An atmosphere of excitement and enthusiasm awaited delegates of the 2012 Innovations conference, held on 5th December. Sponsored by EDF Energy, National Grid, EMC2 and BASF the event provided UK leaders from industry, education and Government with a forum for how to stimulate innovation to drive growth and continuous improvement.
Despite a cold morning, over 160 senior executives and academics were welcomed by Professor Sa’ad Medhat, Chief Executive of the NEF. In his opening address Professor Medhat highlighted the need to close the gap between the economic requirements of business and the resources provided by education. Referencing key achievements made by the Innovation Institute its first year, he looked towards truly collaborative innovation between industry and education. His address encouraged those attending the event to consider the different ways that they each viewed innovation and to share their perspectives with one another throughout the day.
Keynote speakers Michael LeGoff, CEO of Plessey – once a world renowned UK electronics manufacturer, and now rising from their ashes to become a leader in the development and manufacture of semiconductors, and the Rt. Hon Patricia Hewitt, former Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, now a Senior Independent Director for BT – addressed the conference, delivering their ideas about the essential components of innovation that allow for growth and new enterprise.
Michael LeGoff focused on the need for government-led industrial strategy that builds on the existing strengths of UK business, giving real commitment and support beyond a five year election term. Although most believe progress and technologies are driven by inspired invention, it is the competitive market which truly drives innovation. Citing examples from history, he showed how the ability to market an idea and make it usable determines its lasting success. As collaboration is considered a driver for innovation, creating opportunities for collaboration are vital. These opportunities exist between industry and education, but also between competitors. He determined that there is an important role for government in facilitating the conversations that help these collaborative opportunities to arise.
The Rt. Hon. Patricia Hewitt considered the importance of striking a balance between regulation and innovation, showing through the well-known example of the world economy that while regulation can limit innovation, unchecked innovation is not always the best course. Comparing innovation to an ecosystem where universities, entrepreneurs, businesses and governments all play critical roles as they collaborate to achieve new ideas. She went on to consider the current nature of international markets, looking at the importance of collaborations between British companies and new enterprises in the East, which can move together into new markets while drawing on the strengths of both cultures and economies.
The two enquiry sessions allowed for interesting ideas and points of wisdom from panels drawn from key UK businesses, and from leaders in industrial collaboration with education. Each of the enquiries looked at what steps are being taken to drive innovative practice within business and within further and higher education, leading to plenty of opportunity to take key ideas from the meeting and for ideas to feed into the networking sessions.
The day ended on a high, with BBC presenter and longstanding friend to the NEF, Maggie Philbin, presenting the Industrial Fellowship Scheme awards, followed by the Innovation Awards. These awards were created to encourage and develop academic collaborations with industry. The 2012 first prize was awarded to Alan Crooks of City College Plymouth, for the development of new training resources and teaching materials on energy saving technologies based on intelligent building control. City College Plymouth has now created a new qualification on use of these technologies, which will enable their graduates to directly meet the needs of employers.
The remarkable mix of attendees at the event ensured a true meeting of minds, as senior representatives from different UK industries including the energy, automotive and healthcare sectors, mingled with academics, knowledge transfer experts, participants from the charity sector and young people on industrial apprenticeship and internship schemes. This melting-pot supported the day’s themes of collaboration and participation, leading to enthusiastic networking, where the rooms buzzed with conversation as people met, exchanging thoughts and ideas with others from very different fields.
The day brought a real opportunity for people from a range of backgrounds to share ideas about the best ways to take innovation and collaborations forward, through hearing from speakers in formal sessions and through informal connections and learning. There is little doubt that this first Innovisions conference will become a calendar feature, inspiring individuals from many different sectors with new ideas, collaborations and, hopefully, innovations for the coming year.