Connecting the Dots to Deliver Innovation in the North East of England

12 February 2020


Graham Hillier, former Director of Strategy and Futures at CPI – Connecting the Dots to Deliver Innovation in the North East of England

The North East has been a powerhouse of global innovation for the last 150 years. The work done in the region on ship building, steelmaking and chemicals changed the way we live.

In recent times we’ve changed direction but continued to drive innovation in the region.

Find out why I think connecting the dots could be the key to deliver innovation in the North East.

How is the North East a hub of innovation?

We have a group of fantastic research universities and specialist innovation hubs such as the Centre for Process Innovation (CPI).

The leading independent technology innovation centre in the North East was built through a partnership between the region, national government, industry and academia.

As well as CPI the region also has the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult, and spokes of the Satellite Applications and Digital Catapult.

All these centres offer innovation support across a number of vibrant and rapidly growing sectors.

So, we have fantastic universities, world-leading innovation centres and innovative companies. A solid research and innovation base has been developed in the North East, but that is not enough to deliver economic prosperity.

Why do we need to collaborate more?

At the moment we have too many unconnected stand-alone activities – a lot of unconnected dots!

If we are going to maintain our leading position in global innovation, we need to join all the dots together into a collaborative innovation network that delivers benefit and value to our region.

We have all the ‘dots’, but we have to develop a culture of collaboration to join up the dots. Organisations like the Innovation SuperNetwork are doing fantastic work to bring these dots together.

We have so much to offer as a region. Fundamentally we need to be bolder about who we are, more confident about our innovation system and braver in utilising it.

What are some examples of innovation in the region?

The North East innovation system is growing, it is attracting more investment, offering more support and becoming stronger.

In recent years CPI has worked with businesses such as PragmatIC Printing who are world leaders in ultra-low-cost flexible electronics.

Headquartered in Cambridge, they work with the North East’s innovation system and have just opened their first production facility in NETPark, Sedgefield and have partnered with CPI and others in the region on collaborative R&D projects.

Another example is Californian-based business, Calysta, who selected CPI as their scale-up partner after a global search, knowing that the North East would be the best region in the world to develop their process that converts greenhouse gases into a sustainable aquaculture feed.

This shows that our region has all the relevant elements to be great, to draw in businesses and funding from other regions.

What can we do to get more funding in the North East?

It’s now just a case of pulling it all together to accelerate our work. We have the inherent talent but we need more people that are good at connecting the innovation system to get more out of it.

That’s why events such as VentureFest North East are so great because they create the opportunities to do this. You see first-hand cross-sector working and learnings being shared.  

My main piece of advice to the North East as I stand down from my role at CPI is to look at how you can work more collaboratively and to utilise all the capabilities in the region.

Connecting the dots to deliver innovation and become a globally competitive system may be the key to regional success and to shout from the rooftops about the fantastic work that you are all doing. 

About the Author

Graham Hillier has recently retired from CPI as Director of Strategy and Futures and recently won the Lifetime Achievement Award at the North East Innovation Awards in November for his work in innovation during his time at CPI.

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