GBSLEP Board Director Matthew Rhodes explores how innovation from the bottom up is essential to the success of our region

GBSLEP Board Director Matthew Rhodes explores how innovation from the bottom up is essential to the success of our region

16 Dec 2020


As businesses throughout the GBSLEP region continue to face the upheaval of constantly changing national restrictions, it has never been more important for both the private and public sector to adopt innovative ideas and implement new practices as we plan a route to a strong and inclusive recovery which secures future growth and prosperity. Innovation is the creative core of everything we do – it drives our economy by increasing productivity and it allows us to create environments in which our businesses can thrive, and our residents and visitors can enjoy a high quality of life. Indeed, innovation is necessary for businesses based throughout our region to not only survive the immediate impact of Covid-19, but to prepare for future prosperity as well.

Here in Greater Birmingham and Solihull, we are lucky to have access to world-leading research from our academic institutions in industries such as energy, low-carbon and health tech. The work they do is used to inform our strategy and approaches to financial and business support. In addition, our industry leading state-of-the-art facilities lend a high-level of expertise to the development of ideas and products which can be fostered by the business community, especially at a grassroots level.

But to be truly inspirational, it is imperative that we get the best out of these assets by driving innovation from those that understand their sectors and industries best – businesses themselves.

After all, many of the global corporations we all see and use every day started off their lives as a concept or an idea before growing into the huge multinational entities they are today, whether it be Google, Amazon or Apple. Indeed, our region is a true hot-spot for start-ups.

To foster these opportunities, our role at GBSLEP is to act as a catalyst and a vehicle for innovation for businesses within our region. We do this by bringing the public and private and academic sectors together to create opportunities for new partnerships and by designing supportive interventions which help businesses to succeed.

One of our observations is that SMEs are not always well versed at getting their voices heard or their research funded. In particular, it’s important they tell the universities and LEPs what their problems and innovation challenges are so that business needs drive academic research and development, as well as the other way around. Companies are much closer to real customers and customer needs than many academics, for example. As a LEP, we have the opportunity to act as voice for this section of the business community and support them to make moves towards innovative methods which will help them thrive.

One of the most recent examples of this was our Pivot and Prosper Grant Scheme, which saw £1.9 million awarded to 52 companies across the region to help adapt their business models in response to the economic impact of Covid-19.

Businesses were able to apply for £40,000 matched funding and had to demonstrate an innovative approach in the future of their business. The levels of innovation shown by the successful businesses were hugely impressive and were testament to the creativity and resilience of the individuals involved.

The Pivot and Prosper Grant Scheme has funded the creation of 149 jobs and a further 499 jobs have been safeguarded across the region in our key strategic sectors; Advanced Manufacturing & Engineering, Business Professional & Financial Services, Creative Industries, Energy & Low Carbon, Life Sciences and Food & Drink.

As a LEP, our direct and agile business led approach enables us to understand the need to build innovation into the process of any organisation from the ground up. At the same time, we also acknowledge there is a long way to go and innovation does not happen overnight. It is therefore our job as a LEP to work in partnership with the private, public and academic sectors to create shared benefits for the entire region.