

Three findings from the Innovation South report stand out for me:

Innovation South is spearheading the UK’s digital economy with world class capabilities in digital technologies: 5G mobile; Cyber Security Big Data Analytics; Quantum; Photonics.

These technologies are current and future wealth creators in many of the South’s key high performing sectors: Advanced Engineering; Bioscience & Health; Connected Digital; Marine & Maritime.

Innovation South is a global region and a UK national asset.

The report paints a rich picture of exciting advances in technology happening in the Innovation South area, and set to transform our lives for the better. From augmented reality devices which help train surgeons doing knee replacements to robotic submarines that are helping to combat global warming; from driverless shuttle buses, making transport cleaner and safer; to some of the fastest growing and successful creative digital communities.

The Government commissioned these Audits recognizing the importance of how different places across the UK face different challenges and opportunities; and that regional leadership and knowledge are key to the Government’s Industrial Strategy and good use of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.

In his speech, Lord Prior highlighted the challenges that go hand in hand with great advances in technology. One, according to the Minister is technical education. He said if you compare the UK with Germany or Japan we come up woefully short because we revere the academic above the practical.

The Government’s view is improving technical education must be part of a successful industrial strategy going forward. This will include people already in employment who will need to be given the opportunity to acquire new skills, as the way we work faces a huge period of change driven by robotics and artificial intelligence.  

Another priority for the UK, according to Lord Prior, is to improve our success turning world class academic research in our universities into profitable, sustainable SMEs that can cross “the Valley of Death”.

If you read the Innovation South Science and Innovation Audit report you will see both the issue of skills and the commercialisation of science research are given important prominence. It seems that not only does the Minister agree with me; we in Innovation South also agree with him. On this occasion at least.

Mel Redding, is the Director of technology SME, Jumelia. Mel is also an EM3 Growth Hub Champion and a member of the Innovation South Strategic Steering Group