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Screen Shot 2015-07-07 at 09.09.02The North East Chamber of Commerce (NECC) has teamed up with some of the North East’s leading businesses by producing a major report with recommendations to support innovation and to help businesses maximise networking and innovation potential.

With help from partners – Bond Dickinson, BT, Gateshead College and Virgin Money – NECC will launch “Connecting for innovation: A view from North East business” at an event at Teesside University’s Darlington Campus, on Tuesday.

The new report offers a series of recommendations to help refine the way businesses are assisted to improve competitiveness and produce sector or society changing inventions, including: better networks; improved support agencies; simpler and increased funding; and reconsidering what is meant by ‘innovation’.

The launch of the report comes after a recent study by the Enterprise Research Centre placed Tees Valley as the overall top performing local enterprise partnership (LEP) area in the North of England for innovation, while the North East was the North’s best for new to market innovation. The North East LEP was also the first to appoint an Innovation Director to drive this issue forward and has an innovation strategy that is achieving national recognition.

NECC Director of Policy, Ross Smith said: “The North East has a proud history of innovation but by no means is this just a part of the region’s past. We support the current innovation strategies being pursued by the LEPs and we hope this report will offer a useful intervention for policy makers.

“Our region displays great assets for innovation and has already shown areas of strength within energy, low carbon vehicles and aging. Many NECC members are already producing world-leading innovations in these areas. However, potential is there for hundreds more to play a part in making the North East a real innovation hub.

“We believe enhancing our focus on these issues will ensure the maximum number of businesses can contribute and benefit, but it is up to many organisations, including NECC, to foster innovation within our economy.”

Professor Cliff Hardcastle, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research & Business Engagement) of Teesside University, said: “The North East is forging the way but where competition is global, we must not become complacent.

“Our region, partly because of its location, is to some extent removed from main funding bodies and not always viewed as an innovation hub, despite these huge assets and successes and the ambition for it to be an exemplar. This can only be addressed by a coherent and coordinated approach to improve and to promote what we have beyond our region.

“Teesside University is playing its own part in backing innovation in the region, through its provision of research and innovation services to hundreds of companies.  These services are now available via its dedicated ‘front door’ for business, ‘The Forge’ which is housed in a state of the art building in Darlington.”

The “Connecting for innovation: A view from North East business” report was put together after four focus groups looked at process, product, service and technology innovation.

Bond Dickinson was tasked with asking their focus group on issues around business process. Partner, Nigel Williams, said: “With process industries representing one of the most successful clusters in the North East economy, this is clearly an area with great opportunities for the region.

“Businesses that are successfully renewing their processes challenge managers to continually come up with fresh ideas. We’re glad to have had the opportunity to be part of this report as innovation should be a concern for all businesses.

Looking at ‘Product’ Judith Doyle, Chief executive of Gateshead College said: “It was important for Gateshead College to support this research recognising the key role we play working alongside employers to ensure the skills to implement innovation are in place at the right time. The businesses we have worked with as part of this project give us great confidence that our region will meet that challenge.”

Brian Giles of Virgin Money, led the focus group on Service. He said “Service innovation involves continually improving the way business to business, or business to consumer interactions occur. This might involve transactions but is fundamentally about developing better relationships.

“Even the smallest steps taken to improve a service can represent ‘innovation’. The definition used in the North East LEP innovation strategy is “matching what’s needed with what’s possible to create economic value, or social good, or both”. Thinking in these terms can extend understanding of what is truly innovative.”

Addressing Technology, Simon Roberson of BT said: “Innovation has been at the heart of BT since its formation in 1846. We constantly search for new ways to improve our networks and services to help others realise new possibilities.

“The North East has a growing cluster of digital businesses, with many multinational firms having major bases in the region alongside a growing pool of SMEs, including a series of exciting start-ups. Innovation is about both developing new technology, and also applying it in new ways. We hope this report inspires firms to really push their boundaries.”

The event also launched new web resources containing some of the best examples of innovation in the North East, and a series of links to bodies backing innovation in the region. For more information please visit necc.co.uk.

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