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Discovering the innovation landscape in the East of England

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I am Innovate UK’s Regional manager for the East of England. That means I work with stakeholders, particularly the Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), to align our respective strategies for innovation and to understand and highlight the innovation strengths of the region.

Norwich Research Park is an Enterprise Zone and home the New Anglia LEP as well as over 3000 researchers and clinicians working in six major research organisations

A great example of that is the Innovate UK in the East of England event, that took place recently near Cambridge. We worked with the LEPs and our family members, the Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) and the Enterprise Europe Network (EEN) to bring 275 people together to:

  • learn more about how we support innovation
  • contribute their views on exactly what the region’s global strengths are
  • network and share ideas

Highlighting those strengths matters because LEPs and others need to build their strategies upon them and government has said, in its Industrial Strategy green paper, that it intends to build on areas of global excellence and help new sectors to flourish, as well as building on local strengths.

In the last ten years, Innovate UK has committed £307 million to over 2,700 business innovation projects in the East of England, £43 million in 2015/16 alone.

Health and Life Sciences

The East of England has been the source of many discoveries and innovations that have shaped the modern world. For example, in 1953, James Watson and Francis Crick, working in the Cavendish Laboratory at the University of Cambridge, established the 3D structure of DNA - a double helix.

Genomics and now personalised and regenerative medicine are among the regions’ world-class strengths in health and life sciences. The region is also a world-leader in food, health and the microbiome and has considerable strengths in medical technologies or ‘MedTech’.

The East of England is home to:

  • The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute
  • National Institute for Biological Standards and Control
  • UK Stem Cell Bank
  • The Precision Medicine Catapult
  • The Quadram Institute for food and health research, which will open in 2018

Global leaders in these sectors, like GlaxoSmithKline, Astra Zenica, and Roche Products all chose to locate in the region.

In the summer of 2017, the Cell & Gene Therapy Catapult Manufacturing Centre is due to open in Stevenage. This unique facility will mean that discoveries made in the UK can be brought to market and produced in the UK

A number of networks help business to exploit this knowledge:

Agricultural Science and Technology

Rothamsted Research in Hertfordshire was founded in 1843, so it is almost certainly the oldest agricultural research station in the world and some field experiments that were established at that time continue uninterrupted to this day.

The region continues to lead the world in discovery research and the application of that knowledge, particularly through the University of Cambridge, the University of East Anglia and institutions such as:

  • The Earlham Institute
  • The Institute for Food Research
  • The John Innes Centre
  • NIAB, the National Institute for Agricultural Botany
  • The Sainsbury Laboratory

Agritech East is a network that connects business to this research, bringing the ‘tech’ that will enable that knowledge to be applied to farming and food production.

Information and Communications Technology

Chelmsford in Essex is known as the ‘birthplace of radio’ as it is here that Guglielmo Marconi established the ‘Wireless Telegraph and Signal Company’ and opened its first factory in 1899. In 1922, the world's first regular wireless broadcasts for entertainment began from the Marconi laboratories at nearby Writtle.

Today much of our ‘wireless’ communication is carried out though hardware and software developed by businesses in the region. All the major world chipset designers are present in the region. Most notably, ARM in Cambridge, whose chips are licenced for use in almost every mobile phone.

Equally, much of our ‘wired’ communications are carried through technologies invented at BT’s global R&D HQ, at Adastral Park. Here, several thousand staff are working in photonics and quantum technologies to develop the next generations of faster, higher capacity telecommunications. Adastral Park is also home to ‘Innovation Martlesham’, a collaborative ecosystem of more than eighty businesses working in this field.

Companies like Google, Amazon, Apple and Samsung are all drawn to the region to pursue the cutting edge of innovation in ways and at a pace that they can’t achieve elsewhere. Several networks bring people together to accelerate innovation, including:

Advanced Manufacturing and Materials

The world's first commercial jetliner, the de Havilland DH 106 Comet was developed and manufactured by de Havilland at its Hatfield Aerodrome in Hertfordshire.

The aerospace industry quickly consolidated and advanced. The UK began to develop its space programme in Stevenage which, as a result, is now home to MBDA (missiles) and Airbus Defence & Space, who construct a large proportion of the world’s low earth orbit satellites.

BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin and Marshall Aerospace are all based in the region and Cranfield University, once the College of Aeronautics, is now home to the Aerospace Technology Institute.

Speaking at the Innovate UK event, Prof. Iain Gray, Director of Aerospace at Cranfield University spoke about the region’s exceptional capability to deliver at the overall platform and integration level. In other words, the high value system design required to create the aircraft and airports of the future.

The region’s strengths in this field are particularly diverse, ranging from the built environment, notably BRE (previously the Building Research Establishment) to off-shore renewable energy, championed by EEEGr, the East of England Energy Group. They are championed by programmes like Hethel Innovation.

Venturefest – event bringing together UK innovators

If all this interests you, if you want to learn more about the East of England’s strengths, to connect and grow with its researchers and innovators, and discover innovations that could shape the future, then come to the bigger and better Venturefest East on 21 September 2017!

Follow me on Twitter: @HowardPeartree

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