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The geography of innovation

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A global perspective

In October, Innovate UK held its first ever Innovation Awards. At a showcase event in the House of Commons, we celebrated the success of some of the UK's most innovative businesses. Speaking at the event, Science and Universities Minister Jo Johnson MP noted: “We want Britain to be the best place in Europe to innovate, patent new ideas and start a business, which is why it’s such a pleasure to honour so many inspirational firms with these awards.”

Damian Collins, Dr Ruth McKernan and Jo Johnson at Innovate UK SME innovation awards, 13 October 2015
Damian Collins, Dr Ruth McKernan and Jo Johnson at Innovate UK SME innovation awards, 13 October 2015

We compete in a global innovation-driven economy, reflecting the reality that growth and productivity is increasingly derived from our ability to innovate effectively. In its global competitiveness report 2015-16, the World Economic Forum places the UK in 10th position behind a number of European economies – Switzerland (1st), Germany (4th), Netherlands (5th), Finland (8th) and Sweden (9th).

The Global Innovation Index places the UK 2nd only to Switzerland and ahead of Sweden (3rd), Netherlands (4th) and Finland (6th). It is good news that the UK has scored strongly in both of these assessments but what emerges, loud and clear, is the message that the UK cannot afford to stand still. It must continuously improve in its performance, year-on-year, if it is to both retain and strengthen its position in such a highly competitive global environment.

A local perspective

The critical importance of innovation to our future economic success is also well understood at the local, metropolitan and regional levels. Local Enterprise Partnerships in England together with the Devolved Administrations have been developing their Smart Specialisation Strategies in order to better understand their strengths and how they fit with the approach developed by the EU for the efficient allocation of the European Structural and Investment Fund.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills have also recently invited expressions of interest from geographical consortia, keen to carry out Science and Innovation Audits in order to capture the research and innovation sources, which are driving local competitive advantage. Integral to this initiative is the creation of a Smart Specialisation Hub, led by Innovate UK and the Knowledge Transfer Network, which will both inform the audit programme as well as enable the overall results to be collated.

The work of the Hub will be able to provide the UK with a valuable resource, describing the geography of our science and innovation activities, using a concept which was first put forward by Sir Andrew Witty in his review of universities and growth. Underpinning all of these different initiatives is the recognition that success in an increasingly global marketplace requires world-leading competencies and that the trade of goods and services between economies is driven by comparative (rather than absolute) advantage.

The economic theories involved are worthy of a lengthy discussion in their own right but the outcome is straightforward: local geographies need to invest in their differentiated strengths and this in turn is recognised in our 5 Point Plan which emphasises “building on innovation excellence throughout the UK, investing locally in areas of strength”.

Innovate UK’s unique perspective on local strengths

Innovate UK has a unique perspective on business-led innovation at a local level. The following picture is a summary of where our investments have been distributed by geography since we came into existence in 2007. The investments show where businesses and researchers have won UK wide competitions focused on the global opportunities of the future. The growth and trading of established businesses can inform us of where a local economy is succeeding in existing markets. The Innovate UK data can build on that knowledge with fresh insights as to how a local economy is evolving in order to address new markets and the network of collaborations, both locally and across the UK, which are enabling businesses to create game changing innovations.

Innovation map screenshot

The first thing to come across from this  map of Innovate UK funded projects is that it is broadly distributed according to population density. This is not surprising as it is peoples’ ambition, which initiates and delivers innovation.

There are of course variations in the level of geographical investment throughout the UK and it is important to understand what lies behind those differences but overall the map paints an encouraging picture. It shows that there are businesses and collaborators, right across the UK, who are regularly winning  Innovate UK competitions, demonstrating excellence and proving they have the exceptional competencies needed to lead the UK in successfully tackling new opportunities.

Discover for yourself where Innovate UK has invested in your region

We are delighted to now be in a position to provide everyone with easy access to the public information that is associated with the investments Innovate UK has made in more than 6,000 organisations, right across the UK. All you need to do is follow the link and register.

The Innovation Map is currently in beta format, which means it’s nearly perfect, but not quite. We’re still testing it and expect to see some changes over the next few months but it can be quickly configured to allow you to study the investments we have made in several different ways:

  • by geography – for example by country, LEP, local authority and parliamentary constituency;
  • by demographics - for example by sector or by organisation type (large, medium, small and micro business or academic); or
  • by using a specific organisation name.

We’ve developed the map to help illustrate the points I make above. You can discover for yourself how the investments made by Innovate UK in a particular sector vary for the geographical region you are particularly interested in versus the UK as a whole. Then zoom in on the specific details of the investments, which were made and export a copy for your records in a PDF or Excel format and use it together with other data sets and local knowledge to better understand the distinctive strengths of your locality, metropolitan area or region.

We’d love to hear your feedback on the tool, so that we can make it even better and a more useful tool in future.

We hope you will find it a useful resource, enabling you to better understand the geography of innovation across the UK and the starting point for a much richer discussion with us on smart specialisation and comparative advantage.

Follow me on Twitter: @KevinBaughan

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