Pam Waddell, director of Innovation Alliance for the West Midlands

Pam Waddell, director of Innovation Alliance for the West Midlands

Innovation doesn’t just happen

Pam Waddell, director of Innovation Alliance for the West Midlands, offers a personal insight into its strategic vision.

We hear a great deal about the crucial importance of innovation, in every business sector, but it very rarely happens by chance. The Innovation Alliance for the West Midlands was launched in January, to bring together organisations active, or interested in, science and technology-based innovation across the region.

Before it was formally unveiled, we consulted very widely with potential stakeholders, and other individuals and bodies, to see how the original Birmingham Science City brand could evolve into a structure to become a catalyst for demand-led innovation.

People often talk about the difference between ‘push’ and ‘pull’ strategies, and the alliance is much more about ‘pull’ than was Science City. We think this approach will dovetail well with the government’s new industrial strategy, which sees innovation as a crucial driver of increased productivity.

Everyone has been talking about this region’s low productivity for decades, but very little has been done, but now its clear that innovation can play a crucial role with regard to this issue.

The alliance’s core aims are to build and maintain a thriving innovation ecosystem, and to stimulate and help to deliver a pipeline of innovation activity.

Collaboration and partnership working is at the heart of our strategy, so we’ll be working very closely with the LEPs covering the Black Country and Greater Birmingham and Solihull, Innovation Birmingham Campus, the West Midlands Academic Health Science Network, and Sustainability West Midlands.

Driving innovation into the region’s health and life science sectors is one of the key themes for our working groups, we are establishing a STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) engagement group, and we’ll also be holding a series of events on policy and practice around issues and challenges which impact upon innovation.

Other people and potential partners are of course welcome to engage with us, and to attend our events. We see ourselves as a coalition of innovation, so we’ll talk to anybody who operates in that space.

The very successful Venturefest West Midlands event, which brings entrepreneurs, investors and innovators together, to meet, engage and exchange ideas about co-operation and collaboration, particularly in sciences and around emerging technologies, will also comes under the alliance’s remit.

Last year, we published a Science and Innovation Audit (SIA) for the West Midlands, backed by the region’s three LEPs, the WMCA and Birmingham Science City, to identify the strengths, opportunities and challenges for science and innovation, and the strategy of this alliance was very much informed by that analysis.

We took time, the best part of six months, to get all our stakeholders and our staff completely comfortable with the new structure, and I think we are now stronger for that process.

Some work which began through Science City will now be delivered by the alliance. We have been working, for instance, on a very big project about artificial intelligence for the last two years.

At the same time, we’re slightly shifting our strategy in some areas, especially around low-carbon, because of the data and feedback which resulted from the SIA.

We will also focus on developing new linkages, and enhancing existing ones, between healthcare, well-being and the regional economy. Yes, the challenges are significant, but we are determined to overcome them.

I feel we’ve established a very strong team of people who have talent, but also underpin their abilities with tremendous tenacity.

Equally, its a team that is prepared to listen, to voices from existing stakeholders and newcomers, throughout the public and private sectors. There’s been too much talk and too much noise, in the past, but now everyone realises this is a time to heed the views and opinions of others.