What is an ‘Innovation Ecosystem’? – Demystifying the Jargon

30 May 2024

Graeme Miller, Head of Innovation at Innovation SuperNetwork explains what an Innovation Ecosystem is and how a robust one could help your business thrive.  

In a competitive marketplace, the need for transformative ideas has never been greater. Whether you are a startup, scaleup or a large organisation, innovation is essential to ensuring you maintain a competitive edge against an often-uncertain economic backdrop.  

But innovation requires skills, input, and expertise from outside of a business. You may have heard the term ‘it takes a village’ when considering raising children. The same can be said for raising your business, a robust network and access to factors including support and finance are needed to ensure you can really take your business to the next level. This is where a robust innovation ecosystem comes into play. 

What is an innovation ecosystem? 

Innovation ecosystems connect various groups and provide them with opportunity to share and produce new ideas. By coming together as one ‘ecosystem’ each group can provide expertise that others might not have access to. This then helps tackle the key innovation issues that the ecosystem faces, whilst also working to support individuals to develop their ideas. 

The main aim for any innovation ecosystem is to produce innovative services and products. But the impact goes much further than that, nurturing business innovation is a catalyst for regeneration and economic growth.  Unlike working alone, the ecosystem can take on bigger issues facing everyone. By bringing together different elements, new ideas can take shape.  

The North East innovation ecosystem 

At the heart of any good innovation ecosystem is a range of different ideas, people, organisations, resources, and connections. What makes them tick is the individual thought processes which finally have a place to be shared in a way that can help everyone and contribute to the future. 

We are fortunate to have an incredibly close-knit business community in the North East, which makes our innovation ecosystem impactful. The culture of collaboration in the region has helped businesses from all backgrounds access and share best practice, skills, knowledge, and new market opportunities. By coming together as one group, conversations can take place that might otherwise not be accessible.  

For example, one of the most pressing issues right now is the need for sustainable practice. The North East is at the heart of the push towards Net Zero in the UK.  By drawing in expertise from academia, industry and policy making, huge progress is being made.  As a result, the region is now home to a unique and comprehensive asset base for innovating, demonstrating, and delivering solutions to global energy challenges – from the ORE Catapult in Blyth to Northern Gas Network’s Customer Energy Village in Winlaton.  

Our role at Innovation SuperNetwork as the anchor point for the ecosystem is to convene opportunities, enable connection and collaboration, and to bring together policy makers, funders, universities, investors, and businesses to create and enable innovation and support economic growth. Collectively, we can put the North East on the map as a global player in driving innovation. 

A skilled workforce 

A skilled workforce is important for putting ideas into practice. Innovation SuperNetwork is recognised for crafting and leading communication, engagement and financial compliance strategies tailored for expansive and complex innovation ecosystems.  

Through our programmes Tees Valley: Securing Investment and Pathways to Funding North of Tyne, we help businesses in the North East better prepare to access the finance they need to innovate and grow. Our range of workshops and one-to-one support demystifies investment jargon, helps businesses confidently pitch to the right investors and understand their available options. This leaves the North East with a well-prepared and financially literate ecosystem of workers who can help boost the economy and success of the region. 

Innovation Cluster Development 

One of the barriers to innovation many businesses face is the lack of available resources. Innovation ecosystems tackle this by bringing together all the resources available from various groups. We are recognised as subject matter experts in the development of multiple innovation clusters. 

For example, our Digital Cluster North of Tyne Programme provided support to the digital cluster, enabling collaboration between and the growth of key digital sub-sectors in the industry. By highlighting these key industries, helping them access new markets and make valuable connections, we have engaged digital businesses and helped them to access the funders, research, corporate and policy they need to grow.  

Innovation Practice, research, and analytics 

Being at the forefront of challenge-led innovation opportunities and programmes (like Challenge North Tyne) we work together with the North East community to solve societal and industrial problems. The practice takes an inclusive approach to bring together end users with innovators and stakeholders to shape the challenges industry and society are faced with, ultimately informing innovative solutions and taking them to market.  

Sustaining innovation ecosystems. 

To ensure the long-term sustainability and impact of any ecosystem, the right environment needs to be stimulated to ensure growth. For innovation ecosystems it requires careful relationship management, an influx of new ideas, opportunities and research, and critically, access to suitable business finance of all types including equity investment and publicly backed funding.  

An inclusive mindset and approach are also critical, because innovation needs people from diverse backgrounds and with diverse ideas and perspectives to happen with any degree of success. Events like VentureFest North East and our approach to building and delivering our programmes are just some of the ways in which we ensure diverse perspectives can come together with a framework that enables innovation.  

Find out more about how Innovation SuperNetwork is supporting the innovation ecosystem in the North East:  https://supernetwork.org.uk/ecosystem/ 

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