Nicola Hewitt

Nicola Hewitt, commercial director at Business Birmingham

Playing to our strengths

Nicola Hewitt is Business Birmingham’s commercial director, and leads on its inward investment activities. She gives her take on the city’s health economy.

Healthcare and life sciences is one of our five priority sectors, so it is very important for us, for the city, for the regional economy, and above all, for everyone who lives and works here.

“It is a centre of excellence, with excellent infrastructure, strategic relationships between the teaching hospitals and the universities, a proven ability to carry out accelerated clinical trials, and the presence of the Institute of Translational Medicine (ITM) is, of course, critical.

“When we are making the case for Birmingham’s healthcare and life sciences sectors, at overseas events and conference, you can see that the strength and breadth of the cluster is very appealing.

“Greater Birmingham is already home to more than 550 medical technology companies, more than any other area in the UK, and it’s now of a scale which attracts international attention.

“We carefully fine-tune our offer, according to the audience we are looking to reach. When we were at MIPIM 2017, for example, Calthorpe Estates and the Edgbaston Medical Quarter were strong brands, and news of the £171m Birmingham Life Sciences Park also interested potential investors and tenants.

“When we were at Arab Health, and other sector-specific events, we would talk more in depth about the cluster, the R&D, the availability of lab space and the focus on accelerated trials.

“In general terms, we also make the point that whilst Brexit has created uncertainties, the devaluation of sterling has made investment in the UK more attractive.

“People visit us in increasing numbers, and when they do come to see how our network operates in practice, we always involve our local stakeholders; it might be Birmingham Health Partners, or the University of Birmingham (UoB), or one of the teaching hospitals, so visitors can get a tangible sense of partnership.

“The number of potential FDI (foreign direct investment) inquiries has risen steadily over the last three years, and one asset which is often mentioned is our population, which is large, established, diverse and stable, and therefore a tremendously attractive asset to clinicians, researchers and drug companies.

“It’s also very evident that our healthcare and life sciences cluster appeals equally to Big Pharma, to entrepreneurs, to established businesses looking for somewhere to grow, and to start-ups.

“Greater Birmingham also has an established base of companies working in medical devices and diagnostics, which has been a springboard for our expertise in medi-tech.

“It’s also very pleasing to discover that the scale and potential of our healthcare and life sciences cluster resonates with so many different audiences. A delegation from the Qatar-UK Business and Investment Forum visited the UoB recently, because our societies share so many healthcare challenges.

“We also found that our offer was equally well received in California and the Sillicon Valley, especially our focus on accelerated clinical trials, and so one of our key areas of activity in Q2 of 2017 will be looking to turn those conversations into solid expressions of interest.”