Chris Greenhalgh, head of innovation and programme development, explains to Suzy Jackson just why the Business Growth Hub is focussing on innovation in Greater Manchester.
Greater Manchester has scores of businesses investing time, energy, and effort into doing things differently - to borrow from Anthony H Wilson’s famous quote about his home town - but, forward-looking as ever, the city is committed to making even greater innovative strides.
Passionate about bringing together the people who can shape the future – investors, entrepreneurs, and innovators – the Business Growth Hub, now in its seventh year, is working to support innovation amongst the region’s small and medium sized businesses.
Chris says, “We have a remit to work with ambitious businesses with the potential for growth, to help them to achieve their aims and objectives, and ultimately reap the benefits that growth brings to our local economy in Greater Manchester.”
“Innovation is very much part of growth and is an essential part of helping businesses to become more competitive. For example, businesses that have a greater emphasis on international trade tend to be more innovative, which indicates that they benefit more from investment in R&D. Likewise, companies that invest in innovation are more likely to be businesses that go on to trade internationally and invest in their staff. So, there are undoubtedly some huge positives to working with companies to help them become more innovative and harness the potential that they already have in their business.”
It’s that kind of virtuous circle that is fed by the important links between investors, innovators, and entrepreneurs. For those who are thinking about the benefits of innovation, finding the right contacts is key.
“With regard to the work we’re doing on Innovation100,” Chris continues, “we work with a wide range of businesses that are looking to, and are, investing in innovation - from research and development through to other ways to innovate - and we’re really keen to be able to showcase those businesses that are doing interesting things, and will inspire others to see how they can harness innovation.”
Innovation100 builds on the annual Venturefest event run in partnership with local and national organisations like Innovate UK and the IPO. Venturefest Manchester is an opportunity for business leaders and entrepreneurs to meet investors who’ll potentially fund their innovative ideas, academics with access to know how and facilities, and local specialist service providers, to help with R&D tax incentives for example as well as the Business Growth Hub.
“We run Venturefest here in Greater Manchester as a fantastic platform for innovative businesses, established or start up, to show what they’re doing, and it is an opportunity to bring together; those investors, entrepreneurs, and innovators.
“In fact, we run the Innovation Showcase competition aimed at enabling some of those companies to spotlight what they’re doing to the market. We know from competitions we’ve done already that it helps to raise their profile, attracting interest from investors, the press, and potential customers’.
“But we wanted to be able to bring those benefits to a broader range of companies,” Chris points out, “and so in our partnership with BQ and others for the Innovation100, we have a shared aim to give some interesting businesses a chance to raise their profile, because we know it will help them.”
It’s of particular importance to illustrate that innovation is not limited to the R&D we often think of. “It occurs across different sectors, different sizes of companies,” Chris says. “It can often be related to product innovation with well-known examples like Dyson, G-tech and Tesla, but it can also apply to developing disruptive business models, applying new processes, and delivering new services. Innovation is across many different facets of business.
“There’s a variety of sectors represented in the 100,” Chris stresses, “but there are a number of themes that are of key interest to the city region. Particularly advanced engineering and materials, health and life sciences, and other areas like education, business and professional services and the digital industries, which are all important to the economy here and we’re keen to highlight.
“Through Innovation100 we are helping business shout about some of the great things they are doing in these and other industries and demonstrating how innovation is occurring in many ways.
“Helping businesses become successful is our focus and we want to see many more Innovation100 businesses.”
Business Growth Hub can step in and offer support. “We offer a portfolio of services aimed at these businesses, designed to make it simpler to find the support that they need, and overcome the challenges they face, to help them to become more productive, competitive, and help them see a healthier bottom line.
“We offer innovation services, to help businesses consider what opportunities they might have, how they can overcome any barriers that might be preventing them from taking an idea forward, and to support them doing that.
“We work very closely with the four universities in Greater Manchester, and offer innovation vouchers up to £5,000, aimed at helping companies to take their innovation forward developing and exploiting innovative ideas, learn from the benefits of collaboration, and help them in the future to be better equipped to exploit innovation.”
Demonstrating their commitment to advancing innovation in Greater Manchester, Business Growth Hub has formed unique links with other specialist support organisations to amplify the help available to businesses.
“We have strong partnership with the IPO and Innovate UK, who both have staff co-located here with us, which is all about increasing the opportunities for collaboration and to support businesses to innovate. We’re joining up the dots to get more support for businesses.
“We’re actively looking to deepen all these relationships, focussed on supporting businesses and making it simpler for them to access the support and investment that they need.”