A unique festival of innovation is underway, with hundreds of people and some of the world’s leading businesses arriving in the North East to address social and environmental problems.

Northumbrian Water Group (NWG) has organised the NWG Innovation Festival, which runs until Friday in the marquee village of Newcastle Racecourse, with around 400 people expected to attend each day.

The event features a range of national and global businesses, academics and members of the public looking at a range of issues, including flooding, and the environment.

The NWG Innovation Festival aims to bring together the best innovative minds, using design ‘sprint’ thinking to explore and create new solutions to some of the biggest social and environmental challenges we face.

Photo Neil Denham www.neildenham.co.uk

Also involved in running the special focussed ‘sprints’, which apply to leading design thinking techniques to problem solving, are the headline sponsors supporting the festival, IBM, Microsoft, Reece Innovation, CGI, Ordnance Survey and BT.

The big questions under consideration during the week are:

  • ‘Rain, Hail or Shine’: How can we reduce flooding? Led by headline sponsor IBM
  • ‘Keep It Flowing’: What do we know about leakage from water pipes and how can we fix it? Led by NWG and running alongside a “hackathon” on the subject, led by Microsoft
  • ‘Preparing for the Future’: How do we upgrade our infrastructure for the 21st Century effectively and affordably? Led by headline sponsor Reece Innovation
  • ‘Tomorrow’s World’: What will living and working look like in 2030? Led by headline sponsor CGI
  • ‘How Green is Your City?’: What can businesses do to improve the environment in the North East? Led by headline sponsor Ordnance Survey
  • ’21st Century Reach’: How can we optimise a mobile workforce for a complex network  business? Led by headline sponsor BT

Herb Kim, of Board Director of Tech City UK and Founder and CEO of the Thinking Digital conferences, said: “I love the idea of Northumbrian Water, a utilities company, bringing together all these people, both internally and externally, mashing them together and seeing what new ideas we can come up with.”

Nigel Watson, Northumbrian Water Group’s Director of Information Services, said: “It’s been a fantastic and inspiring first day and we are looking forward to a week that will bring some really innovative ideas forward to tackle the issues at hand.

“If the water industry was to sit in a tent and talk about water leakage or flooding for a week, we wouldn’t have nearly as good a chance of finding new answers, and all the same can be said for all of the other issues we are addressing.

“This week, we are pulling lots of other people into the tents with us, bringing diverse experience of the subjects, and that’s what will make a difference in terms of the innovation we are hoping will come out of the NWG Innovation Festival.”

Speaking to the delegates taking part in the 21st Century Innovation Sprint, Professor Roy Sandbach, Chair of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership’s Innovation Board, said: “I have a history of working with innovation around the world, I’m a scientist by training and by career – I know that technology pushes rarely result in innovation.

“The starting point is matching what’s possible with what’s needed, get to grips in great detail about what the problem is that you are addressing. Then, watch others, in or out of your sector – especially extreme users – and see how they are using your product. Start with insights from your customers and supply chain and then let the ideas follow!

“Innovation is not about thinking it is about delivery. It is no good having an idea that is not deliverable, that is not innovation. At the end of the day, innovation comes down to people. A culture of empowerment and risk taking is essential for innovation within a business.”

People can keep up to date with the festival at innovationfestival.org